Our version of a DILO involves an experienced consultant, meaning a former head of sales, going into the field with a client’s sales team to make sales calls.  This allows for direct observation between buyer and seller at the moment of truth, the actual sales call. We feel that sales research that depends solely on surveys, interviews, and quota numbers is likely to be inaccurate. People tend to respond to interview and survey questions one way, and do something else in the heat of the battle.  Quota numbers are dependent on a company being able to accurately set quotas, a rare skill.  By going on calls, we can see what is actually happening.


In 2011 our consultants attended 372 live sales calls. Last week, we participated in the worst sales call of the year.  I thought I would share this story with you. I hope I might prevent this embarrassing moment from happening to you.   


sales consulting worst sales callThe sales rep, who we shall call Mike, showed up at the Marriott Courtyard for a breakfast meeting with our consultant, who we will call Joe.  The purpose of the breakfast was to review the plan for the day, which consisted of three calls, 2 with existing customers and 1 with a prospect.  Our client is struggling to generate revenue from new customers so the focal point of the day was the call with the prospect.


During breakfast, Mike shared that the prospect was a business services firm looking to replace a legacy application with a new “cloud based” offering.  He described the sales call as a “discovery call” where he planned to ask several questions to “understand the prospects pain”.


Mike and Joe, upon arrival, were greeted by the prospects assistant and brought to the prospects office, who we shall call Matt.  Mike, our client’s rep, did a nice job in the first 5 minutes of the scheduled 90 minute meeting. With the niceties out of the way, Mike began to ask Matt, the prospect, a series of questions.  At first, the prospect politely answered them but became agitated as the interrogation continued.  Finally, the prospect stopped the meeting and asked Mike:


How is your offering different than vendors x, y, and z?”


 “I have been patiently meeting with all of you guys for months now. If I have one more meeting like this, I am going to throw up.  Did all of you guys go to the same training class where you learned the same questions to ask me and the same bullshit TCO model?


Mike, our client’s rep, who had been described to us as an “A” player, responded with:


“I understand Matt.  But, our offering really is faster (insert industry jargon), better (insert impossible to understand product mumbo jumbo), and cheaper when you consider the total cost of ownership.”


Here is the best part of the story:

The prospect says, “Mike, where in your TCO model do we account for all of my time you have wasted by talking to me about things I don’t care about? We have met 6 times each for 90 minutes for a total time investment of 9 hours.  And I have yet to hear a single idea come out of your mouth that I did not already know.”


Yikes.  Needless to say, the meeting ended poorly.  The prospect has “gone dark”, not returning phone calls and emails.


Here are the three lessons we shared with Mike’s company after this experience:


1-      The currency of the day is time.  Prospects are time starved.  Getting the appointment is a big deal but table stakes.  A successful sales call is one whereby the prospect feels as if they learned something they did not know prior to the meeting.  This is the new standard to measure call quality against.


2-      Sales managers, by no fault of their own, are not properly equipped to categorize reps into top, average, and below average producer clusters. The models they have been given, such as competency models, online tests, surveys etc., are obsolete. Why?  The buyer has evolved so quickly that “research” provided by so called expert’s is outdated before it is even published.  The only true way to study the differences between top reps and everyone else is to be present, at the moment of truth, on the sales call.


3-      Teaching a sales force a sales methodology built by modeling your top producers will not work.  Why?  See #2. Teach your sales force a methodology built by modeling the buyer discovery process.  If you can learn how your target market becomes aware of problems you will be in more deals.


Key take aways:


  • Take a hard look at your sales training budget. Ask yourself: “Am I spending it on things that matter to the customer or on things that matter to me?”
  • Find out the discovery process of the buyer.  Shift your focus to understanding how your prospects discover new ways of doing things.  End the interrogation sales call.


If you agree that judging a rep based on quota attainment is important but do not believe you are setting quotas correctly, you might learn something by attending this webinar, put on by our sales consulting firm.