Early in my career, I received sales training on recognizing buying signs. Questions, challenges, even hostile accusations were, under the definition of my training, considered buying signs. These actions represented an expressed interest or engagement in considering the offer.
Fast forward to today. Prospect companies engage in expensive market scans for new vendors at the end of a contract or on a regular scheduled basis, even though 5 out of 6 of the final awards go back to the incumbent provider. This means that you have to be looking past what I was taught to be buying signs if you want to determine if there is genuine interest. Let’s call these Signals. Here are some of the types of signals that I trust:
- Speed – If the speed of the responses to my requests is on-time or ahead of the request time.
- Timeliness – When prospects show up on time and stay through an entire meeting, webinar or conference call it indicates strong interest.
- People – When the prospect is adding people to the process at the same or higher level, the prospect is investing the political capital that means interest.
- Information – Prospects that provide transparency and details early out of a desire that you have a complete picture of their needs are choosing to give you more than your competitors. Good signal.
- Questions – “How” questions in particular are great signals.
You are not looking for a fair fight or equal interest. You are looking for the signals that show you true interest in your solution, not just their compliance to their own process requirements.
Many of the companies with whom we consult are in a two-step sales process. They first have to sell a governing body such as a GPO, franchiser, corporate procurement department, or other central body to approve them as a “preferred or approved” vendor. Great! They have the contract, but no money. The money happens with the purchase orders from the distributed body of buyers inside of the large company’s network. Now the selling starts over again. When you land the big company, you have just gotten a license to hunt, not a real paying customer. Yet, many companies work hard to land the license, then let osmotic pressure or marketing efforts bring in the money. That’s a slow road to revenue. Here are a few things to do instead:
- Support Agreement – Seek to get definition of the roll-out support you can expect from the parent organization. Know what you want in advance – whether that is an announcement, a jointly released video, a feature in their newsletter, a prime location at their next national meeting, or an opportunity to speak. The job is yours to get their support in a way that is favorable.
- Blitzkrieg Team – The landing of a large master agreement is an event. It should be treated as a win that you can springboard. Instead of just rolling out to your field reps the announcement, establish a team to go after the highest value locations in the network and land business quickly. These locations will start the dominos of the buying organization’s network tipping in your favor.
Do I take John from I.T., or not? A variation on this question will be asked thousands of times today by sales leaders as they consider who should be in the upcoming call or meeting with a prospect. The sales leader knows he or she needs the expertise, insight and details the person brings…but…they are a little worried about what the SME might say. No doubt, there is reason. Some past experience externally or internally tells the leader that John might do or say the wrong thing.
You have to take your SMEs, so perish the thought of working around them.
Here’s what to do to get the most out of their participation:
- Do not have them sell – SMEs are good at solving problems and understanding details. Tell them that is the role, not selling, and they will be more willing to come and relaxed in the session.
- Structure – Provide a structure for each SME that is specific to the meeting. I use the model of 3 points, 3 questions, 3 props. No more than 3 for each of these categories is how I prepare an SME. Easy to remember and easy to rehearse.
- Preparation – SMEs can wing it in their environment of day-to-day work, but probably not in yours of selling. So don’t ask them to wing it. Rehearsal is for them; don’t use yourself as the standard. Take the time to get them ready to do well.
- Direction – I encourage that you have the SME focus on one person with whom to connect from the prospect’s or customer’s side in the meeting.
Lose early; you’ll be glad you did.
We say NO to a lot of business and our goal is to say no early. I like clean pipelines – but don’t get me wrong, I don’t like empty pipelines. A clean pipeline means that the prospects in the pipeline are appropriate and qualified for us. The usual qualification characteristics almost everyone gets right; things like credit-worthiness, geographically serviceable, product or service alignment…those are a part of everyone’s up front list.
The customers that hurt your business or your margin over time, usually meet those baseline qualifications. To avoid this, we created an expanded list of qualifications for our prospects:
- Wrong problem – If the prospect has a problem that is in our field of operation, but not our specialty, then they have the wrong problem. We focus on large account sales. If they only need better territorial sales skills management, we pass.
- Wrong perspective on solutions – If the buyer can’t be moved from his or her point of view on how to fix a problem in the area in which we have expertise, we leave.
- Bad culture chemistry – No jerk rule. We just avoid jerks, regardless of how juicy the opportunity. Jerks rarely get better as customers if they are bad as prospects.
- Your gut tells you so – When was the last time you fought your instincts on something and won? Me either.
Companies who drive to the quota only, regardless of the quality of customer, are sacrificing the future for the moment.
Swagger is a mix of positive expectation and objective indifference.
I really like swagger when I see it. Moms parenting their kids, plumbers explaining a problem, surgeons presenting options, and of course, sales people in front of prospects and customers. Swagger is not posturing. I see a lot of the Justin Bieber/Miley Cyrus version of swagger as posturing – attitude with costume over real substance. Real swagger looks and feels different and that’s why the best can pull it off, whether a parent, a surgeon or a sales person.
