One of the favorite aspects of our DSR Live podcast is the sheer number of different DSRs we have the opportunity to know and observe while working with them in their territory, as well as all there is to be learned from them through our interviews for the show.
Between my various positions as a DSR, manufacturer’s rep, broker, and sales coach, I’ve had the privilege to observe and work closely with hundreds of DSRs across dozens of companies. I’ve seen who is effective and who is not, and uncovered best practices that are prevalent among top performers. I’ve been able to test theories in the field, experiment with techniques, and see the results firsthand. Unfortunately, I’ve also witnessed a lot of failures, particularly when it comes to new business development sales.
I regularly see good DSRs who excel at many aspects of selling (relationship management, customer service, problem-solving, and client retention) dramatically underperform when it comes to acquiring net new business. And after years of observing so many sales reps struggle in this area, I’ve compiled a list of reasons I believe DSRs fail at new business development. I want to share some of these common behaviors, attitudes, and attributes as a wake-up call, not to be negative or to belittle anyone, but rather to help. Truth is that everyone in sales (beginning with myself) falls victim to some or all of these issues.
To the seasoned Veteran DSRs, I ask you to take a long look in the mirror to see which of these habits may be hindering your new business success and negatively impacting your results.
To the Greenhorns DSRs, you may not be far enough along to yet know which of these pitfalls will trip you up, but consider this as a warning and road map of potential dangers and hurdles ahead.
A few Common Behaviors, Attitudes, and Attributes we’ve observed:
I haven’t had to or don’t know how to engage in new business development.
A widespread reason DSRs struggle with prospecting and new business development is that they simply do not know what to do. And it isn’t even their fault. Many people in sales have never been forced to find new business. Taking care of existing customers has consistently been a reliable way to grow revenue in good times. There was plenty of demand, and as long as we met the needs of existing customers and maintained a solid relationship, we picked up business and everyone was happy.
Due to COVID the last few years, we’ve worked with several DSR veterans who have been doing what they are good at for a long time, account management. Some have been handling their accounts this way for as long as 30 years. Up until recently, it worked for them. Now, however, their business is significantly off, and in many cases, so is their income. They are unsure of how to even begin the process of hunting for new business.
I have also spent a good deal of time with an assortment of young greenhorn DSRs from various areas of the country. They have been tasked with prospecting to acquire new business, but their biggest hurdle is that no one has shown them what to do or how to do it. “GO MAKE PROSPECT CALLS” doesn’t qualify as good sales management, sales coaching or training. Unfortunately, the lack of sales mentors is taking its toll. Not many sales managers are modeling what a proper new business sales effort looks like or investing the time to show these greenhorns the ropes.
WAITING is a key ingredient in the recipe for new business development failure.
Some DSRs fail to develop new business because they are too patient and too slow to get into action. In distributor after distributor, I see DSRs waiting… waiting on the company. I hear excuses about waiting to call prospects until marketing has the new monthly flyer ready. Waiting for the new part on the website to launch. Even waiting for warm leads from the business development reps.
Really? Top performers in sales don’t wait for anything or anyone. Clear marching orders, new monthly flyers, training?? Leads, what’s a lead? Nope, can’t wait for any of those things. The clock is running and you are wasting time.
Top performers ACT.
In fact, they proactively attack target accounts even if it means getting into trouble because they’re so far out in front of their territory support group. Don’t be the “DSR of HOPE” who stopped working the sales process and slowed down pursuing new opportunities because you are so hopeful the precious few prospects in your pipeline are going to place an order. Instead, do the responsible thing and spread your efforts across target prospects and opportunities in various stages of the pipeline sales cycle.
SHARPEN Your Sales Story.
DSRs fail to grab a prospect’s attention because they cannot “tell the story.” Your sales story is the single most important sales tool because you use it every day all day long. You use talking points from your story when you are on the phone and trying to entice someone to meet with you. Bits and pieces of “your story” end up in your emails, voicemails, and presentations.
So often what comes out of a DSR’s mouth is self-focused. It’s all about me, the DSR, and my great company, and what they have to offer. Also, too often I’m disappointed by DSR’s lack of passion when they speak. If you’re not excited about what you’re selling, how in the world will you get a prospect interested?
DSRs fail to attract new customers because beyond being self-focused they’re long-winded and their message is often confusing. Many DSRs don’t invest the energy to sharpen their story, but instead, serve up a pitch that neither differentiates them from the competition nor compels the prospect to act. Remember, many DSRs consistently fail because they can’t tell their story effectively.
FOCUS on Specific Targeted Account Selection.
