I admit it, I was that kid in school. I sat in the front row, and I generally had my hand raised. I studied every night and wouldn’t dream of coming to school unprepared. Straight As were important to me, and I would do anything to keep my teachers or parents from seeing me unprepared or not in “straight A” form…
Fast forward a few years (okay maybe more than a few), and I’ve had a realization working with a lot of awesome “type A” sales professionals … the real world of B2B sales is not at all about getting straight A’s – it’s about getting numbers on the board, and many of the things you have to do to win are completely contrary to straight A habits.
First, you not only need to prepare for rejection… you need to be aggressive enough that you will most definitely feel the sting of rejection, or at least resistance, quite often. At each of these moments, you can’t sulk and wonder why you weren’t good enough. You have to stay positive, ask questions, learn from this resistance, and go back in the ring for another round.
After all, if you want numbers on the board, you have to push the limits, and you have to keep persisting, even if it means intentionally walking toward that dreaded possibility of rejection time and time again.
Opportunity Management: Willingness to Walk Away
You also have to realize that you can’t be perfect for every opportunity… not easy for the straight A student (where the “straight” part meant you excelled in everything). If you are going to win deals, you have to qualify and prioritize. You have to be objective and honest about where you are well-positioned and where you are not, and if the hurdles are too high, you have to have the strength and humility to walk away. You may also have to defend a decision to walk-away… especially on a high-profile deal where everyone is counting on you.
You will need to convince your leadership that the probability is low, the hurdle is too high, and your time could be better spent elsewhere. Admitting failure to yourself is hard enough… now you’ve got to disappoint the people who were counting on you! But rest assured, your leadership would much rather have a clear picture of the opportunity. They will either offer insight that could help you turn it around or they will appreciate the ability to walk away before they invest valuable resources in a dead end.
Asking for Reinforcements
Just like you can’t be perfect for every opportunity, you also can’t be perfect for every customer relationship. If you really want to win, you may need to admit that you aren’t the best person to face-off with that buyer, and you may need to bring in some other players. That means you’ll have to tell others that you need help with this relationship… It’s not an A+ right now. Relationships are not an exact science. This isn’t admitting defeat; It’s being strategic about the best way to win the deal.
Top sales performers do not white-knuckle their way to a win single-handedly. They recognize that bringing the "A team" to win is far more important than being the "A student".
Saying “I Don’t Know”
Finally, remember that you don’t have to have all of the answers in sales.. What you need is a plan to find them. When a customer asks a question – there is no shame in saying, “I don’t know”. Just tell them your plan for finding the answer and follow up. This if far more effective in building rapport and credibility than being the "know it all".
Similarly, when you review an opportunity with your manager, show him/her your biggest holes and discuss your biggest hurdles. Leverage their brain power and leadership and collaborate with them to find the right answers. If you tell your manager everything is perfect and you’ve got it under control, you are missing a great opportunity to get their input, and you are mismanaging their expectations.
Win Planning, Not a Grade
Remember, you aren’t being graded on your win plan. Everyone wants you to win, and if they are taking the time to review your opportunity with you, they want to help you win. Your job is to be transparent about the details and ask for the help you need.
All the research we are seeing these days say that B2B sales are becoming more complex, involving more buyers and more rigorous decision criteria. Don’t lose alone because you painted a rosy picture to get the “A” on the opportunity plan. Be transparent, ask for help, and (no matter how messy) go for the win!