Asking a prospect to do something to contribute to a selling process creates a feeling of investment in their minds. The more they add to the process, the closer to fully invested they get. At the fully invested point, they are usually ready to buy.
Asking a prospective customer to do work as a part of the selling process can kill your deal with all but the most insecure prospects. While having a prospect do nothing in the sales process may create an entitled customer that will suck away any chance for profit over their lifetime as a customer with you.
How does a salesperson execute against these two seemingly opposing points of logic?
Planned and Coordinated Actions
The process to follow is a planned coordinated set of actions where each step is defined with an owner (the rep or the prospects decision makers). Start by preparing a Task List of all the common steps to reach a sale, all the objections common to your type of sales, all the actions to resolve objections (e.g. a financial model, project plan, etc.), the different roles of people needed to complete a transaction (e.g. Users, Technical, Financial, etc.), common questions that are usually asked and answered on both sides of the deal…..everything you see during most sales engagements along with the average time needed to clear (where appropriate). No two solutions are the same so no two sales processes are exactly the same. So, this list will be different for any sale but similar to your offerings and typical customers. Take your time preparing this. The more thoughtful you are, the more comprehensive it will become in the eyes of your prospect – a prospect may simply see this as you being thoughtful, prepared, sharp, and/or knowledgeable in your solution’s market space. This all leads to having more power, in the sales process, while engaging your customers.
Related but slightly off topic is the idea that each point of friction (like a qualifying question) in the sale is an opportunity to have the customer engage in a conversation. Take care to avoid “throwing things over the fence” to your prospect when they ask something, or taking any answer to your questions as the true answer (find the reason why they are asking, or the reason why they answered the way they did). Specifically, answering a question without understanding the context of why it was asked risks you providing an answer to something that wasn’t asked – or worse, you leave a possible objection open. An objection left unanswered is like cancer, it will likely grow uncontrolled and kill the sale. Instead of answering, consider the context and probe to discover it. When you have the context nailed down, try to answer in the context of other customer’s experience. You trigger two benefits when using the context of other customers to answer prospect questions; 1) you engage the theory of Social Proof, one of a very few ways to drive urgency during the sale, and 2) you magnetize your answer towards the listener since it’s in a story format. We learned as children that stories are fun to listen to, so use stories to ensure listeners stay engaged.
The next step with your Task List is customizing it for your prospect. Explain to your prospect that every sale is different because each customer’s decision process is slightly different. If you’re prospect is interested in your solution, the time for this meeting is at the beginning of the sales discussion (just after they have expressed interest, before you provide any pricing or configuration details). When possible, this should be done face to face. Also, you want to throw the widest possible net to include all decision makers and influencers – use all your contacts to help ensure all possible decision influencers get invited.
Be suspicious of anyone that doesn’t attend that was invited, and suspicious of any that should have been invited but wasn’t. Be especially concerned when your contact tells you that they are making the decision themselves when most all of your sales involve other influencers (this is usually a sign that you’re dealing with someone’s science project or, they are trying to do your job internal to their organization – either case you want to avoid since both are doomed to fail). Your focus is to understand why they weren’t invited or didn’t show. Addressing these people carefully to understand if they will become possible dissenters in the decision. Later I will write a post on Force Field Selling that addresses an effective tactic in dealing with forces against a decision.
The meeting goal is a review of the Task List you prepared along with outcomes expected, the assignment of owners (e.g. you, them, joint) and setting agreements on completion dates. Also, discuss how you will agree to Close Out each step – will it be an email exchange, telephone call or face to face (i.e. what are the outputs to each step). The level of importance to you and the prospect will usually dictate which Close Out tactic is best.
Get the summary notes from this meeting out to all identified buying influences. Leaving someone out carries the risk that they will think you have other things to hide. Immunize yourself from this by asking who else is involved (ask this of all your current contacts – check and rechecking this is important depending on the length of your sales process). Finally, saying or add the text “please forward this to anyone else that should have received it” is important to use through your sales process – never assume that your prospect will automatically copy others. We all need reminders, and this is an important step that helps remove the risk of a critical individual being left out of the conversation. The one assumption you can always make is that your prospect is busy, you helping to remind them of time-frames agreed or decision makers involved is best thought of in this context.
This can be an exhausting process for your prospect. Be sure to keep an eye on their body language, don’t push them to a high-stress level. If you do this, you cross a line and begin to erode the relationship’s values. Not building up their investment in the solution but creating a feeling of difficulty associated with your solution needs to be avoided with every interaction. Balance is what you’re after. They must feel that your solution will make them much better off, but don’t exaggerate the costs associated with implementation (this carries a later risk of buyers regret if underestimating, and not closing if overestimating – I find that offering a range of costs and times is more realistic). Also, if they feel there is no transfer cost, they might start thinking your offer is too good to be true. Many reps early in their career make this fatal mistake and lose deals because they create credibility issues. Get this right and you will delight your prospects turning them into happy customers willing to make introductions to their peers (your next prospect). Having conversations early in the sale about your goals gaining referrals will set the thought in motion with your prospects – and, sends them a message that closing the deal isn’t the end of your engagement with them. Your goal should be to make them believe that the purchase is the start of the relationship, not the end.
List of Benefits
A vital item on any Task List is the list of benefits your solution delivers. But, avoid breathing your own fumes by assuming what you believe is important is also important to them (each prospect will have a different priority for many items – some will offer a new value which is added to your lists for future use). You can begin a conversation by providing a common set of values most customers see in your solution (write them all on a whiteboard). Then ask your prospects to help you understand how they prioritize these benefits. You might just say, “Can you help me put this list into order from your view of most to least important?” As they rattle off their way of ranking your list, write them all again but this time in their order. Also ask them how importance of one is weighted versus another. This information will allow you to create a weighted list which should drive your proposal content (when used), and deal making conversation. Finally, ask them if there’s a way to measure the value (e.g. in dollars or time). Write all of this down, being careful to check and double check each value’s placement and weighting, to ensure you aren’t distorting what they are telling you. Take careful notes, you’ll provide a follow up message with this list (suggest they can use this priority sorted and weighted list to socialize your values with others inside their organization).
Task the Prospect
Many immature reps make their mistake by doing all the work for their prospect. Afraid of risking the deal, a rep will just send a list to a prospect of the “common values realized when implementing our solution.” By not understanding the prospect’s benefit priorities has the same effect of wearing cotton in your ears.
An alternative to this complicated process is to ask standard qualifying questions on the prospect’s needs. This may be a quicker way to expose the values expected or needed by the customer. But, its weakness is that it forces the customer does all the work – this question/response qualification process is overused by less experienced reps too. Finally, we risk violating a fundamental law of sales, to add value in every interaction.
Up next: Ask for the order early and often (subconscious programming) & Force Field Sales Process for complex solutions sales.