Larry Kaul, Founder and CEO, Kaul Sales Partners

“I Can’t Close to Save My Life. Larry, Can You Help?”

This is What I Rarely Hear From Business Leaders Who Consistently Fail at Consultative Sales

Most of the prospective clients who come my way cite lead generation problems or some other symptomatic revenue issue.

It’s never a closing problem. They tell me over and over again: “Just get me in the room and I’ll make it happen.”

But out of the past 20 or so software and service companies who have enlisted our service, I estimate that 40% (tops) have good instincts about how to guide to a close once a prospect has agreed to get on the phone and hear about their solution or service. And even these people aren’t at the top of the game. They lose all kinds of opportunities that would otherwise close.

Top Mistakes in Prospect Conversations 

When I listen in on my clients’ conversations with prospects who have expressed an interest, these are the mistakes I see again and again:

  • Not being able to quickly and clearly explain why your company exists, who it serves and what it does. This comes down to having a succinct and clear messaging platform — an exercise I undertake with my clients long before we schedule our first prospect call. The most unsuccessful conversations go sideways when there is internal confusion about the company’s core position. As part of a messaging platform, you need an elevator pitch that will succinctly inform your prospect about what you do, for whom, why you’re the best at it and why they should believe your claim. This discipline will help keep you from defaulting to nervous, irrelevant rambling or speeding to premature tactical conversations.
  • Trying to jump right into proposal specs. This is instinctual for many domain experts. It’s a comfort-level thing: “Give me an assignment.” They want to get right into a project before they have fully ascertained the problem. The emphasis here is on “fully.” Do you truly investigate or just accept a cursory needs analysis before you talk about your approach to designing a solution?
  • They don’t know how to ask the right questions. This and the next issue can be closely tied to the above mistake. Having 20 years’ experience in building incredible software or winning marketing campaigns doesn’t make you a consultative seller. Some have an instinct. But with smaller companies, I find that guiding a conversation toward what the prospect needs, not what they think they want, is more of an acquired skill. There’s a subtle art to this, like getting your dog to take its prescription medicine by hiding it inside a cube of cheese. I’ll talk about that more later in this article.
  • Not listening. This is closely related to our first mistake two bullet points up. Excited to stay in their comfort zone, they gloss over parts of the conversation where better inquiry about business problems could yield real value and, undeterred by what clues their prospect can give them, stubbornly pivot to their known script like a candidate during a presidential debate.

Try This Instead

Earlier I mentioned the dog medicine inside the cube of cheese. The dog wants the cheese. It needs the medicine. Similarly, you must give your client what looks yummy (symptomatic issues or tactical pain points) and what’s restorative (a conversation about real business drivers behind the pain) at the same time.

Here are some of the conversational techniques I use to guide tactical discussions into deeper waters — and set my clients up to present deeper value:

  • I hear that you have a challenge with X. Can we take a few minutes to make sure I have this right?

Which tees up better questions like:

  • Talk to me about why you took this call. What in our outreach appealed to you?
  • What’s going on in your business right now?
  • How have you been addressing these problems as a team so far? What’s leadership talking about in context of this?

Now that I’ve typed all this, it seems so utterly simple that it’s embarrassing.

But almost nobody does it.

One of our clients, a consulting shop specializing in helping companies get the most out of Salesforce, got it right when they used this framework to get to real business drivers. The prospect call started with gripes about not being able to run reports correctly. But this is not a business problem.

By using the conversational cues like those listed above, they were able to discover the real issue: the sales organization was rapidly expanding and the VPs were always pounding on our prospect. This was a launching point for a consultative and strategic sales conversation. The prospect was faced with helping drive bigger growth goals and didn’t know how to get there. Now we had a path to a much more compelling value proposition.

Warning: Your Prospect is an Accomplice in Messing This Up

Your prospects are going to be happy to help you spin your wheels in tactical conversations when you really need to delve deeper. It’s bizarre, but that’s what they’re used to. They’ll happily sit there and listen to you ramble on and on about what you do, then politely request case studies.

They don’t want to talk about everything going on in the company. You have to coax them into working a little bit. This is more true of smaller companies. A CEO of a $1B company will interrupt you right out of the room if you don’t get to the heart of what they care about. Smaller potential clients will indulge you while you both get nowhere.

I talk about another facet of this problem in this video:


If any of this resonates with you, then you might not be making the most of your all-too-rare face time with prospects. Happy to hear about your experiences if they differ from mine. Reach out for a conversation — and thanks for reading!