There are five key areas that sellers must understand from prospective customers that will be used to make a purchasing decision. And we instruct our customers’ sellers to identify this information before they submit a proposal or quote. They include The Players, Timetable, Decision Criteria, Proposal Content and Roadblocks. Take a look at these different areas and learn how to make them work for you instead of against you during the sales process to equip you with the best outcome possible.
- The Players
We need to understand where the authority for the final decision rests and what role the subordinates (sponsors, influencers) play, and we need to conduct our sales efforts primarily with the decision maker, not the subordinates. Attempting to secure the business by working with people without real authority is a poor strategy, leading to extended sales cycles and low closing rates. It’s important to understand that people who don’t have the authority to make decisions can’t say yes (but they can say no), and they’re not always effective at selling your solutions to their superiors, certainly not as good as you would be. And because they are not at the highest levels, they often don’t even know the real issues the company is trying to rectify. You’ll easily double your closing rate by working harder to get yourself in front of the right people.
While we stress the importance of having clear and frequent access to the decision maker, others in the organization can play an important part in the decision process. Take the time to meet them and find out what their business objectives are and what part they will play. Find out who might be a champion for your competition and try to build your case with them. The more complex the sale, the more important these people become. Don’t overlook their importance.
When will the prospect make a decision? Their timetable often provides clues as to the severity of their pain and how they prioritize this business objective. Their timing also will help you understand how to manage your time for this opportunity. Optimally, you will work within the prospect’s timetable and bring your solution to them at exactly the time when they are ready for it.
- Decision Criteria
What criteria will they use to make a decision? This is not an area to make assumptions based on your experience. The decision criteria are different for every prospect. Certainly there is often some commonality, but the professional salesperson will have the prospect explain these criteria and rank them from most to least important. Understanding their criteria is critical when dealing with competition. Typically buying criteria are directly related to business objectives. For example, if the prospect’s principle issues are in the area of service, their number one buying criteria will revolve around your ability to improve their service.
Price will be secondary. By the same token, if you have failed to uncover serious business objectives, expect the primary criteria for making a change to be price related and you’ll be fighting off the price objections. It is your responsibility to stop the process if the prospect identifies one or more buying criteria that you cannot satisfy. You might have to say, “I’m sorry, our product can’t do that. Is that a deal breaker?” If it is, and you have to abort, you’ve saved yourself and the prospect valuable time. Plus, you’ve gained the prospect’s respect since you didn’t attempt to force a solution where it was not appropriate. Here’s the bottom line with respect to selection criteria; the more value you are able to help them to identify, the less important price will be in their decision process.
- Proposal Content
This is another area where assumptions can hurt you, since people evaluate things differently. When you present a proposal, your objective should be to give the prospect the exact information that he needs to make a “yes” or “no” decision – no more and no less. This approach greatly improves your chances of securing the business.
In one of the largest programs we ever completed, with a 1,100 person sales force, we asked the decision maker what he needed to see from us so he could make a decision when we delivered the proposal. We were expecting to hear, “I want a detailed proposal with an execution plan, testimonials, financial history of your company, etc.” Instead, all he wanted was one page with just the bullet points and a place to sign. Had we not asked, we would have wasted hours putting together a detailed proposal that would have bored him stiff. He got what he wanted, no more and no less.
Try to determine what roadblocks might be encountered that would delay implementation of the solution. Did you ever run into a situation where the purchasing department wanted to negotiate a lower price or get competitive bids after the VP generated a purchase order for your product? Asking this question may uncover some issues that previously had not come to light, such as other decision makers or budget issues. Checking for roadblocks helps to ensure that qualification is complete and eliminates surprises.