By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

business developmentDefined steps in prospecting efforts are important because an American Marketing Association (AMA) survey found that on average it takes sellers more than seven attempts to initiate contact with executives. In light of this statistic it is sobering to realize the AMA also found that a small percentage of salespeople make more than three attempts to contact Key Players. With successes being few and far between, it isn’t difficult to realize why general territory sellers feel prospecting is the hardest part of their job.

Business development skills are critical to empowering salespeople to build adequate pipelines and in doing so, have the ability to disqualify opportunities that are unlikely to result in buyers making purchasing decisions. My belief is that in painting with a broad brush, the vast majority of sales (or buying) cycles begin in one of two ways for companies that implement CCS®:

  1. Salespeople proactively engage Key Players and take them from latent to active need around a business outcome. Consistent with our core concepts, it doesn’t make sense to call at low levels for unbudgeted initiatives and sharing business goals or admitting problems start buying cycles.

  2. Mid to lower level buyers leverage the Internet and social networking to do significant research about a given offering and are well along in the process (Sirius Decisions indicates buyers are 70% through buying cycles) before they contact salespeople. As you can imagine, by this time buyers believe they know their requirements and will not be receptive to premature seller attempts to change them.

As indicated in Rethinking the Sales Cycle there are an increasing number of evaluations that begin below Key Player levels. Despite all of this activity, one statistic that seems to remain a sore spot for vendors is “no decision.” This occurs when buyers get multiple vendors involved, have them generate proposals but ultimately decide not to buy, or to develop a solution in-house. Why does this happen?

I believe non-executive buyers behave in a similar fashion to struggling salespeople. They are too product focused and fail to consider the potential value (business results) that can be achieved to offset the cost of the offering being evaluated and have trouble articulating what it is they want to buy. Because they cannot create budget for new initiatives fairly late in their evaluations they approach a Key Player leading with product and asking for money to buy it. Unless the Key Player somehow “gets it” they are told there is no money to fund the initiative, so it should be tabled. Even for internal customer evaluations, the first core concept of CCS® should apply: No goal, no prospect.

CustomerCentric Selling® provides ways for sellers and managers to understand the difference between activity and progress. It appears mid to low level buyers are spending a great deal of time (activity) in evaluating vendor offerings on their own, but internal selling is a difficult job and many of these evaluations result in no decision.

Salespeople, whether being brought in late into evaluations or initiating them at Key Player levels, do potential buyers, their companies and themselves a service by uncovering desired business outcomes from Key Players as soon as possible. Gaining buy-in from Key Players and access to the people that will be involved in buying decisions qualified opportunities and means the result of activities is progress through buying cycles. Taking these steps minimizes the chances that the final decision will be no decision.