3 Ways to Help Salespeople Avoid Wasting Time on Unwinnable Deals

If you’re selling in a complex, B2B sales environment, chances are you’re painfully familiar with the term column fodder. This is where salespeople waste valuable time, selling to buyers that have already made up their mind yet feel the need to get additional proposals to validate their choice.

To add insult to injury, when your solution is nothing more than column fodder, your salespeople may not even get a chance to present their proposal in a face-to-face meeting or on the phone with the client. Column fodder proposals are often requested over email or with the dreaded RFI/RFP.   In some industries, especially those like government agencies that require multiple (and lengthy) proposals, this problem can tank your sales productivity.

Are Your Salespeople Viewed as Problem Solvers or Product Experts?

In our 2018 Buyer Preferences Study, less than one-quarter (23%) of the B2B buyers we talked to said that they turn to salespeople to help them solve business problems.  So, it’s no wonder that 70% said that they prefer to engage a salesperson after they have already clarified and prioritized their needs.  In these buyers’ minds, sellers are product experts. Since most buyers do the majority of their research online, there is no need to involve a seller until they are well down the path of purchase.

The good news is that those same buyers told us that they would engage sellers earlier if they were the kind of seller who exceeded expectations, specifically: had top notch communication skills, demonstrated familiarity with the buyer’s business, focused conversations on implementation not buying and that they providing perspectives which helped drive the buying process forward.

So to prevent wasting time by being brought in at the end of a buying cycle just to add an extra quote to the pile, sellers need to change the way that they are perceived by customers.  The biggest opportunity for differentiation, among the list of expectations is to provide thought leadership and perspective

3 Ways to Help Salespeople Provide Perspective

Improving a salesperson’s ability to provide perspectives is an ongoing effort, but it is not a journey your salespeople make alone. Here are three immediate actions you can take to help your salespeople get better at this sought-after skill.

1/ Create a content engine.  The right piece of content at the right time can help your salespeople provide perspectives that are both timely and relevant. But, you don’t want your salespeople to have to create all of this content.  Develop a content strategy that clarifies the who, what and why of content creation.  This will help ensure that you have an appropriate inventory of content assets relevant to different personas, phases of the sales process and business issues.

Even if you have the right sales content, chances are your sellers are spending too much time looking for it (click to tweet)

Providing perspective calls for a content management system with content tagged to the industry, buyer, buying phase, etc. Such platforms integrate to the CRM allowing content push based on opportunity and account fields.  In addition, artificial intelligence (AI) within such platforms can provide guidance on the content, insights, and perspective to use with each stakeholder at each phase of the sales cycle. As salespeople provide the system with feedback on how effective the content was at moving the sales process forward, the system refines its algorithms to make more precise future recommendations.

2/ Use social to get out in front of buying decisions.

Even with the best content in the world, you won’t increase win rates if you are waiting for “hand-raisers” to ask you to be part of their buying process.  By then, your role is limited.  Use social selling techniques to get in front of your target customers early.  Help your sellers with personal branding that demonstrate their credibility.   Help them use social selling tools to build digital networks where they can be seen as business problem solvers, not product experts.  This can help you engage with buyers earlier in the buying process.

Not only does this social effort help with sellers’ exposure to a target market, it is also a vital part of an outbound prospecting strategy.  Sellers need to become fluent in providing perspective before an opportunity hits the funnel and using a variety of modalities.

3/ Change the focal point by changing your methodology.

Our 2018-2019 Sales Performance Study confirmed that deeper customer relationships continue to lead to better sales performance.

Win rates in sales organizations seen as Trusted Partners are 20% points higher than those seen only as Approved Vendors (click to tweet)

Relationships are a collection of interactions over time.  You can have the best content and the most compelling social posts, but the pay-off is when they are part of an overarching approaching to acquiring, growing and retaining your customers.

And for this you need a methodology.  The methodology is how you execute your sales process with your customers.  And perspective has to be embedded within it.  It is not an afterthought or a white paper or a particularly good question.  Rather it is threaded throughout.

The focal point of this kind of methodology is the customer.  But not in a general ‘we are customer-centric” way.   Rather the entire approach is wound around what the customer is trying to achieve and where you can help them …likely well above and beyond what one of your products does.  To gut check your approach, look for ways to get feedback directly from customers.  This may include formally collecting win-loss feedback or expanding the charter of a customer advisory board set up by your products team.


If your salespeople are spending too much time as column fodder, here are some questions to consider:

  • How well do our salespeople understand the concept of providing perspective? What additional tools, training or coaching could help change their approach?
  • How well does our content match the sales need? And how can we make it easier for our salespeople to find content that fits the customer scenario and buying phase?
  • How can we create deeper relationships with customers and help our salespeople leverage insights gained to provide perspectives?

Related blogs

Highlights from the 2018-2019 Sales Performance Study
What Buyers Want Isn’t That Complicated… but that Doesn’t Mean it’s Easy
How Content Impacts Relationship Levels   
Top 12 World-Class Sales Practices| Mutually-Valuable Sales Calls

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