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Honesty in Sales

May 31, 2013

On the Successful Workplace blog, Jaisundar V wrote a thought-provoking piece under the title ‘Your prospects don’t care about your Sales process – maybe you shouldn’t either’.

Jaisundar appears to make the case for greater honesty and integrity in selling, presumably with a view to developing a positive relationship and ensuring future opportunity. But while I agree in principle, it seems to me that there are broader factors at play than just the quality and integrity of the sales person and their underlying process. Among these, of course, is the existence of sales and revenue targets and incentive schemes – a topic that was touched on earlier this week in ‘Motivating Performance’ .

In responding to the blog, I made the following observations:

“Your core point about listening to the customer and discovering needs is certainly critically important. But there are a couple of things that tend to go wrong. One is how well the customer actually understands and can express their own requirement. Especially in a fast-moving field like technology, it can be extremely challenging for customers and users to understand what is possible. Therefore, my requirement definition is often constrained by your inability to explain what I could perhaps achieve, while your ability to describe is constrained by limited knowledge of what my ultimate vision could be.  And the definition becomes especially problematic when requirements are actually generated by a whole host of internal stakeholders, most of whom are not even in the room.

Second, you are right that the sales person should be explaining how their product or service aligns with needs. But it is perhaps unlikely that most sales people will be quite so forthcoming with regard to short-comings or areas where the alignment is not so good. And in today’s complex and volatile business environment, they may not even be aware of some of the likely limitations.

At IACCM, we conduct extensive research and one area we have studied is around the most frequent sources of claim and dispute between customers and suppliers. First on the list is ‘disagreement over scope and goals’. So the point you are making is clearly important – and it is also clear we have a long way to go to put it right. There are key questions to be considered about how to get the sales and buying processes better aligned, but also about the skills and knowledge needed on both sides.

Finally, I would make the point that many buyers ask the wrong questions and fail to undertake proper exploration of supplier capabilities, so if they are victims of ‘the sales process’ it is perhaps their own fault!”

What do you think is wrong with today’s sales activity – and why is disappointment so often the result?

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