Looking past the symptoms to uncover the root causes


One symptom, but many potential causes

One symptom, but many potential causes

What you see on the surface is often nothing more than a symptom of an underlying problem or possibly a problem that has its origins in an earlier stage of the process.  Reacting to symptoms only ever delivers a short-term fix.

Revisiting the “Pipeline or pipedream” theme once again we look at the oft expressed issue “Our problem is that we have loads of bids in the pipeline but no one is making a decision”. This is not the real problem; this is a consequence of the problem. The problem lies beneath the surface and will likely consist of any number of factors such as :

  • You have sent a proposal for something you want to sell but the prospect does not want to buy or they do not realise they have the problem your proposition will solve.
  • You have identified a want in the prospect but in their mind it is not backed up by a need.
  • The prospect does not have the authority to buy.
  • The prospect does not have the budget to buy.
  • The prospect does not think what you are offering delivers enough value to justify the price which also means the prospect will perceive too much risk in going with you.
  • The prospect is very happy with the current supplier whom they trust and like.
  • There is a competitor unknown to you who has submitted a better proposal.

So, have you sent a proposal without understanding the key facts about the prospect and their world?  Are they in a position to make a decision?  If only this meant the decision will take a long time to be made it might be a manageable situation.  Unfortunately sending a proposal to the wrong person, for the wrong thing, at the wrong point in their buying cycle and almost certainly at the wrong price damages your chances for ever.

This type of damage is difficult to repair not least because the prospect probably won’t tell you it has happened and it typically exposes things that the prospect does not want to admit; they overstated their authority, they used you as a stalking horse to put pressure on the incumbent supplier or, in plain language, they did not tell you the whole truth.

In summary the “problem” that you have lots of bids stuck in the pipeline is a symptom of the real problem which is; you sometimes send proposals to satisfy a need in your process rather than in response to a prospect who has a problem they want to solve and who is getting ready to buy.

So if you problems are really only symptoms, any fixes will only have a short lived effect. You need to drill down deeper to find the root cause and then look for a solution at this level.

It can also be the case that the root cause of the problem will be found at an earlier stage in your process.  Consider the scenario where a supplier does a lot of work with companies in a particular industry sector.  This often leads the supplier to position themselves as “specialists” to that business sector; but people who clean offices in the City of London work in a lot of banks but it does not mean they know anything about banking.

If a company thinks it has an area of specialisation and focuses its marketing effort to generate leads in that sector, this will filter through as meetings for sales people with companies in that sector.  However, when the sales person meets the prospect, it will be quickly established that the supplier is not an industry expert and the mismatch in expectations will lead to a loss of credibility which in turn means the prospect will see the supplier as “ordinary”.  The supplier may still offer to provide a proposal, the prospect may be too polite to say no to the proposal but is unlikely to be saying yes to what is proposed.  Result – a lot of things stuck in the sales pipeline.

To summarise; when considering problems that have a negative impact on your selling performance ensure you are looking at the real problems rather than their easier to see consequences.  In looking for the real problems drill down but also look back.  Each time you think you have found the problem, test it – test it to see if there is something else further back or further down before expending effort fixing what might only be a symptom.

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