Winning in “The Meeting After the Meeting.”
There is always a “meeting after the meeting” in a big sale. Hardly ever is the real decision made at the table while you are sitting there. The way it goes is someone in the room from the prospect’s side will say, “Thank you very much. We appreciate all of your time and information. I think this has been good. We’ll need to discuss this on our own and then get back to you.” You press for a faster answer. They defer to a need to confer. You settle for a time to follow-up and then you leave.
While you are waiting, (days, weeks….), the meeting after the meeting is happening. This is where the real decision is being made and the real opinions are being offered. The influencers are making their arguments and the jockeying is going on.
Most of the influencers have made their final preference choice at this point. Each of the people will have their best choice and then an also ran that is a safe choice. Even if they are a huge advocate for a single company, they will not want to appear biased, so they select a second company and then play the comparative game. The comparative game sounds like this;
“If we want the best fit for the money, well then we should go with ACME, but if this is just a price choice, then I guess we could go with Alpha…”
By presenting their choices in a comparative fashion, they hedge their bets, they’re politically smart, but still advocate. The insight here is that everyone will present their opinion as a two-horse race, not more- but the influencers may have different horses on their list based upon their preference.
What to do?
1) Be on everyone’s list – If there are 6 people involved from the prospect’s side in making the decision, and you know everyone will have 2 companies selected for their preferences, then you want to be on everyone’s list regardless if you are first or second position. Remember, if you are on everyone’s finalist list, you are the safest decision politically for everyone to make even if you are not everyone’s preference.
2) Set up the decision-matrix – The best way to get on everyone’s list is to set the criteria for the “either this or that” comparison in your presentation. You need to analyze which of the possible decision elements will be the final decision criteria. Then you present what you think those two choices should be for your prospect. Lawyers on TV set up the “vote for this, vote for that” decision in their closing arguments. The same is true for you. Make your presentation closing arguments with a statement that “selecting us as your provider/supplier/contractor is making a choice for….” And state what is your strongest 1-3 finalist criteria.
3) Give your talking points to your advocate– Your advocate will need the expanded talking points around the finalist criteria to reiterate to the key members of the buying group. Make certain that you present these to him or her in an either/or fashion. Remember, getting to the list of final 3-5 contenders is what gets you to the presentation, however, the decision will be made after the presentations between 2 choices for each decider. You need to force that binary choice in your favor.
4) Plan for all of this up front – Being knowledgeable about your industry and its players, you should be able to establish the either/or criteria between you and your competitors up front. One of the mistakes I see is the competitive analysis of your company versus the other 4-5 most likely competitors as if you were being compared in the very final decision, you versus all others. You are not. If you are going to win, the comparison will be between you and one other, head to head. The others will have been eliminated in the presentation round- you are now in the decision round and that is head-to-head. This means you need to establish a head-to-head analysis of your company versus each of the others one by one so that you will know how to handle the presentation of your closing arguments.
My experience is that if you control what the meaningful decision-criteria are for selection, then you can control the outcome. One of my clients is a contractor. Contractors can have a tough time of it because they pull from the same labor force, same material suppliers, same management talent. It is easy for a buyer to see them as a commodity, insure their risk through making all of the participants be bonded and then choose on lowest price. What they did was to present the either/or of “Price vs. On-time with Zero Punchlist.” They conceded price, but they were able to force the choice into an either/or, not a “you can have both.” They correctly predicted that in the two-horse race of the finalists, the fear of not being on time or having snafus would outweigh the price.