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6 Reasons Salespeople Win
or Lose a Sale
by Steve W. Martin
JUNE 23, 2017


Why does a salesperson lose a sale?

It’s a question I’ve studied for years, as part of the win-loss analysis research I
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Seventy-eight percent of participants who preferred a salesperson who would listen and solve their specific  NO THANKS. The research project goals were to understand how customers perceive the salespeople they meet with. understands. However. under 20% of accounting and IT staffers want to be challenged. and then matches their solution to solve a specific problem. because they will take care of the customer’s long-term needs. The sales department equally preferred having a salesperson listen and solve their needs and being challenged. From a departmental perspective. and learn how different company departments and vertical industries make buying decisions. Over 50% of marketing and IT prefer a salesperson who will listen and match a solution to solve their specific needs. In order to identify these hidden decision-making factors.There’s a tendency to assume that the salesperson lost because their product was inferior in some way. Another 30% prefer a salesperson who earns their trust by making them feel comfortable. This suggests that other factors separate the winner from the losers. in the majority of interviews buyers rank all the feature sets of the competing products as being roughly equal. Another 30% want a salesperson who challenges their thoughts and perceptions and then prescribes a solution that they may not have known about. There’s an interesting explanation for selling styles preferences. explore the circumstances that determine which vendor is selected. I WANT TO KEEP READING . more than 230 buyers completed a 76-part survey. while 43% of the engineering department does. HR was equally split across all three selling styles. which is based on Subscribe now  whether the buyer is comfortable with conflict. We had six key research findings: #1: Some Customers Want to be Challenged What selling style do prospective buyers prefer? The survey shows 40% of study participants prefer a salesperson who listens. Lead your way to success with HBR.

drama. this person is successful in getting the vendor they want selected 89% of the time. I WANT TO KEEP READING of the best-known brand. it can be said that a salesperson doesn’t have to win over the entire selection committee. factors including self-interests. For salespeople who have to compete against these industry giants. only 5% would the cost. politics. In fact. #3: Market Leaders Have an Edge In most industries a single company controls the market. Conversely. the study results provide some good news in this regard. and group dynamics will influence the final decision. greater marketing budget and reach. best-known brand with the highest Lead your way to success with HBR. However. and conflict are normal parts of group dynamics. 63% said they would select a fairly well-known Subscribe brand with 85% of the functionality at 80% ofnow  However. 64% of participants who preferred a salesperson who challenges their thoughts disagreed with the statement and are comfortable with conflict.” Conversely. because purchase decisions typically are not made unanimously. they have a much larger market share. life can be very intimidating indeed. and more company cachet. One critical research finding is that 90% of study participants confirmed that there is always or usually one member of the evaluation committee who tries to influence and bully the decision their way. Compared with their competitors. In practicality. Buyers aren’t necessarily fixated on the market leader and are more than willing to select second-tier competitors than one might expect. #2: It’s Really a Committee of One Whenever a company makes a purchase decision that involves a team of people. select a relatively unknown brand with 75% of the functionality at 60% of the cost  NO THANKS. only the individual who dominates it. functionality and cost. .needs agreed with the statement: “I try to avoid conflict as much as I can. Tension. Moreover. only 33% of participants indicated they prefer the most prestigious. top-of-the-line products.

#4: Some Buyers Are “Price Immune” Price plays an important role in every sales cycle. health care. The fashion and finance verticals had the highest propensity to select the best-known. information technology. product price is secondary to other decision-making factors such as functionality and vendor capability. and fashion are price conscious. This is because every initiative and its associated expenditure is competing against all the other projects that are Lead your way to success with HBR. From an industry perspective. decision makers have different propensities to buy. engineering would be classified as price immune. real estate. while manufacturing and health care had the lowest. and accounting as price conscious. it’s buyers’ failure to make any decision. human resources. the answer to this question differed by industry. For “price immune” buyers. price becomes an issue only when the solution they want is priced far more than the others being considered. For “price sensitive” buyers. Banking. top-of-the- line product. only the government sector would be classified as price immune. From a departmental perspective. and consulting would be price sensitive. Study participants were asked to respond to different pricing scenarios. However. For “price conscious” buyers. and the importance of price falls into three categories.Not surprisingly. marketing and sales as price sensitive. Since it is a frequent topic during buyer conversations. requesting funds. and their responses were analyzed to categorize their pricing tendency. technology. salespeople can become fixated on the price of their product and believe they have to be lowest. #5: It’s Possible to Cut Through Bureaucracy The most feared enemy of salespeople today isn’t solely their archrivals. and manufacturing. I WANT TO KEEP READING . Do the departments have different abilities to push through their Subscribe purchases and defeat their company’s nowtendency bureaucratic  not to buy?  NO THANKS. product price is a top decision-making factor. while manufacturing.

human nature is complicated. sales. Sales Strategy: Competitive Insights from  NO THANKS. In reality. Subscribe now  Steve W. Therefore they’re better departments to sell into from the salesperson’s perspective. and marketing.000+ Key Information Technology Decision Makers. it is the mastery of the intangible. #6: Charisma Sells in Certain Industries Imagine three salespeople who’ve pitched products that are very similar in functionality and price. His new book is titled Heavy Hitter I. some not — determine how buyers evaluate sales reps and who they select. IT.T. human resources. . and engineering have more internal clout to push through their projects as opposed to accounting. intuitive human element of the sales process that separates the winner from losers. the media and fashion industries selected “charismatic salesperson” more than most. Lead your way to success with HBR. Based on the research results.The answer is yes. and a mix of factors — some rational. I WANT TO KEEP READING Interviews with 1. Many salespeople behave as if buyers are rational decision makers. Martin teaches sales strategy at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. Ultimately. Which would you rather do business with: • A) A professional salesperson who knows their product inside and out but is not necessarily someone you would consider befriending • B) A friendly salesperson who is likable and proficient in explaining their product • C) A charismatic salesperson who you truly enjoyed being with but is not the most knowledgeable about their product While top selection in every industry was the friendly salesperson. and the manufacturing and health care industries had the highest percentage of “professional salesperson” responses.

and thought-provoking. length. or off-topic may be deleted per the moderators' judgment. Subscribe now   NO THANKS. To comment. I WANT TO KEEP READING . Comments that are overly will be energetic. readers must sign in or register. and relevance.This article is about SALES  FOLLOW THIS TOPIC Comments Leave a Comment POST 6 COMMENTS Amit Sharma a month ago The trick of any sale is to read the mind of customer and then wrap ones product around his needs & aspiration REPLY 01  JOIN THE CONVERSATION POSTING GUIDELINES We hope the conversations that take place on HBR. All postings become the property of Harvard Business Publishing. mean-spirited. And to ensure the quality of the discussion. our moderating team will review all comments and may edit them for clarity. Lead your way to success with HBR. constructive.