The Best Sales Reps Avoid “Talkers”
by Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman –
You call on a new customer and have an incredible sales conversation. You learn this person is fairly senior, he can network you with nearly anyone in his organization, he loves your products, he’s upfront and honest, he’s willing to dish the dirt on what’s really happening inside his company, he’s got some skin in the game and is personally on the hook to deliver business improvement, and he really wants to help you win this business!
A deal is all but certain.
Most sales people would lock onto this customer. But star-performing salespeople do something very different after such a conversation — they start over. They walk away from all those promises and commitments. Sure they might take good notes, maybe even ask for few more names, but they will not hitch their wagon to this contact. Our research, as discussed in our latest HBR article, “The End of Solution Sales,” shows us they’ve recognized something that average -performers haven’t — this customer contact can’t build the consensus required to get a deal done.
In our analysis of over 700 unique B2B purchases, we identified seven distinct customer contact profiles.
- Go-Getters: Motivated by organizational improvement and constantly looking for good ideas, Go-Getters champion action around great insights wherever they find them.
- Teachers: Passionate about sharing insights and ideas, teachers are sought out by colleagues for their input. They’re especially good at persuading others to take a specific course of action.
- Skeptics: Wary of large complicated projects, Skeptics push back on almost everything. Even when championing a new idea, they’ll counsel careful, measured implementation.
- Guides: Willing to share the organization’s latest gossip, Guides furnish information that is typically unavailable to outsiders.
- Friends: Just as nice as the name suggests, Friends are readily accessible and happily help reps network with other stakeholders in the organization.
- Climbers: Focused primarily on personal gain, Climbers back projects that will raise their own profiles, and they expect to be rewarded when those projects succeed.
- Blockers: Perhaps better described as “anti-stakeholders,” Blockers are strongly oriented toward the status quo. They have little interest in speaking to outside vendors.
Of those seven profiles, the first three (Go-Getters, Teachers, and Skeptics) are effective in driving a purchase to completion by navigating consensus requirements, politicking, and sharing a compelling vision with their organization. Collectively we call these three Mobilizers, because they mobilize action. Three of the remaining profiles are poor at driving purchases (Guides, Friends, and Climbers); we refer to them as Talkers, because they do little more than that. The final profile, Blockers, simply get in the way. Not surprisingly, star salespeople orient towards Mobilizers and away from Talkers and Blockers.
There is a troubling paradox in the Talker. This profile embodies much of what sales leaders tell salespeople to seek out in the ideal stakeholder: they are accessible, they provide great information, they act as a hub for networking, they are pro-supplier — the list goes on and on. In the end, however, these very traits ultimately harm their credibility inside the organization. The access they grant to the supplier and their energetic backing of that supplier results in doubt amongst their peers. Indeed, our data show that Talkers are anywhere from four to six times less able to build consensus for a purchase compared to Mobilizers.
Even more troubling is that over 30% of Talkers are senior executives. The senior Talker is an average performing salesperson’s worst nightmare. Great conversations, followed by empty commitments — repeated over and over. One company we work with shared a painful story of selling to a senior Talker. Every month for four years this deal was forecast. It wasn’t until after that contact left and a new contact stepped in that the business was closed. Despite his seniority, this contact was not able (or perhaps unwilling) to amass support for the purchase.
In fact, our clients conducting win/loss analysis have frequently shared stories of no-decisions that left them scratching their heads. Deals with good momentum, senior backing, significant access, plenty of activity in a short period of time, but nothing happens. All the indicators of progress are seemingly present. However, once they examined these deals with the Mobilizer/Talker/Blocker lens, it became abundantly clear that the key contact was a Talker. Little support was generated for the purchase beyond this person.
On the other hand, Mobilizers put their own business first. Our analysis shows they care little about any given supplier. Mobilizers don’t want to be sold something — they want to do something. They value suppliers for new ideas and insights on ways to run their business, not for the features and benefits that suppliers offer. A sales conversation with a Mobilizer is like walking the gauntlet. They push back. They demand evidence. They challenge the salesperson’s claims. To the average salesperson, this sure doesn’t look like the advocate they were told to find. But to the star performer, this is ideal.