On the heels of my last post, I’ve been thinking about the right sales process. Is there one? There are thousands of sales trainers sharing a myriad of strategies, tactics and suggestions. So, probably not.
I like to look for patterns, and it turns out that the sales opportunities I have not turned into paying clients have some similarities.
- Someone else on the team was vetting our services
- It wasn’t a priority to the leadership team
- They didn’t/don’t understand our services from a macro or micro view
- They are checked out mentally, physically, emotionally
- They live in a “back in the day” mindset
- They aren’t professional development advocates
- They think it can’t be hard or take that long to learn
The more I look at the patterns from a not-so-great sales call or conversation, the more I see and need to qualify better. We all do. The emerging patterns above need to be on our ideal customer profile checklist and a major part of our vetting process.
“Will you be a good (open-minded, intentional, coachable) client? If so, terrific. If not, I know someone you should talk to.”
Our best clients (we are fortunate to have many) are those where we have access and ongoing conversations with the leadership or executive team. The CEO, president or owner is present and a part of the conversation. They are engaged and they are learning along with their team.
Sales (client or business development) is hard. It’s hard even for the people who are hardwired to do it. I love it. I’ve been told it’s a skill of mine. I’ve closed tens of millions of dollars in business over the years and I am still a student of sales. I can’t imagine a time when I will not be.
Our sales process has changed dramatically. I actually much prefer this new way but you have to plan and be more intentional or it will eat you up. There is more opportunity today than ever. Those of us once confined by physical geography now find ourselves free to entertain and do business with the world (or our definition of it). That’s every true biz dev person’s dream … more prospects.
I invest a good deal of my time talking with people who could benefit from our services. Do I close all of them? No. Do I have a reasonably high rate of closing sales? Yes. I track it pretty closely and it trends upwards of 70 percent. Not perfect but it’s allowed us to grow rather significantly over the last three years. And, I’ve watched what works and when it doesn’t. Here are a few things I’ve learned about closing sales.
What’s really necessary to close business today?
1. The leadership team, business owner, president or managing partner must be a part of the conversation. It happens, but it’s rare that others can translate or explain your services or points of differentiation as well as you can.
2. You need to bring as many people to the table as early on (initial meeting) as possible. Once again, slow down and turn off any translation they say they will do on your behalf.
3. We know that often the real meeting happens after you leave. Encouraging as many people to provide input and feedback on the initial meeting may serve to diffuse the “after meeting.”
4. Be clear where you add value and the problems you solve. Share that first, the features and benefits are secondary to whether they see a potential fit.
5. Prepare, prepare and then prepare for even a quick conversation. Add insight, value and expertise as early in the conversation as you can. CEOs and other senior leaders are busy people, grab them in the first few minutes and the chances are they might give you a few more minutes.
6. Don’t give your services away. Be creative if you need to but don’t minimize your expertise, service or product, especially when you know you know more than they do.
7. Ask them to be nothing more than open-minded to new ideas, systems, processes and encourage them to evaluate whether they are leaving money and talent on the table.
8. Agree on their points that they have a mature workforce who does not embrace change, their position as a market leader (hmm, not working so well for newspapers, old-school printers, some major retailers etc.) and their stance that they don’t need anything new on their plate. And then, remind them they agreed to be open-minded. Change is the only constant and disruption, especially in mature markets, and is the calling card for winners today.
9. The leadership team must embrace, support, advocate the tool, solution, training,or automation. Even better? They begin to dabble, better understand, and even use whatever it is in play.
10. When the decision makers aren’t at the initial meeting, ask why. Understand their buying process and know when the decision makers are available to meet. If you can’t get access, consider declining the meeting.
Have you bought any home remodeling or insurance lately? The window, siding or insurance salesperson wants whomever is included in decision making process, i.e. husband and wife, partners, etc., to be present. They will hold off until both parties are available. They know they have a better chance of moving the sales cycle forward if all key people are present.
I think we in business-to-business sales roles should think about this and test it.
I, too, want more prospects. But I want more of the right prospects. I want the ones who already believe what I believe (it shortens the sales cycle), understand its role in the organization, are forward-thinking, have a vision, and are ready for a plan.
Selling to late adapters is hard on everyone, so make it quick, share who you are and what you have to offer, let them know you will be around when they’re ready but don’t hold your breath. Go find those who are interested in what you offer or better yet, are waiting for you. It’s so much more rewarding.
Additional resources for further insight: