It’s Only Common Sense: Short Circuiting the Excuse Cycle

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Sales managers, have you ever heard one of your salespeople say something like: “If we only had (whatever it is your company doesn’t have), I could double my forecast?” How about, “If we only had the spec or qualification, we could double our sales? Everyone is asking for it now.” Or maybe, “Once we have that new laser drill, I am going to bring in a ton of business.” These “what if” scenarios sound promising, but let’s be honest, these are excuses. Your product is your product; sell that, not what you don’t have. You don’t have a laser drill; not only that, but you probably don’t even know why your “customers” need you to have a laser drill.

Here is a hint for sales managers who are tired of constantly hearing these excuses from their salespeople: Make your people prove why they need these things. Ask them to back up what they’re saying by asking them for a forecast. Ask them to develop a return on investment (ROI) forecast. Tell them to visit their customers and make a list of who is asking for whatever qualification, technology, equipment, or service that you don’t have. Then, have your salespeople ask those customers not only how much business they are going to give your company once you have that missing piece, but also—and most importantly—when are they going to start placing orders? In other words, how soon after you have fulfilled their request will you start receiving their business?

Make sure all of this is recorded and reported; then, you can decide whether the ROI will be worth the investment. You should not even consider making that investment until you’ve decided it’s worthwhile.

One more thing: Once you make the decision to invest, your salespeople should start pre-selling those customers who drove you to invest in the improvement, and they should keep those customers up to date with where you are in rolling out the equipment, qualification, or service.

I’m sure the excuses I posed at the beginning of this article aren’t the only ones you’ve heard. Here’s a list of some more common excuses:

  • I worry about what this economy is going to do to my bookings.
  • Nobody wants to see or talk to each other anymore; how am I supposed to sell?
  • China has killed our industry. No wonder I can’t book anything; it’s China’s fault that I am not hitting my forecast.
  • If we don’t have a war somewhere soon all my Milspec business is going to dry up. We need a good war!
  • If those idiots [competitors] won that contract—so what? They bought the business and they can’t even build the product anyway. Just wait and see; the customer is going to come back to us next time.

Enough is enough. This is the perfect time to remind your salesperson that hope is not a strategy.

As funny as some of these excuses appear at first, they are actually sad—pathetic, even, if you think about it. Sometimes you just can’t win, even if you do everything right. Your entire team can do everything right and, in the end, for no logical reason, you still lose out.

Here is my personal favorite story on this topic:

Imagine that you are a salesperson who has just come back to your team with a promising lead: “The buyer wants us to quote this board,” you announce. “He said that no one has ever been able to build it and that it’s critical for their next project. This project is so important that the entire future of their company is riding in it. It’s a tough board; 2 mil lines and spaces, controlled impedance, special materials, and it needs this special thermal coating that no one has successfully been able to work with before. The buyer told me that this board is so important that money is no object.”

Fast forward two weeks: Your company has put their entire technical team on this project. Building this board has become a great adventure, a real challenge, and your team feels they’ve figured out the process to do it. In fact, on their own dime, they successfully build the board and send it over to the customer. The customer is delighted. He tells you to go back to your company and quote a hundred of them. You do that. You hand-carry the quote to the buyer, anticipating a victorious homecoming with the order in hand. Instead, you come home empty handed. Guess what? The buyer told you that your price was too high! Compared to what? To whom? What happened to “the future of the company” depending on this board that “nobody else” could build?

Alas, such is the life of a salesperson—which is why there’s no room for excuses in this business.

It’s only common sense.

Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.


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