Many DSRs fail to develop new business because they’re wandering aimlessly. Too often, they’re not locked in on a strategically selected, focused list of target customers or prospects. Sometimes they fail because they don’t invest the time and brainpower to ensure they are calling on the right accounts. Even the most talented DSRs will have a hard time succeeding if their efforts are directed in the wrong direction. However, more common than flat-out calling on the wrong list are DSRs who don’t focus on the list they have. DSRs are famous for their lack of discipline and losing focus. They attempt to call on an account once but don’t get anywhere. Instead of sharpening their sales tools and continuing to attack the same strategically selected targets, they turn and pursue a new set of prospects. This constant change of direction becomes their failure because they never gain traction against the defined target set of prospects.
In my personal sales experience and what I’ve seen from other top performers, new business success usually results from a combination of perseverance, creativity, and resilience while staying laser-focused on a well-chosen, specific list of target prospects.
Be LIKEABLE; ADAPT to prospect’s style; and be TRUSTWORTHY.
People buy from people they like. An important component of likeability and connecting with a prospect has to do with communication style. We are all different. Some of us move and speak fast while others are more deliberate. Some of us are loud and emotional, and those on the opposite end of the spectrum are quieter and more steady. There are driven, “get to the bottom line as fast as possible” types, and there are the analytical types who want to hear every detail and have the patience to listen.
DSRs need the ability to manage themselves, their emotions, their relationships, and people’s perceptions of you. All of those things are kind of a big deal when you are in the DSR profession.
In sales, our job is to connect with the buyer. It’s a hard thing to do when we only have one speed, and shortsightedly, treat everyone the same regardless of their style. I’ve seen some shocking disconnects on sales calls when working with DSRs. Rapid-fire, fast-talking, passion-driven DSRs calling on reserved, data-seeking technical buyers. Sometimes DSRs fail to develop new business simply because they lack their perception or relational skills that allow them to adapt to the style of the person they’re calling on.
Conduct an effective sales call.
In many cases, the goal of what we do is the face-to-face sales call. Much of our work in new business development is to secure that meeting with a potential customer. Because we work so hard for the meeting, we better be really effective once we get in front of that prospect. But many DSRs fail because they fall flat on their face when attempting to conduct the initial face-to-face meeting.
Some sales calls are ineffective because the DSR often forgets the purpose of the meeting, namely, that we are there to find their pain, potential problems we can solve, and opportunities we can capitalize on. Too many DSRs talk a disproportionate percentage of the time and don’t ask enough good questions. Even when they do attempt to probe, DSRs tend not to listen to the answers. I’ve seen prospects attempt to guide or provide clues to the DSR who is usually too busy talking or presenting to notice. I’ve even seen prospects attempt to stop and redirect the DSR toward a more relevant topic, only to have the DSR interrupt or talk over the prospect. You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak.
Some DSRs are just not built for the New Business Development Role.
Some people are just not built to succeed in a hunting-type sales role. There are DSRs who struggle year after year and fail to make their numbers or bring in enough new business. Yet, they’re still there, on the team, charged with a new sales business quota.
This may sound crazy but some people are just too relational to make it in a new business development role. Am I saying that being too good at relationships can actually hurt your sales performance? Yes, I am. Sales hunters experience conflict, risk, and rejection on a regular basis. Very often, highly relational people (including those in sales) cannot stand the conflict and tension that often exists when trying to open new accounts and convince prospects to change direction, break a relationship with an existing supplier, and move their business to their company. Developing new business requires pushing past resistance. Some people are just not comfortable doing that. They hear one “NO” and immediately say “thank you for your time” and hang up or leave, never to return on a second call.
A DSR with that makeup may be better suited in a customer service support role.
Another behavioral style that can severely struggle in a hunting role is the highly analytical, super conscientious type. Analytical people like to have all the data and facts before acting. Many of them live to be right, and their greatest fear is being wrong or embarrassing themselves. Well, guess what, new business sales can be messy. Pretty much anyone who has done it long enough has plenty of embarrassing stories of failure, mistakes, and “risk all” things that make analytical types very uncomfortable. Sales is about action, and having the feeling of being unable to make a decision due to overthinking a problem is not a quality that tends to produce new business development success.
Whenever I share this assessment with a DSR it’s pretty common for them to thank me for the blunt honesty. They tell me they feel like they have been trapped in a role that they knew didn’t fit them but were afraid to admit it. No one wants to live a miserable existence in a job that doesn’t align with their natural talent.
We should all examine ourselves, our attitudes, and our behaviors. Maybe even take a long look in the mirror and also ask a few friends and colleagues for their opinions also. Sometimes we have a hard time seeing ourselves accurately, but someone who knows us well, and cares about our success, can offer a clearer perspective.
Be a Resource and SELL SOMETHING!!