I know you will all relate to this scenario!
You take a deep breath. You are faced with the embarrassing and unenviable task of delivering bad news to your sales leader –the important deal you committed to in your sales forecast to close this quarter won’t in fact close this quarter after all.
Just reading that may bring back an uncomfortable conversation!
Inevitably, the reason this happened was the lack of a closure plan – a joint commitment between the client and your company to bring the contract to signature on a pre-defined date with the steps mutually identified. We took someone’s word that they were moving ahead with us, without having much insight into the full decision-making process.
Closure plans are absolutely critical for complex B2B deals where there are multiple authorizers, a formal sign off process, and then a commercial and legal process that takes place with procurement.
Let’s look at the four steps to execute a closure plan in this environment:
Step 1: Timing of Creating a Closure Plan
The initial discussion is to gain agreement that both sides would benefit from a joint closure plan. Before you have this conversation, it is important to identify a driving mechanism or compelling event that you can leverage the commitment to the closure plan.
You will probably be four to eight weeks out from the targeted contract signature date. The time is right when you feel it is appropriate to seek the unconditional support of your most powerful contact.
There will likely be a number of formal signoff steps ahead in order to gain approval… maybe a steering committee, management committee, or executive team. Don’t hesitate to ask what the process will be for getting this formally signed. What internal presentations need to be made? Can you help by providing them some specific documents or slides? Then of course, you will have the joys of legal and procurement.
Step 2: The Initial Close Conversation
This is the brave moment when you step up and take the risk to ask for a commitment to move forward. It is a conversation many sellers are afraid to have because of the fear of hearing the wrong answer. Needless to say, if the answer is bad news, you will be able to extract their objections and then work to overcome them. That is better to learn sooner than later!
I personally like to have this discussion one-on-one, as you will likely get a more transparent answer without others being there. Yet, in the example I share at the end of this article, there were actually five people on the call.
Your conversation could be something like one of these:
“I believe we are aligned that our solution best meets the needs of this initiative. Are we in agreement?”
“If you were asked to make a recommendation today, would that recommendation be for our proposed solution?”
“I feel as though we are aligned about your needs, and we can meet those needs well. Do you agree?”
“Is there anything you feel we should modify or improve to make this the best choice for you and your organization?”
Of course, they may have told you verbally they are moving ahead with you or hinted it is leaning towards you, such as these common responses: “We will need the implementation to start by XXX,” or “It is just between two vendors at the moment but I think you are ahead,” or “We are going to sign the contract with you, but we just need to do X first.” That is the perfect opportunity to have the discussion about a joint closure plan. Too often, we say “great” and go into waiting mode. You need to grab the initiative and drive to “Closed/Won!”
Step 3: Jointly Creating the Closure Plan
If you have successfully achieved the verbal answer that you are their choice, now the devil is in the detail. What steps and with whom do we need to execute to close this opportunity? The next part of the conversation is to get agreement to the closure plan.
Leverage the compelling event or driving mechanism to seek agreement on the contract start date. Once you have agreed on that date, it is simply a matter of working backwards to what steps need to happen before that occurs, by when, and who will sign off on each step. An example of what I mean with steps working backwards could be something like:
- Go live date: March 1
- Signature date: January 15
- Executive Board approval, if needed: Meeting planned for December 15
- Final Decision Maker approval: December 1
- Procurement approval: November 15
- Leadership approval: November 1
- Contract finalization: October 15
- Draft contract provided by which party: By us by September 15
- Final business case complete and presented: September 1
Sometimes the client does not know their needed steps, but even uncovering what they are unsure about and getting them to commit to finding out will help.
Step 4: Documenting the Plan
Create a one-page document with the high-level, agreed upon plan. Think of it as a simple table / timeline with dates, events, and owners. Get your Partner Ally to agree the plan should be distributed in their organization to all those involved in any of the steps, and you should do the same in your organization.
The huge benefit of documenting the plan and advertising it in each company is it holds everyone accountable to achieving the steps.
In summary, these four simple steps will absolutely ensure you don’t have to have one of those “moments” where you must advise of a deal slippage!
Some of you may be looking for some evidence… so let me share a real example…
I was coaching a client opportunity for several months, where the team decided to execute these exact steps. The pursuit team executed the close with five people on the call, securing the agreement of the COO to proceed with the proposal. That was the super scary part done! Then they agreed with the COO what the implementation start date would be – the easier part.
The team was then able to say a joint plan would be put together to ensure that date was met. Once the COO readily agreed this was a great idea, it gave the pursuit team huge leverage to keep the closure on track, especially given the client’s reputation for dragging their feet, and the deal was signed right on time! It works… I have seen it over and over again. Try it!
Be brave the next time you get towards the end of a sales cycle. Execute a closure plan using the four simple steps in this article. You will be pleasantly surprised how well it works!