One of the biggest mirages in sales is the proverbial rubber stamp. Sales people believe that they
have won the business, but have left a deal-killer in play.
It's September, also known
as back to school time. My neighbors and I escort our children to the bus stop for the first day of the new school year. However,
we're puzzled about the location of the bus stop. It isn't in the same place that it was in prior years. Instead of the children
walking down the street, just a few houses, they now had to cross two, very active streets to get to the bus stop.
Vigilant, we parents made
calls to get the stop moved back to where it was before. It seemed to be a fairly easy process. We called the administrator
who coordinates the bus stops and he easily acquiesced. The supervisor of the bus drivers visited the bus stop and agreed
with us about the safety concern. The administrator told us that the paperwork just needed to get signed by his boss, but
to let the driver know the decision was made to move the bus stop back to the old location. Victory was ours. Or was it? We
left someone out of the process and what occurred next will sound painfully familiar to any sales person who works in a complex,
After the conversation with
the supervisor and administrator, we went to what we thought was the new, old bus stop. The bus turned down our street, we
gave our kids a farewell kiss, and awaited their boarding of the bus. Here comes the
bus. There goes the bus. The bus driver drove past us as if we weren't even there. Needless to say, we were furious and
got on the horn. All roads led to Jack (name changed) who is the ultimate decision-maker on bus stops. He had not been consulted
on any of these discussions or decisions and was blind-sided by this situation. "I see no reason to change the stop from where
I assigned it, he barked." We immediately knew this was going to be problematic. With the urging of the school and
the parents, he agreed to "re-assess" the bus stop.
Following his re-assessment,
he called each of the parents to inform them of his decision. "Well, I don't think the bus stop is unsafe, but I'm
going to move it." Don't think for one second that he used this opportunity to say that the parents' solution was better than
his. Instead, he didn't move the stop to the requested location. He moved it across the street from where we asked him to
assign it. He even changed the entire bus route to accommodate for his solution, a tremendous amount of work for a small issue.
However, assigning bus stops is Jack's domain. He owns it. He's responsible for it. He is in control. No one is going to tell
Jack how to run his business. He is a thirty-year expert in bus safety. However, this wasn't a decision on expertise, it was
old-fashioned bravado, ego. And, it is not limited to bus stops. It impacts every sales person who needs to engage multiple
people in the buying process to get the account awarded to them.
As I hung up the phone with
Jack, it dawned on me. I coach sales people on how to work strategically in an account and we failed miserably in this circumstance.
One of the perils I share with sales people is leaving the ultimate decision-maker out of the solution development process.
Think about a sale that you lost, that you thought you were going to win. And, you thought you were going to win because you
had a great relationship with the administrator. You and the administrator had
crafted the entire solution in such a way that he could march into his boss's office for the proverbial rubber stamp.
Many years ago, I learned,
painfully, that there is no such thing as a rubber stamp. Many sales people hear "rubber stamp" and feel confident that they
are working with the right person. "The sale is mine!" If anything, the rubber stamp is simply the fuse on a stick of dynamite.
Better get under your desk, your deal is about to implode!
Here is what happens behind
the scenes as your administrator visits with his boss. "Mr Jones, I've found a new supplier for our widgets. The sales rep
is terrific. We've worked together and developed an ideal solution that makes everyone's life easier and we'll save 10% on
our spending." "Put it in my inbox," says, Mr. Jones. Days become weeks as the administrator pings Mr. Jones about his rubber
stamp, but no signature is forthcoming.
Finally, Mr. Jones develops
an interest in his widget purchasing and surfs the web for potential suppliers. He meets with three of them and finds one
to his liking. "This supplier is going to save the company 10.25%". Guess who got the deal? However, the sales person never
knows about this because the administrator is too embarrassed to call him. After all, the administrator said this was just
a rubber stamp, you had been awarded the business. Communication with the administrator goes dark; he just stops responding
to your emails and voicemails.
What sales people often forget
is that as you go up the corporate ladder, business leaders maintain accountability for the lower rungs of their responsibility.
Thus, they want to feel as if they are involved in the solution development phase, or at least be offered the opportunity
to participate. When administrators fly into their office with what they feel is a great decision, they are rebuffed. And,
for one core reason, EGO! While the administrator's plan may very well be a great one, it is met with resistance for the simple
reason that his manager was not invited to participate in the process. When he finally becomes interested enough to look at
this issue, his goal becomes proving that there is a better deal to be had. In essence, this approach creates a saboteur of
If you are the sales person
dealing with the administrator, how do you have the conversation where you share the concern of their manager not being involved
in the process without offending? It takes a tremendous amount of finesse and strategic planning. However, if you truly have
your client's best interests at heart, it is easy. This is the ultimate key. If you are committed to ensuring that your clients
achieve their goals, you can have this conversation. After all, you know that they won't get what they want if you continue
down this path. Need help with a strategy to have this discussion with your clients, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lee B. Salz is a sales management guru who helps companies hire the right sales people, on-board them, and focus
their sales activity using his sales architecture® methodology. He is the President
of Sales Architects, the C.E.O. of Business Expert Webinars and author of “Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager.” Lee is an online columnist for Sales and Marketing Management Magazine, a print columnist for SalesforceXP Magazine, and the host of the
Internet radio show, “Secrets of Business Gurus.” Look for Lee's new book in February 2009 titled, "The Sales
Marriage” where he shares the secrets to hiring the right sales people. He is a passionate, dynamic speaker and a business
consultant. Lee can be reached at lsalz@SalesArchitecture.com or 763.416.4321.