Take What the Defense is Giving (Issue 574)

In which we are reminded to pursue issues in which our prospects / clients are interested rather than the issues in which WE are interested.

“You have to take what the defense is giving you.”

I was tossing a Frisbee with my resident sports Wizard, talking about the on-court strategy of a local basketball team of some note, anticipating what might happen in an upcoming game.

“No defense can cover everything.  When they’re playing 10 feet off our [point guard], he has to shoot.  As soon as he starts shooting, the defense will spread out to meet him. When the defense spreads out, he has to drive to the basket to draw defenders.  When he draws defenders, someone is open; he has to pass to them.  If he just stands out there and dribbles, waiting for a play to develop, everybody is covered. We’re stuffed.”

He turned to retrieve the Frisbee I’d tossed into a flower bed. When he came back, he said, “It’s the same with [a local football team of some note].  It’s great to have a game plan like ‘run up the middle because you think it’s weak.’

But when you’re not gaining yardage and you look around and see the opposing defensive backs are playing ten yards or more off our receivers, then you have to take what the defense is giving you and throw quick passes to the uncovered receivers.  And, in games when we’ve done that, we’ve marched down the field and scored. And if I can see that, I’m thinking, ‘Hey, [Coach], you should be seeing this sooner than I am.’”

Planning sales calls and writing call plans are important tools for us. Our game plans. Through the process, we think about our prospects’ and customers’ circumstances, we anticipate issues they might be facing, we choose conversation focus points, we prepare lines of questioning, and we marshal resources – documents, ideas, product experts to join us on calls. All good.

Yet, time and again, I’ve observed calls or listened to call debriefs in which clients or prospects said, by word or deed, “I’m not really interested in that” and in which sellers continued ‘running up the middle,’ seeking to convince their prospects / customers that they SHOULD be interested, and here are all the reasons why, and, look, we’ve got this great product that will address that specific need for less money than other firms offer it! … because that was the game plan.

And, if I can see that, I’m thinking, “Hey, [sales people], you should be seeing this sooner than I am.”

We can make three adjustments:

  1.  Confirm conversation objectives and desired outcomes ahead of time, before sales calls.  “Pat, just confirming that we’re going to focus on your challenges collecting payments from your international customers when we meet next week.”
  2. Upon arrival at the meeting, ask, “Have any of your objectives or desired outcomes for this meeting changed?” or ask, “To make sure we’re all aligned, would you please confirm what  you would  like to accomplish through our discussion today.”
  3. If we lose our client’s / prospect’s attention, look for uncovered issues through a transition, for example: “The issue we came to discuss doesn’t seem to be top of mind for you.   What are the top one or two issues or challenges on which you are focused this week?”

If the client/prospect says, “We’ve got to do X better, and I’m under a lot of pressure to get that done,” then we take what the defense is giving us and throw our sales resources to the uncovered issue rather than continuing to force our way up the middle on the original issue because we developed our game plan to address it or because our sales manager coach wants us to sell more of a particular product.

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