Why Your Salespeople Are Pushovers

Learn why too many sales people take a passive approach, why it doesn’t work, and how top performers take control by asserting themselves.

August 8, 2016

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Popular culture hasn’t always been kind to salespeople. Ask yourself—what’s the first image most people conjure up when they think of a salesperson? That’s right: the pushy used car salesman who fudges the facts, promises the world, and locks the customer into high-pressure situations.

“Yeah, but that’s not me,” you’re thinking. Of course not. We know that’s not an accurate portrayal of the modern salesperson. Here’s the funny thing, though: what if we told you that the real issue in sales today isn’t reps being too pushy… it’s that they’re not being pushy enough?

Surprisingly, too many salespeople are actually pushovers—bending to prospects’ agenda, adopting their perspectives, and agreeing to everything they say.

Counterintuitive? Yes, but the research backs it up. CEB found that salespeople fall into five general clusters:

·  The Hard Worker, who always goes the extra mile.

·  The Relationship Builder, who generously advocates for customers.

·  The Problem Solver, who reliably and meticulously fixes issues

·  The Lone Wolf, who independently follows their instincts.

·  The Challenger, who brings a different view and loves to debate.

According to the research, “Challenger” sales reps—those who disrupt their prospects’ thinking and aren’t afraid to be assertive—account for about 23% of core performers and 39% of high performers. That’s a far greater share of the high performance circle than the other groups—particularly the Relationship Builders, who only make up 7% of high performers.

Let’s explore why salespeople are so prone to be passive, why that approach doesn’t work, and why challenging your prospects actually results in greater sales performances.

Why Sales Reps Are Pushovers

Maybe today’s salespeople are afraid of coming off like that pushy car salesman they see in popular culture. Perhaps, with the advent of the Internet and the endless choices that customers have, reps feel like they have no choice but to agree with everything the prospect says, just to keep them interested. Or maybe senior management has told them to listen and personalize their pitch—which the reps misunderstood as passivity.

Let’s clear one thing up off the bat. Challenger sales reps aren’t that shady car salesman—and listening to your prospect isn’t passive. There’s a happy middle ground. The truth is that Challengers teach, tailor, and take control: they provide disruptive insights, understand what motivates the prospect, and feel comfortable asserting themselves.

Why Overly Passive Approaches Can Fail

CEB’s research identified another surprising finding. While understanding prospects and tailoring a pitch according is a hallmark of Challenger reps, too much tailoring can backfire. In fact, CEB found that positioning your offer for each individual stakeholder makes you 4% less likely to close a high-quality sale. 

To understand why passively over-personalizing your approach doesn’t work, you need to understand the modern buying environment. Today, an average of 5.4 decision-makers are involved in a typical B2B purchase. That means you have to juggle competing values and motivations when pitching.

But then why can personalizing your offer backfire? Don’t forget how the decisions are actually made: those 5.4 stakeholders have to sit around a table and form a consensus on your offer. 

If you’re too passive and simply parrot back each of their individual motivations without guiding them, the decision-makers won’t be able to agree on the basic goals and move forward with the purchase. Being too passive can reinforce the stakeholders’ differences instead of fostering consensus.

Instead, after teaching your prospect something new about their business, you should intelligently tailor your pitch around values that resonate with the individual stakeholder and the group as a whole.

Brent Adamson, co-author of the groundbreaking The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, advises that decision-making groups will usually agree on the following objectives:

·  Avoid risk

·  Move cautiously

·  Reduce disruption

·  Save money

Effective sales reps aren’t pushovers—they find a way to steer the conversation and connect individual stakeholders’ divergent interests.

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