Sales Competencies & Root Cause Analysis of Common B2B Sales Symptoms

Ed Marsh | Sep 18, 2023

Frustrating B2B Sales Symptoms Often Aren't the Actual Problems

Introduction to SignalsFromTheOP

Guide to Episode

  1. Manufacturing companies use sophisticated approaches to identify and fix root cause problems of production challenges
  2. They can do the same for marketing and sales problems - rather than just bandaid the symptoms
  3. The important step is to have an empirically accurate tool for measuring competencies of each member of the sales team, and the organization as a whole
  4. With those measurements, the data can be used to identify root causes and to construct training and improvement plans - and then to measure the progress

Transcript follows:

Hello. I’m Ed Marsh. This is SignalsFromTheOP, my biweekly video series that provides early warning of important industrial sales and manufacturing marketing topics for owners and leaders in industrial manufacturing firms. Please check out the full playlist and share this with others who you think might find value.

Manufacturing Best Practice - Root Cause Analysis

Let’s talk about root cause analysis.

This is a topic that I’m sure is 2nd nature for most of the folks watching. Long ago, when there was a quality problem at the end of the manufacturing line, companies would add another customer service rep to handle warranty issues or another QC check at the point of pack-off.

Deming taught the folly of that approach. He helped companies understand that if you have a repeatable process with built-in consistency, you can systematically walk back through a line to understand the root cause of the quality problem.

Now, let’s compare that to sales.

One of my consistent refrains is that if manufacturers can adapt the mindset of quality, process engineering and consistent measurement that they’ve applied to production, and now apply it to marketing and sales, they have a huge opportunity for revenue growth. And this is a good example.

What are the end-of-line quality defect analogs in B2B industrial sales?

Think of things like:

  • discounting
  • consistent competitive losses
  • deals that simply disappear with no decision
  • excessive quoting
  • inaccurate forecasts.

My guess is that everyone watching wrestles with each of these - and these are symptoms.

CEOs and senior execs often self-diagnose the problems as weakness in negotiation or “closing” skills. They sign up for a session on negotiation training for the team, turn their attention to other pressing issues, and nothing much changes.

It’s just like hiring another customer service rep to field quality complaints. Yes, you address the symptom, but you don’t solve the problem. (Here's an idea - how about having an Andon Cord for your sales process!)

Uncovering Root Causes of B2B Sales Problems

But what if we backed up and took a Deming approach to the sales function looking for root causes. We might find some impactful and actionable information.

For instance:

  • perhaps the products and pricing aren’t appropriate for the market you’re targeting
  • maybe the sales team is hesitant to have in depth conversations about budgets – where the money is coming from, what else will be neglected to ensure this is done, who strokes the check, what happened last time they requested capital of this magnitude, etc.
  • perhaps certain sales people are so concerned about annoying a prospect with challenging questions that they refuse to dig deep into business implications to really uncover a prospect’s compelling reasons to buy.
  • the way reps make major purchases themselves causes them to empathize with prospects who request resource-consuming detailed quotes long before they’re appropriate in either the buying journey or sales process.

The point is that by the time a deal dies, or the seventh version of a quote is issued, or a heated negotiation generates a plea that sounds like “I’m afraid if we don’t discount 17% we’re going to lose the deal”, there’s always root cause lurking.

There’s a gap in sales competence, mindset, training, coaching or execution…and very, very occasionally a gap in product/market fit.

It’s time to fix revenue growth the same way we’ve fixed production. Let’s identify the root cause and fix there.

The question is how? The answer is simple, but as the saying goes, it's not easy. There are four required steps:

  1. Use empirical, predictively accurate tools to diagnose – in this case that means a sales force testing tool that looks at all phases of individual and organizational sales function
  2. Effectively digest the resulting information grom the sales aptitude tests to diagnose the root causes and develop an action plan to address them
  3. Train and improve – individualized and aggregate sales training can be optimized with the insights from the evaluation. Sales leadership and management best practices can be introduced, individual reps can be developed, and organizational improvements (e.g. sales process) can be made
  4. Upgrade the team – each team member will have the choice of whether to embrace the insights, training and coaching to optimize their performance….or not. If they refuse, they need to be replaced with talent that’s assessed using similar criteria during the hiring process. If they are incapable, then the company should help them find an internal or possibly an external role that’s better suited for their strengths

Managing Sales by Measurement...Just Like Manufacturing

It's simple because we can accurately measure everything involved – just like in production.

We can measure the performance gaps, the coaching effectiveness, the sales activities, and the improvement in competencies, pipeline and revenue. And we can easily proscribe certain training and organizational improvement to correct shortcomings.

It’s not easy because many organizations lack the will to change and a culture of accountability, and the sales team is accustomed to operating without engineered sales process. Management is often a product of the same environment….but in vastly different market conditions when it used to work.

But here’s the bottom line.

We don’t have to just accept sales problems.

We used to assume that we needed to deal with some percentage of production defects – then we got serious.

It’s time to do the same with sales. The tools, processes, methodologies, and systems are available to help optimize your current team and replace non-performers with stronger candidates.

I’m Ed Marsh. If you found value in this episode of Signals from the OP check out the full playlist and maybe even like it, share it and subscribe – either to my YouTube channel EdMarshSpeaks.TV or at the related blog