The Cost of an Undertrained Sales Person

Consider for a moment the cost to your organization that an untrained (or undertrained) sales force can create.  Right now, as you read this, there are thousands of salespeople calling on prospects, customers, and clients with little-to-no idea as to what they can (and need to) do to identify opportunity, qualify buyers, manage common objections, identify buyer’s motivations, position themselves and the company as value-add resources, or ask the right questions to discover needs and to earn the business.  Instead, they have been taught how to pitch, present, and price!

I have the opportunity to work with several salespeople in a coaching capacity each year.  One particular day I was working with a salesperson in the industrial power battery industry.  A customer had set up a meeting with him to come in and explore options on the replacement of batteries on approximately 30 of their 50 fork-lifts.  This was the first visit by the salesman and the meeting was a result of dozens of cold-calls each day to set such an appointment.  The gentleman that we were meeting with was the operations manager and he had expressed a desire to get a quote.  After the obligatory “passing of the cards” and brief introduction of my salesman and his company, the “march towards commoditization” began.

The salesman that I was working with then proceeded to ask to see the equipment.  After a brief tour of the warehouse, we came upon a fleet of fork-lifts.  There were several makes and models as well as many varying sizes.  From a tactical standpoint, the salesperson asked which ones in particular would be in need of new batteries.  Once a thorough inventory (and subsequent notes) had been taken of existing equipment, the salesman proceeded to thank the operations manager for his time and said that he would get back to him with comprehensive quote within the next 48 hours.  At that point, the ops manager replied (pay attention here) with, “No hurry.”   This statement certainly struck me as important but seemed to make no impact on the salesman.

When we got back into the car, I turned to the salesman and proceeded (as I am know to do) with a series of questions that seemed to temper the “price quote” enthusiasm of the salesman.  I am sure that you have thought of some of these as my story unfolded above:

-Qualification of the “buyer”

  • How long have you been in this role of operations manager?
  • Do you make all of the equipment purchasing decisions for this operation?
  • Do you make these decisions for any other company operations?
  • When it comes down to deciding who to award the business to, in addition to yourself, who else might be involved in that process?
  • I see that you currently use ___________ batteries, why are you entertaining a change?
  • In addition to a competitive price, what other elements of value do you consider when purchasing new batteries for your equipment?

-Qualification of the opportunity

  • How many of these fork-lifts have you played a role in acquiring?
  • Why do you have so many different makes and models?
  • Will you be replacing/upgrading any of these in the near future?
  • How often do you typically replace these batteries?
  • What are your expectations of battery life for these units?
  • How are the forklifts currently used?
  • What is your current recharge protocol for your forklifts?
  • How are the forklifts currently maintained?  Who does that?
  • What is the timeframe that you desire to get these batteries replaced?
  • If I were to get you a quote today, when would we need to make sure that we have these batteries in stock for you?

Would you be open to look into a quote not only on the batteries themselves, but on a comprehensive maintenance program designed to extend battery life by up to 30%?

(By the way, here is a valuable exercise for you and your sales team.  Take each of the questions above and see if you can come up valuable reasons why I would ask each question.  If you or your people cannot come up with real-world valid reasons why I would ask these questions—regardless of YOUR industry—you need to pay some attention!)

I can think of dozens more questions depending on how some of the above are answered.  The problem here, however, is that NONE of these questions were asked.

Instead, feeling as if he were doing his job, the salesman simply went about gathering basic information about the “supposed order” and then proceeded to move on to the “proposal of price stage.”  The unfortunate part is that this type of thing is happening every day in every industry.  Our salespeople have been severely undertrained when it comes to uncovering and discovering where, why, who, how, and WHEN!  It seems that they are simply focused on the WHAT!

What do you want to buy and what it will cost you!

In the story above, the operations manager stated that there was “no hurry” to get him a proposal or quote.  At the very least, don’t you think that this should raise a question in the mind of the salesman?  It certainly raised a few for me?

–How was this appointment set and who set it?

–Could urgency and timelines have been established before the proposal stage?

–Did the salesman help to create any additional urgency in the customer?

–Is the operations manager the final decision maker?

–Does he need the quote or is he acquiring it for someone else?

–Is the salesman being measured on quotes or sales?

–Did the salesman provoke thoughts in the ops manager that he was not aware of?

It seems to me that there are an overwhelming amount of salespeople out there that don’t have a strategic bone in their body.  The only thought that seems to enter their mind is based upon making a sale.  Although that is the obvious goal for most situations, the approach that most salespeople take works counterintuitive to that goal!  AND that is costing companies sales, revenues, profits, and relationships every day!

Think about our example story above; The salesperson, left to his own, would have gone back to his office and spent several hours researching and preparing a proposal for an opportunity that was not urgent or pending and quite possibly may have not even been real!  The hours spent on this activity cost you money!   Now, let’s take into account that while he is back at the office working on this quote (that most likely will not produce any near-term revenue) he is not generating new opportunities for the company. I don’t necessarily blame him.  In his mind, he IS pursuing a real sale of 100-200 new batteries.  He has not been trained to qualify or quantify opportunity!  This kind of thing is costing the company money every day but management typically does not see it.  What they see is a quote opportunity instead of a mishandled opportunity and a potential client that will most likely not be earned!

This example only illustrates the need for more training in the areas of opportunity identification and qualification.  Although I center most of our training in this area on questions that need to be asked, the exercise is also based upon knowledge of what each answer could mean in the strategic approach to the sale.  Taking just that one area (discovery) in the sales process, imagine how many times per day, per week, per month, per salesperson that this type of thing occurs (or does not occur.)  The costs to your business could be much more staggering that you might imagine.

Now, think about how many other areas of sales dysfunction exist in your sales team’s day-to-day efforts.  What’s going on in their prospecting efforts, their presentation approach, their objection management efforts, their negotiation steps, and in their attempts to close?  In addition, what are they doing at those trade shows?  What does their pre-call preparation process look like?  How do their follow-up efforts stack up?  How much training has gone into any of these areas for your people?

It is abundantly clear that an uneducated or under-trained sales force is considerably expensive to your organization.  In this economy where many companies are seeing fewer sales opportunities and much greater hesitance and fear in the marketplace into which they sell, any mediocrity in the sales force becomes extremely costly!

In this example, the worst part was that the salesman just didn’t know any better. Why?  Nobody taught him how to do his job as a professional.  Instead they simply said to get out and sell something!  At this point, he is left to learn on his own how to do a better job and uncover true opportunity.

The investment you make in training your people will bare substantial returns if it is consistent, strategic, up-to-date, and actionable!  On the other hand, the cost of not consistently training your salespeople can be invisible but nonetheless, extreme!