Positive expectation – It’s the belief that the situation will end in your favor. That’s why people with swagger don’t have to yell, interrupt or pounce when they meet resistance. When you know you are going to win in the end, you can be patient in the process. It shows up in slowing the pace of the discussion down when you are faced with objections or hostility.
Objective indifference – Surgeons present hard choices to patients. I’ve spoken to several and asked them how they maintain their composure. They say that it comes down to presenting options and consequences as honestly and completely as they can. They care deeply about their patients and they have sincere preferences that they believe the patient should choose. In the end, however, the choice is the patient’s and to keep their position of trust, they see their job as one of adviser, not sales person.
Swagger is powerful. It gets stronger with practice.
Increasing Your Company’s “Sellability“
The economy is picking up. I can tell because clients are starting to get bought or are buying other companies and these are typically for a premium above the industry-rate, usually some flat multiple of earnings.
The desire for any business owner at the point that they sell is to seek a price above the market rate. It’s part of a report card as to how you have run your business compared to your competitors, as demonstrated by what price a buyer is willing to pay for it.
We have always emphasized the importance of having a clear sales process that increases confidence that your growth wasn’t a result of luck but is the product of an asset in your business.
Recently I viewed some videos by a friend who I believe does a nice job in talking about the other things you have to develop and measure to achieve a premium if you sell your company. Enjoy.
Watch the videos here.
It happens all the time…your best customer goes through a significant change in its structure and you lose supporters. The mechanism can be acquisition, merger, headcount cuts, shuffle-the-deck of leadership…there are others, it doesn’t really matter, the outcome is the same. You are in trouble.
- Don’t Panic – It’s natural to hear fire alarms, especially if this is a very big customer. The fact is that this happens a lot and you have seen it before.
- React Fast – You must get on the calendar and in front of your customer’s people, new or old. You can’t sit and wait, even if they tell you to. You must manufacture a reason to see them and connect.
- Establish Contact – When changes happen fast, it is not unusual for there to be a little confusion as to whom you should be connecting. For this reason, you need to go wide with your efforts and contact as many people as you can to gather reconnaissance and establish a picture of the customer’s new world order.
- Start Over – Assume that you will need to re-sell your solution. This does not mean that you ignore all that has been accomplished. Instead, you outline the history of why you were selected, the highlights of your value and the nature of the current working relationship.
- Expect Change – Re-organization initiatives do not happen to keep things the same, they occur to shake things up. Your relationship will change as a byproduct of this effort. Get ready for it.
Political negotiators have known the power of back channels forever. These are people with whom unofficial communication can be routed between two negotiating parties while official communication is managed in front of the camera. Why not just put it all out in the open? Because there are delicate issues that need a level of both transparency and discretion in order for the negotiations to make progress behind the scenes while posturing can occur in front of the scrutiny of the public eye.
Selling large contracts that involve processes and personnel who are only tangentially involved requires you to have back channels. Put another way, your buyer might very well be willing to provide you inside information and back channel insight during a process managed by the Purchasing department. Your buyer needs to live with the result of the decision, while Purchasing just cares about the adherence to the process. For your own sake, you need to establish access to information through back channels early and often in a large contract sale so that you can get the information you need.
- Intention – Back channels are for both organizations’ benefit. You need to find someone who is looking to have a freer access than the process or supervision allows.
- Give to get – This is an exchange of information along the way, so you will need to decide what to share.
- Test to verify – You must make certain that the information you are getting from them is both reliable and unique, or otherwise they are not a back channel.
Would you eat at a restaurant that the chef of the restaurant didn’t? Of course not! I expect the chef to know where the ingredients came from, have established the recipes, kitchen practices, hired the staff, set standards for the plating of the food and to be there on a regular basis to check on all of these things.
When I ask VP’s of Sales about their involvement in their sales process, prospects and pipeline, I often get very different answers than I would think. There is a belief that prospecting and selling is something for sales people and that strategy, structure and only key deals are their jobs. Wrong. You are the chef. You have to oversee as the core standard of quality, a regular and strong sampling of every element of your kitchen.
- Prospecting – Beyond setting a contact target, you need to be listening to the efforts, attending the trade shows as well as overseeing the lead generation campaign designs and outcomes. These are the ingredients.
- First meetings – Especially with new sales people, but from time to time with all sales people, you need to be in the field, in the meetings, providing feedback and coaching.
- Presentations – Getting sales leaders to attend sales presentations is not usually the highest challenge- who doesn’t like to be at the pitch? The problem is that VP’s want to be at the “sure thing” presentation. Your staff needs to see you in the uncertain presentation moments to get better, not just in the highly likely.