Get your salespeople off the path of least resistance

Salespeople default to the path of least resistance. The easy path. It’s in their nature. Internalizing this sales psychology is critical to business owners and sales managers. Especially given that, in the quest to solve this challenge, the tendency is to throw money at it. “We will just increase the commissions,” you’ll hear it said. But as we’ve shared here before, money is not a sliver bullet to motivating sales people. Like the flowing of a river, salespeople take the path of least resistance when faced with challenges or obstacles, that require extra effort or creativity; even if the monetary reward of change, is dizzying. We shall look at three ways how this manifests itself and what to do about it.

Prospect Qualification

Salespeople may prioritize low-effort, low-reward tasks over more challenging, high-reward activities, such as prospecting or cold-calling. This can result in a lack of progress and missed sales opportunities. For instance, salespeople often default to the path of least resistance by only pursuing leads that are most likely to result in a sale. This can mean neglecting to thoroughly qualify prospects and instead focusing only on those who appear to have an immediate need, or a high level of interest.  Continual prospecting is the cornerstone of successful selling. Prospecting isn’t just getting a lead but working (qualifying) it too. That’s what a sales funnel  and sales pipeline management are for. Yet, few salespeople actively prospect. It is time consuming work especially in the initially stages.

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Prospecting is the toughest step in the sales cycle. It’s no wonder that an avid reader of this blog shared that they are required to spend up to 60% of their time prospecting. And its measured. Admittedly, this gold standard is an outlier. Some business owners resolve to doing the prospecting for their sales people and hand them the leads. Yet, even here, seeking the easy way out, most salespeople will call up each of the leads only once. No follow-up. Now you know why that sales report had comments like these: ‘called but didn’t pick’; ‘number not going through’; ‘said he will call back’; ‘have emailed him’ and such other defeatist statements. To avert this, an imported cars business owner gave conversion targets based on industry benchmarks. If the industry converts 40 out of every 100, then this should be your salespeople’s minimum.

Familiarity bias

When a business changes direction, many times they assume the sales people will to. They don’t. If in doubt ask real estate business owners that were initially selling 50m by 80m plots everywhere in Kenya, and now have graduated to selling niche eights at 6M in Kiambu. Or, complete units (houses). 50 by 80 plots are comparatively cheaper, easier and quicker to sell than complete units. The latter have a longer sales cycle and deeper emotional involvement. And so, borne of a comfort zone, familiarity bias kicks in. The sales superstars that were transactionally selling plots, struggle rising to relationally selling complete units. You see, a handful few salespeople are hungry; the vast majority prefer to stick to what they know and are comfortable with, rather than trying new approaches or techniques that may require more effort or risk.

Salespeople take the path of least resistance.

This can limit their potential for growth and success. It can also lead to missed opportunities or stagnant sales performance. A renowned real estate institution in Kenya has commendably resolved this familiarity bias. “We are making changes as a business,” they announce to the sales team. “Going forward we shall be selling complete units and are phasing out selling of plots.” But they don’t stop there. They train, mentor and coach the sales people to get them to successfully transition to the desired direction. For those that cannot, and cannot be redeployed, they part ways.

Product Knowledge

Salespeople may also default to the path of least resistance by only promoting products or services that they are most comfortable with or have the most experience selling. The danger with this is that it can result in missed opportunities to sell other products that may be a better fit for the customer. The biggest culprit here is arguably bank sales reps. If they sell loans, the furthest they can venture is selling current accounts. And even then, its because the loan must come with it.  Mentions of over draft, asset finance, trade finance and treasury just draw a blank. Another industry where this can happen is when a business selling, say 50 different wines, suddenly increases the offering to 400. 

An institution I know shifted its rewards (commissions) model to address both volume and value (quantity and quality). Meaning. for instance, that high-end wines sales drew a larger commission even with lower volumes; but the salespeople were still required to meet a basic volumes target minimum.

Salespeople take the path of least resistance

Other examples where salespeople take the path of least resistance include lukewarm follow-ups, poor time management and stubbornness in using a singular closing technique even when it’s not working. Then there is the insistence on engaging the customer online, so as to actively avoid the enriching face-to-face engagement. Whatever the case, by and large when a business invests in changing its product offering or business direction, to succeed, it should also invest in upskilling its sales people to the new normal. This can take a singular or combination of methods, which are likely to include carrot and stick.


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