canstockphoto16789354Think your team has a “closing” problem? Think again.

How often have you heard leaders say, “My salespeople can’t close”? If you’re a sales manager, you’ve probably even said it. But failing to close is never the real problem. Never. That’s just the symptom. The problem is that sales reps neglect important activities during early stages of the sales process.

Unless you address the broken links in your prospecting system, your sales reps will continue to struggle. It’s like back pain. You can stretch and put heat on an aching back, but unless you treat the source of the pain—a pulled muscle or degenerating disc—your back will continue to hurt.

Put Your Finger on the Real Problem

When you start analyzing what really went wrong with missed sales opportunities, you’ll typically discover that your sales reps didn’t make time to prepare for their meetings. They didn’t plan agendas, do their research, tailor their pitches, or even check the clients’ LinkedIn profiles to identify shared interests, connections, and similarities.

Other common prospecting problems:

  • The initial prospects were unqualified. They had no idea why they were meeting with the salesperson or why they should be interested.
  • The salesperson didn’t ask enough discovery questions.
  • The salesperson left without getting agreement on next steps or scheduling the next call.
  • Follow-up consisted of a series of emails that promoted products, didn’t address the client’s unique concerns, and had no calls to action.
  • The salesperson was clueless as to why his emails were greeted with radio silence.

This is not how you wow prospects, build relationships with them, and convert them into clients.

One of my clients was on the way to a high-profile meeting. If his team wowed the client, they had an opportunity to close a million-dollar deal. I asked my client how the sales reps prepared. His answer: “Oh, we talk about it in the car on the way to the meeting.” Was their sales manager clueless, or what?

Start at the Source

If your team has trouble closing, go back to the beginning—qualifying prospects—and examine your entire sales process for missing links and broken tactics.

Ask these pointed questions:

  • How are sales reps getting leads?
  • How are these leads qualified?
  • Are salespeople asking the right questions to identify prospects’ problems and propose thoughtful solutions?
  • Do sales reps demonstrate product features, or do they talk ROI?
  • What is the marketing plan for following up?

Don’t even think about training your sales team on closing techniques. Save your money. Instead, give them a sales process that works.

The ROI of Referrals

More often than not, the problem is with a team’s prospecting methods. If your reps are chasing cold leads, they’re pretty much set up to fail. There’s only one kind of lead that should be in your pipeline. Only one kind of lead with a 50-percent conversion rate. Only one kind of lead that sales managers should care about.

That’s hot leads—the kind you source through referrals from trusted allies.

Every sales professional agrees that referral selling is, hands down, their most effective prospecting strategy. When you prospect through referrals:

  • You bypass the gatekeeper and score meetings with decision-makers every time.
  • Your prospects are pre-sold on your ability to deliver results.
  • You’ve already earned trust and credibility with your prospects.
  • You convert prospects into clients at least 50 percent of the time (usually more than 70 percent).
  • You land clients who become ideal referral sources for new business.
  • You score more new clients from fewer leads (because all of your leads are qualified).
  • You get the inside track on your prospects and ace out your competition.

Ditch the Canned Pitch—Ask the Right Questions

If your team is getting in front of the right prospects and still can’t seal the deal, they’re not engaging in insightful discussion or asking compelling questions.

Thoughtful and provocative questioning has a huge impact on close rates and sales revenues. When sales reps ask smart, probing questions to understand what their clients really need—not just what the clients think they need—the scale of projects increases, creating win/wins for everyone. Your company gets bigger deals. Clients get solutions that actually solve their problems and create measurable business results. And they are happy to offer referrals to their networks.

Bravo! You’ve addressed the problem, not the symptom. Your client looks good, your team is prepared, and deals are yours to win. You are now a true sales manager.

To learn more about how your team can close bigger deals with fewer qualified prospects, visit, sign up for our newsletter, and test your referral savvy with the Referral I.Q, Quiz

(Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Publisher.)

Connect with No More Cold Calling

Follow Joanne on Google+ or Twitter @ReferralSales, or connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.