When I was a kid (all those years ago) I saw a comedian advising his audience never to assume because “when you assume you make an ass out of u and me”. He was right about the assumption part anyway. It is particularly dangerous in a rapidly changing environment to make decisions or act based on unfounded assumptions. This is especially true when talking to sales people about opportunities. It is especially especially true if the discussion refers to existing customers or opportunities that have been examined in the past. The basic message here is that everything changes.
“Have you spoken to client X about product Y?”
“They don’t need it”
“We discussed it last year”
This is the trap many sales reps and even their managers fall into. The point should be that we don’t reject an opportunity unless we can swear on whatever holy book or relative’s final resting place that we have followed it up, revisited it or looked into it and we are sure beyond a reasonable doubt that there is nothing there.
The other common assumption is that existing clients actually know what we sell. Customers build up an image of their suppliers and in many cases don’t even consider them for services or products that for some reason fall outside the scope of what they have come to conceive as your range of offerings. You need to talk to more than the usual contacts in companies and gain a thorough understanding of what they do and which suppliers they use, namely your competitors both direct and indirect. You will be surprised by the number of times you will receive answers along the lines of, “I didn’t know you guys did that!”. These days, in many cases the lines between direct and indirect competition are blurring as companies adapt and become more elastic in their effort to increase share. Throw in commoditization and a reality check and you may be opening up a whole new world of opportunities. How wide is the line that separates two market segments? Can you turn a boundary into a continuum?
Make sure your sales force has disabled preconceptions before they visit prospects. Get out on the road with them and lead conversations that uncover possible hidden opportunities. Give a fresh perspective. Then let them follow it up. They should then go out and emulate this in their own way. Hey! A coaching ride! Stress the importance of meeting with different people in your clients’ organizations. New acquaintances will, most probably, not be familiar with your offering and may well be in other departments that you can cater to with an additional product or by adapting one to their needs. Another assumption you should stop making is that everybody in a client company (especially the bigger ones) is talking to everybody else and knows what is going on three divisions down the road. If your service is something of a commodity, don’t assume that top management actually knows the details. You need to take the differentiating factors to them.
Stop losing opportunities because of routine thinking.