Am I in a sales process or a buying process? That may sound a simple question to a sales team or sales leader. Our immediate response would probably be, “Of course a sales process!”.
This question is not as straightforward as it first appears. When a buying company contacts us, we are in a buying process. Furthermore, they are some way along their buying process. According to the Corporate Executive Board, buyers typically do not contact us until 57% of their way through their purchase decision.
Being in a buying process is itself not a bad thing; there is a deal to be won. What is bad is the fact we think we are in a selling process. Misjudging where we are will make it harder to persuade and influence others.
Let us take the most extreme example, a Response For Information (RFI) or Response For Proposal (RFP). Who is in control of that RFI or RFP process? Of course, it is the buyer managing their buying process.
Only the company helping the buyer develop the RFI or RFP is close to being in a sales process.
If you regularly respond to RFIs and RFPs, take a look at your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data.
What is your RFP win to lose ratio?
If we are to improve our success rate for any sales engagement, we must move it into a sales process. Here is guidance from my own experience how we can achieve this.
- First, slow down and pause for a moment.
Did we help the buying organisation prepare this RFI, RFP or sales engagement? If not, there is a higher probability we will not win this deal if we remain in their buying process. Here is the reason why.
The buying organisation has worked hard preparing this project and will probably have past their project mid-point. At that point in time is when they become less open to new ideas. Their attention will be focused on execution.
The incumbent seller will also have laid traps that favour their RFI / RFP response or sales engagement.
- Is this an ideal opportunity we can win? Do not engage unless this is an ideal RFI / RFP or sales opportunity; we are confident we can win.
Ok, so that makes a lot of sense for RFIs and RFPs. What about all those other sales engagements, surely we are managing those as a sales process?
Not necessarily. If buyers are not contacting us until 57% of their way through their purchase decision, we will be their buying process. So how do we move them into our sales process?
We need to consider the buyer’s mindset and their behaviour at different stages of their project.
- During the beginning, they will be more open to new ideas. Assuming we are asking the right questions, and our solution is an ideal fit to address their priority needs, we will move through the discovery phase fast.
Doing so allows us to focus on building and strengthening relationships with all those involved in the buying process. To better understand their priority needs and competitively position our proposed solution.
These represent our ideal sales lead engagements that Marketing supports us to find. Getting in early means, we have more control managing the sales engagement.
- During the midpoint, buyers realise time is running out. Midpoints are also the stage when most buyers reach out to sellers. If we engage at this stage, we must do our discovery quickly. Once again, if our solution is an ideal fit, my experience is the discovery phase completes quickly. If discovering the information is dragging its feet, our solution probably is not an ideal fit. That, of course, assumes we are asking the right questions.
Buyers who contact us at this stage know what they need, or think they know what they need. To become more relevant and offer value, we need to find problems they are not expecting.
Be careful. These are challenging times to introduce a new problem. Fear-arousing communications will not motivate our audience to take action. We must pair our message conveying a potential problem with a clear, specific, easy to follow the plan of action. Include an equally clear, specific and easy to follow plan how we will deal with their priority problem.
Do this, and we have a greater opportunity to move the buyer into our sales process.
- Towards the end of the project, buyers are focused on execution. Engaging with a sales lead at this stage can be challenging. If we decide to adopt a price discount strategy, we risk remaining in a buying process.
To take more control moving the engagement towards a sales process, we need to be masters of persuasion. Here are four persuasion tactics I have found to be very effective. I provide many more during our training courses. If you decide to use one or more of these tactics, they may be equally applicable to the other sales stages.
- Avoid presenting yourself as the only viable choice who can help them avoid the threats ahead. Positioning yourself as the only viable choice will only force them to dig in their heels.
Objectively present the threats we see ahead with a specific, clear plan of action how we can help avoid them.
- If this is an ideal opportunity and the price is our only option, consider using what I call the ‘Bookend Pricing Strategy’. I am not a fan of price discounting because it ties up downstream resources that should focus on delivering higher profit and revenue deals. This strategy has helped me avoid price discounting. Always accompany this strategy with strong testimonials reinforcing why you are the ideal choice.
There are two ways you can use the Bookend Pricing.
- My preferred approach is to bookend our solution between a competitive high and low priced alternatives. We need to avoid positioning ourselves as the lower cost alternative. People tend to lean towards the compromise choice. This point positions them between what they need at a minimum and what they could spend at a maximum.
- If we do not know our competitors’ pricing, use market research to bookend three price alternatives we present. Chances are our competitors’ pricing will fall within this range.
By constructing this set of alternatives, we increase the likelihood they will select our ideal solution as their best choice.
- Be careful offering too much choice. We are working to manage this risk in our sales process. Often prospects do not know precisely what they want until they have surveyed what is available to them.
Offering too much choice, especially when we are entering a buying process late can frustrate the buyer. The bookend strategy presenting no more than three alternatives with our ideal solution positioned as the compromise choice works well here too.
- Take our ego out of the buying and sales process. We usually have a couple of testimonials we are most proud and want to share. They may demonstrate the best use of our solution, but if they do not relate to our sales lead’s situation, they can work against us.
Present only those testimonials whose circumstances are most comparable to our sales lead.
No matter at what stage we engage with a sales lead, we can always influence and persuade. Doing so helps us move a sales lead out of their buying process into our own sales process.
We have created a Guide that will help you take greater control of your sales engagements.
Download our Sales Pipeline Guide for Sales Teams & Business Owners It guides restructuring the stages of your sales to reflect your buyers’ journey. To learn more about the Conversational Solution Sales Scorecard Download the Guide to Using Sales Prospecting Tools to Improve Sales Pipeline Reviews.