Sales Training Article: Reactively Handling Inbound Opportunities
By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
In our , gaining access to higher levels is still one of the top challenges for salespeople. Failure to get to the right levels often means sellers must rely upon internal people doing the selling to get decisions made, never an optimal situation. I wanted to share some thoughts with you.
There are two (2) ways to initiate new opportunities in that sellers can be:
- Reactive by waiting to be contacted. Inbound “buyers” are usually lower levels doing product evaluations, have looked at multiple vendor websites and believe they have a good idea of what their requirements (usually an aggregate of all offerings they’ve researched rather than a single “Column A” vendor) are.
- Proactive by trying to uncover latent needs of buyers that weren’t looking. While a challenging task, sellers have the ability to and should target high levels because not looking means there is likely no budget. Sellers will have to get to people that can reallocate existing budget.
Competent, top sellers will gain access to the people that will be involved in buying, funding and implementing offerings. I believe this is the only way to provide enterprise views of the value offerings can bring and the various goals (business outcomes) that can be achieved or improved.
In our workshops we try to have sellers understand the concept of qualifying Champions. The vast majority of sellers erroneously assume access to Key Players is gotten via lower levels and that access is to one person at a time. Upward access is the most difficult path. It’s important that the person being asked to grant access can comfortably make introductions. It’s also important when and how sellers ask for access. Let’s first consider reactive situations and in next week’s blog I’ll discuss access when sellers are proactive.
Handling Reactive, Inbound Inquiries
1. The first challenge is to get an understanding of what high level requirements have already been established.
2. Next is to uncover the business outcomes that organizations are hoping to improve. This often has to be done “by proxy” meaning the inbound contact must speak on behalf of his or her organization as to areas of potential value to offset whatever the cost of the offering being discussed will be.
3. My rule of thumb is that when calling on Key Players, sellers should avoid asking questions buyers can’t answer as they run the risk of being delegated to lower levels. That said, when at non-Key Player levels sellers can and should ask questions that buyers can’t answer. If this happens sellers can ask: Who can we schedule a call with that could answer this/these questions? It is a logical request; please note you’ve softened the request from can I meet with the higher level to can we meet with that person?
4. If/when a non-Key Player shares a desired business outcome, sellers should ask them what capabilities they’ve seen that would enable the goal to be achieved. At that point, sellers should do a thorough diagnosis to ask questions to try to uncover new capabilities (to expand/enhance the buyer’s vision). By doing so, the seller has an opportunity to become “Column A.” If they fail, they’ll merely be a vendor that’s in the mix.
5. If a seller can bring the buyer to an expanded vision, the next step is to try to quantify the potential value. As stated earlier, this may require gaining access to several members of the buying committee. My suggestion is not to ask for access during the initial call. As an alternative, summarize the goals and capabilities needed in an email that documents the buyer’s expanded vision. In that email ask for access to the Key Player titles that would be involved and may have unique goals that could add to the value.
Some words of caution: There are situations where the initial inbound contact will not have the ability to get you introductions to buying committees. In such cases, sellers should try to qualify the buyer as a Coach to get them introduced to the next level in the org chart (i.e. the person’s manager) until finding a person that serve as your Champion.
Pro Tip: Often before granting access to a higher level, the Coach or Champion may ask sellers for proof (i.e. a demo, GoToMeeting, contact with a tech, etc.). If such a request is made the seller should use a quid pro quo. That is to say to explain that time, effort or resources are required and if the buyer likes what they see, that they will agree to grant access to higher levels. A large part of gaining access is to make a shift from product evaluations to potential business decisions based upon potential value (cost vs. benefit).
Failure to gain access can mean a great amount of wasted effort without realizing any revenue. A common mistake I see is sellers running as far as they can with non-Key Players and issuing proposals for offerings. Notable by their absence is any idea of whey moving forward is a good decision that is likely to provide adequate payback to justify the expenditure. Few Key Players will take the time to read proposals that are mostly about products rather than business outcomes.
A few things to remember about asking for access:
- It can be granted downward, laterally or upward (listed in ascending order of difficulty).
- Consider using a quid pro quo approach in exchanging resources for access.
- Sellers must earn the right to ask for access by establishing themselves as Column A with buyers.
- It is easier for buyers to grant access if they participate in Key Player calls.
- Access is often necessary to provide the answer Key Players crave: Is buying an offering a good business decision based upon projected payback?
- An email summarizing the goals and capabilities can arm Champions to articulate why Key Players should take the time to meet with sellers.
In the next article I’ll discuss access when seller proactively start opportunities and why there should be a higher level of success in doing so.
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