Recently I was working with a client in software sales who was in the middle of a bid process with a very large, globally recognized company who had shown a strong interest in becoming a potential client. All prior meetings had gone well up to this point; they had been officially asked to submit a proposal, and if you’ve been in sales for any length of time you can probably guess what happened next. When they called a few days later to follow up on the proposal, the entire relationship was seemingly different, and the prospect began to backpedal and use defensive language.

What went wrong? This kind of thing can happen for a number of reasons. The most common issues are often sticker shock and scope issues that can usually be avoided with due diligence and proactive language early on. In this case, the hang-up had to do with a change to the number of users in the initial software rollout and while the change was legitimate, it was not communicated sufficiently ahead of the proposal leaving the prospect feeling a little like the goal posts had been moved.

While I could spend a lot of time talking about proactive question asking and good sales hygiene that may have avoided the confusion in the first place, I want to focus on what you do once the mistake has already been made. These types of miscommunications and missteps happen to all of us at some point. It’s important to understand that every fumble can still be an opportunity to move the ball forward and have a game plan ready for when it does occur because it will.

My advice, in this case, was to forget about the common back step of, “I’ll call you back in 90 days and see if anything has changed…” and go for the human element. There was evidence early-on that a good buyer/seller relationship was established and that trust was present. My client was understandably struggling with some rejection and confusion, so I recommended that they call back their prospect and show some vulnerability, share their perspective, and ask, “…what changed?” The prospect turned out to be very receptive and they were able to get traction again instead of letting a potential marquee client wither on the vine for three months or more.

In the information age, salespeople have been able to turn the best sales techniques into useless platitudes at lightning speeds. The ramification being that the value of your relationships now carry more weight than ever before in the sales process and if you are not pioneering a sales culture where authenticity, vulnerability, and relationship are not only valued but encouraged, you will constantly be at a disadvantage.

The core of a sales culture is its beliefs, spoken or otherwise. Most sales cultures are by default and heavily influenced by the Sales VP or Managers style. Sometimes this can be great but more often than not, default sales cultures suffer from higher turnover, confusion, and inconsistent performance. The good news is that healthy and vibrant sales cultures are the product of intention, and any team can start tomorrow. Begin taking a look at what’s actually driving deal value/velocity in the market today and prepare your team to provide it. Things to consider when looking at the link between your sales culture and how it influences results:

  • Are we measuring the right things and thereby incentivizing the right behaviors?
  • Are reps empowered to build and leverage relationships in the sales cycle?
  • Do we leverage the individual talent of our team members in meaningful ways?
  • Do we recognize the value of different generational styles, e.g. Millennials, Xers, Boomers?
  • Do we trust our reps and do they trust us?

The new superstar sales teams are not built around the latest and greatest tips and techniques, they are built around the people, both inside and outside the office that influence the sales cycle most. Do you have a sales culture that reflects this new reality?