Five Missteps that Will Lose a Sale

For many small business owners and entrepreneurs, the passion for their products and services is what inspired them to start their business.  Business owners can be intimidated by selling or tend to oversimplify a high-skill profession. Particularly for businesses that sell products and services to other businesses, it is critical that business owners gain healthy appreciation for selling. What follows is a list of the five most common mistakes I observe with sales people:

  1. Failure to Gain Interest – The first contact with a prospective customer is the most crucial. Executives and buyers today are constantly being solicited to buy products and services. Sales people can differentiate themselves by demonstrating a clear interest in prospects and an understanding of the issues that concern them. The most common error is turning the conversation away from being about the prospect to pitching products.

  2. Chasing Latent Needs – Customers have latent and active needs. Latent needs are problems that the customer recognizes but has insufficient interest in fixing. Sales people are prone to hearing a prospect express a latent need and then using that interaction to qualify the lead. Experienced sales people will probe deeper to understand the value the prospect places on a solution and to see if additional information will change that valuation.

  3. Not identifying all the Influencers and Issues – It is critical to understand who is minding the purse, what that person wants, and who that person listens to when making decisions. Sales people representing consumer products can mistakenly assume that the male half of the couple will make the decision. Executives can have trusted advisors that are not impacted by a purchase, but are called upon for advice. Patience and commitment to understanding the buyer is imperative.

  4. Missing the “want” There are times a sales person will miss discovering what a buyer wants. I have seen instances where executives want to buy the most expensive, glitzy computer or phone; just to send a message about how they want to be seen. An executive looking to retire might be more interested in minimizing change or changes that can make his or her succession happen faster.

  5. No follow up after an order – Like Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.” With capital goods, there is usually a significant lead time between shipment and the order. Sometimes competitors will see an order as reason to inject a “better and final” offer. This is also the time when suppliers with the better understanding of the “want” can get an upper hand. Be vigilant.

I’d love to hear your comments regarding the lessons you have learned from the competitive world of sales.

Strategies for Recruiting the Next Generation into Manufacturing

With the severe fiscal problems facing our federal and state governments, there is a growing interest in government to revitalize the manufacturing sector. This interest is grounded in the realization that the information and service industries cannot easily match the wealth and job creation of manufacturing.   Manufacturing’s extensive supply chain, ability to reduce and balance imports, and role in boosting national competitiveness has been largely overlooked until recently. A healthy manufacturing sector is fundamental to our long-term economic health.

In Connecticut, where I live, the focus on stimulating job growth has rested on the shortage of high-skilled labor to operate automated production equipment. Government is acting to fill the gap by expanding vocational technology learning programs to graduate more trained workers. While the size of these programs is small, the good news is that there are interested candidates to fill the educational opportunities. This tactic is designed to yield short-term results to the present crisis. I believe our leadership has to also address how manufacturing can attract our “best and brightest” long-term.

The Millennial Generation (born 1982 – 2002), has grown up with a very different view of the world than the Baby Boomers who dominate manufacturing today. Andrea Hershatter of Emory University’s Business School describes it this way, “Work for work’s sake is not going to cut it. They need to understand what the organization stands for and what their role in it is; they are much less likely to be focused on their next step in terms of career progression, and more likely to care about making a meaningful contribution in their workplace.” Much of the manufacturing news over the last two decades has focused on workforce reduction, shuttering factories, environmental and safety issues, and unethical labor practices. Manufacturing and its advocates need to upgrade the perceptions and images the emerging workforce has about their industries.

It might seem daunting to a single company to take on this branding campaign. I believe that there are some simple steps companies can take to reverse the tide:

  • Host local high school students for programs that explain their vision, career possibilities, and steps they can take to approach that career path
  • Create content for the Web and social media that targets a younger generation. The US military services create top-quality video “that pops” to support their recruiting efforts. Companies also need to suggest that they can make a difference in their organizations.
  • Sponsor non-profit fund raising events that support causes aligned with social responsibility

As suggested in earlier postings, sustainability makes good business sense. Feel free to take the Sustainability Assessment.