By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®
Time is a precious commodity for everyone. It’s especially critical for sellers to make good use of their time. They’re under pressure to achieve revenue targets each year.
As sellers become more competent they understand the difference between activity and progress. They start more stringently qualifying “opportunities.”
At a high level, one of the primary responsibilities of first level sales managers is ensuring that sellers work on opportunities with a strong probability of closing. Statistics show about half of sales cycles end with prospects making no decision. This outcome means the buyer organization and all vendors that competed wasted valuable time.
While enticing, I question whether the torrent of inbound activity from non-Key Player researchers is helping salespeople achieve their numbers. Specifically, my concern is the volume of inbound research that is being done today:
- By low-level buyer contacts without the knowledge of Key Players
- Without budget/funding approved for offerings
A few simple steps can save researchers and sellers from spinning their wheels.
1) Establish value.
If and when sellers contact or are contacted by people knowledgeable about offerings, it is important to have the buyer contact share their list of necessary requirements and determine if a seller’s offering is a fit.
A common mistake is failing to establish value early in the process. Absent strong payback, it’s unlikely a sale will happen further down the road.
2) Inquire about budget.
A seller may want to ask if budget has been approved. If the offering is fairly complex, understand that if buyers say they have budget, it’s likely there is a Column A vendor driving the evaluation. Gaining access to Key Players will be important in qualifying these opportunities.
3) Be honest.
If budget has not been allocated, honesty may be the best alternative. The seller can thank the prospect for their interest and acknowledge that both parties’ time is important. He or she can then express concern that many product evaluations come to grinding halts when funding is requested because potential value was never established. It would be a shame to waste time in moving forward with the evaluation until potential payback had been defined.
4) Give and get.
At this point, the salesperson might ask what business outcomes can be improved through the use of the offering and whether benefits have been quantified. In my mind the seller should put forward a quid pro quo (give and get):
- I’m willing to commit my time and effort in making a recommendation (the give) if:
- You’re willing to give me access to the people who would need to provide input so that a preliminary cost vs. benefit could be completed (the get).
5) Collaborate on a business case.
The understanding in moving forward is that there has to be adequate value to justify a purchase. If not, there would be no point in spending additional time and resources on this project. It would be a pink (if not red) flag if a prospect was unwilling to work with the seller on building a business case.
In today’s environment, sellers with extensive product knowledge don’t bring much to the table for researchers that have poured over multiple vendor websites and are intimately familiar with offerings from several vendors. Introducing the concept of business issues and cost justification is a way to differentiate from other salespeople.
Oddly enough, this approach often turns out to be a win-win because there’s little sense for buyers and sellers to spend time and resources only to end up with a very common end to buying cycles: No decision.