I have the pleasure of coaching and working with some of the world’s most experienced and skilled sales teams, often tackling the largest of opportunities. I also see the new generation of sales professionals developing and creating their own habits in the hope of becoming successful sales professionals. Yet, regardless of the amount of sales experience, I see there is a propensity to be drawn into the increasing complexities of the sales role.
Sales professionals are faced with increasing complexities in their sales role – shaping the solution, client politics, their internal approval process, deal reviews, and pipeline calls while also navigating the challenge of virtually building relationships of substance.
The result is that even experienced sales professionals are skipping the basics, driven by these competing requirements that require attention. The ABCs of selling that were built into us in those simpler years are too often overlooked. It is often the simple basics that can be the difference between winning and losing a deal.
Let’s examine the basics of selling including securing the right information, identifying the decision-making steps, creating action to drive and influence the sale, and proactively creating partner ally relationships.
Information is Power
Invest time in researching the key elements of your deal. Dedicate time to study the competition – who is it, what is their incumbency, who at the client are they counting on to win, and what is the nature of their value proposition. Spend time on LinkedIn and talk to your colleagues about the individuals involved – who they are, their past allegiances, their preferences, and more details about their personality. Even if you know them well, others on your team may have important information you did not know that will help you better connect and communicate with them.
Research and study. Study and research. Can you name three key initiatives they are launching? If not, research it. How can you align with any of those initiatives? Build an action plan for how you will find this missing information. Get your team around you to help and then hold each other accountable for finding pieces of needed information.
The Details of Decision Making
Our coaches are finding a concerning trend of fuzziness around the decision-making steps. The lack of specificity will likely cause a surprise in their sales cycle. Here are the key questions to ask to uncover the needed details of the decision-making steps:
- Who is evaluating the proposal?
- What is the key evaluation criteria?
- Who are the evaluators making their recommendation to?
- Who is the most important person to have their support in the decision?
- Who has the final veto rights over the decision? (They may be able to stop the purchase, delay it, or divert funds to something else.)
- What events would make the decision more urgent and compelling?
Build a passion around finding out everything about the decision-making process. While it would be rare for any one person to give you answers to the full list of questions above, most people will provide you with a solution to at least one of the questions. If you ask a few different questions a few different times and then triangulate to other people, you can get pieces of information that will provide a more complete picture. Of course, you may get different answers from different people, but even that can be telling.
Do not rest until you have clarity, especially for the decision makers’ names, their key concern or issue regarding the decision, the criteria, their decision timeline, and the drivers behind the timeline.
A Bias for Action
Due to more virtual selling, I have not determined why, but I see an increased desire for salespeople to please clients, causing them to comply to any request, even if it is unreasonable. They do not try to influence the client’s buying process and allow the client to set the sales pace. Yet, our role as sales professionals is to lead the sale, set the pace, influence decision-makers, and identify or create benefits for clients to take action. We are paid to execute the right strategy to win sales, take proactive steps to drive action, and sometimes even require provocative action to win. It is our responsibility to beat the competition.
Compliance is overrated. Clients are getting more and more cautious. They need your bias for action to energize their action. Do not let them slow you down. You need to rev them up!
Be brave. Take proactive actions, even if some risk is involved. Be transparent with your thoughts with your client, even if they contradict their ideas. You will build respect. Plus, your transparency makes them more likely to be transparent with you. After all, respect and transparency are two of the most valued qualities in a relationship.
A Closing Master
Read this a few times:
“I believe it is in both of our companies’ best interests to move ahead with this proposal. Do you agree? Would you be prepared to work with me to bring this to closure?”
Many of you reading those few sentences can feel your heartbeat rising by a few notches! Yes, it is scary, and there is an increasing resistance to asking it. The incredibly good thing about these questions is that no matter the answer, you will have far more clarity on what you need to do to win the deal. Plus, you will gain respect for asking – after all, your client knows that you are there to win the opportunity!
You may have to ask this question more than once for a significant opportunity and to several or even many people. The good news is once they have answered “yes”, you have a new partner ally who will work with you to advance the opportunity and greatly increase your chances of winning.
In summary, I encourage you all to study the basics, even those of you who are seasoned, experienced sales professionals. This includes conducting thorough research, developing a bias for action, and acquiring a deep understanding of the decision-making steps and process. By becoming a closing master, you can turn your supporters into partner allies. Ultimately, I firmly believe investing time and committing to proactive and bold action plans will secure significant benefits for you and your sales career.
Get your deal team together. Brainstorm everything you would like to know about the deal and then allocate research actions. Then meet in a week and make a tactical plan to advance the deal based on the new research. You will be surprised at the gained level of clarity.