The elephant in the (sales) room

Zig Ziglar, an early pioneer of professional B2B sales training said “Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust”, which is undoubtedly true and, in high-value B2B sales, the last one, no trust, is the most challenging of all. No matter how good your rapport building and relationship skills are, there’s something in the background that can undermine the customer’s trust in you.

Unresolved concerns.

They are the ‘elephant in the room’, the unspoken, often unrecognised, threat lurking at the back of every big sales opportunity. So how do you spot them?  If you’re involved in big B2B sales you’ve almost certainly fallen victim to them in the past. That sale that was progressing well but then stalled and eventually petered out – unresolved concerns. The contact who was always available who, late in the process, stops taking or returning your calls – unresolved concerns. The insurmountable price objection that appears out of the blue when price hadn’t seemed to be an issue – unresolved concerns.

However it manifests itself, the common factor is risk. Research into making major decisions by my former colleagues at Huthwaite International shows that, as the buying decision gets closer, the prospect’s attention turns away from what your solution will give and turns to what they must give to get it. They ask themselves the inevitable question, “What if it goes wrong?”.

It’s the same for all of us. Remember that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach the night before you sign the contract to buy a new house, or hand in your resignation to move to a new job? That’s concerns. The problem is, in a business setting, you can’t declare them. No buyer is ever going to confess they’re worried about buying from you, it’s just not done. So they hide behind the sort of tactics outlined above. If the concerns remain, and the buying decision isn’t inevitable, they will simply do nothing. It’s the reason why around 30% of major buying processes end without a purchase being made, a percentage that’s been consistent for decades.

So what if they have to go ahead and buy, regardless of how worried they may feel? They take what they feel is the lowest risk option, the existing supplier (better the devil you know), the market leader (“no-one got fired for buying IBM”), or the cheapest (lowest risk equals lowest cost). And this last one, losing out to a cheaper but clearly inferior competitor, is yet another sign of unresolved concerns.

So do you need to worry about them? If you are the cheapest, AND the market leader, AND the existing supplier, then no. For the rest of us, we certainly should.

And a couple of final thoughts. One, concerns are not the same as objections, concerns are emotional but objections are rational. And two, objections aren’t always objections. Further research by Huthwaite showed that in around 30% of failed sales where the reason given was price, the real reason was an unresolved concern; “it’s too expensive” is, for the buyer, the easiest way of letting you down gently.

So what can you do about them? Look out for my next post to find out more.