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Salespeople are under constant pressure to be at or above quota. What sellers do can be calculated to decimal points (percent of quota). In stark contrast, sellers have extraordinary latitude in deciding how they do it: who they call on, how they position offerings, qualifying opportunities, etc.

“A” Players are exceptional performers that regularly kill their numbers and need little if any management.

A Players are intuitive and seem to have an innate talent to relate to buyers. They typically call at high levels and focus on usage and outcomes rather than making product calls.

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A Players are selective about vendors they work for and favor start-ups that offer large territories, lucrative commission structures, and potential equity. The problem is that A Players are in short supply.

A recent Miller Heiman survey found that only 7% of sellers are considered “world class.” For other sellers (B and C Players) achieving quota is a mountain to climb every year. Here are some common behaviors and habits of B and C Players that ultimately hurt their sales performance.

3 Bad Sales Habits That Hurt Your Performance

1. B and C Players often start buying cycles with lower levels within prospect organizations.

They are less intimidating than executives and their primary interest is learning about new offerings.  Especially for large transactions, this “bottom-up” sales approach is fraught with pitfalls.

If there’s no budget, lower levels can’t fund initiatives. I’d also like to point out if budget is in place there’s a good chance another vendor has already set the requirements with a bias toward their offering.

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If sellers are successful in “climbing” the org chart ladder each new contact they call on can say no. It isn’t until sellers gain access to decision makers that they’re finally talking to someone who can say yes (buy). 

In many cases B and C Players never gain access to decision maker levels. As you would expect sales cycles will be longer executing bottom-up sales.

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Another potential danger is that sellers will keep working with a single lower level “buyer” whose primary interest is in the offering. Some sellers may go so far as to issue proposals because they feel it is a step in moving opportunities forward.

When issued without getting the perspective of higher stakeholders many opportunities will languish. Even if an executive tries to read the proposal would it be compelling enough to elicit a positive reaction?

In many cases, proposals will remain in pipeline limbo migrating toward no-decision. Proposals and radiation have half-lives. Every month that goes by lessens the likelihood of an order.

No decision outcomes (losses) mean sellers have spent time, effort and resources with nothing to show for it.

2. B and C Players struggle to make calls on executives.

Part of the problem is the extensive product training companies pound into their sellers’ brains. It causes sellers to view their offerings as nouns as they attempt to educate buyers with esoteric facts about offerings.

They subscribe to the theory “if she knew what I know about this offering she would buy.” The reality is that very few executives have the bandwidth or desire to learn about offerings.

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I met a seller who shared with me that he was a chemical engineer that worked for a company that sold industrial adhesives (expensive glue). When asked to describe the glue he droned on for about 45 seconds using words like viscosity, molecular bonding, ions, etc.

When he came up for air I shared with him that he was describing his offering as though it were a noun. I asked if he could describe it by making glue a verb.

He had to gather himself for a few seconds and then told me that aerospace was a major vertical for his company and prospects had to affix aluminum skins to airplane’s framework rivets with a rivet.

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There were four reasons rivets were bad in that they:  put holes in the frame, added weight, were more expensive and created drag that reduced fuel economy.

His glue allowed aircraft to be stronger, lighter, less expensive and deliver better fuel economy. I remembered 3 or 4 words from his noun-based pitch but recall nearly word for word his verb-based positioning.

A Players don’t execute product sales. They are able to discuss desired business outcomes and articulate product usage to executive buyers.

3. B and C Players believe every opportunity is winnable.

In extreme cases, they willingly respond to RFP’s wired by one of their competitors. Part of the problem is that they aren’t able to initiate opportunities but they should recognize that if they haven’t been given to influence the requirements they have a very small chance of winning with their response.

One of my clients had a 2% win rate on unsolicited RFP’s but dutifully responded to every request. The vast majority of the time the requirements had been wired by a “Column A” vendor.

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I suggested that when they received RFP’s where they had no influence on the requirement that the seller call the person administering the RFP and ask for access (phone or meeting) to three Key Player titles.

If asked why it was to better understand those buyers needs and potentially uncover new requirements.

If access was granted the seller had the chance to uncover new business issues or capabilities that were needed. If access wasn’t granted the seller would send an email or letter indicating without fully understanding the company’s needs they could not make a recommendation.

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If the company did not find what they were looking for and would grant access they would be happy to respond.

Managers had the final say on whether to bid or no bid. They generally would respond only if granted access and their win rate on unsolicited RFP’s increased from 2 to 24%.

B and C Players are motivated, intelligent and hard working. In my experience, few sellers are A Players in every situation.

Often sellers are A Players within specific verticals where they have domain expertise, for certain offerings or when calling on specific titles. Managers should help them qualify opportunities in helping to understand the difference between activity and progress.

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

John Holland

John Holland

John Holland is Chief Content Officer and Co-founder/Co-author of CustomerCentric Selling®. His primary responsibility with CustomerCentric Selling® (CCS®) is ensuring the core Intellectual Property remains in alignment with buying habits and behaviors. In coauthoring and helping launch CustomerCentric Selling® in 2002, Holland leveraged over 20 years’ experience in sales, sales management and consulting. As a sales consultant, he helped many diverse organizations design and implement sales process. He has worked with technology, overnight delivery, language localization, leasing, temporary housing, corporate relocation and financial services companies in tailoring CustomerCentric Selling® to address their requirements.

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