Chapter 22: Turning Financial Analysis Into A Value Discussion

photo-30By now you may be chomping at the bit, wondering when you get to do your PowerPoint or demo.  After all, your competitors have already given their presentations, and here you are, still asking questions instead of talking features and benefits. Steady…stay on target…we’re setting the table here, not going straight to dessert.

In Chapter 21, we looked at how to turn soft, hard, or inferred data into a form of impact. The degree of financial analysis required will depend on your industry and the order of magnitude of the problem to be solved.  It is important to not get too bogged down in the early stages. Consider the problems of a traditional detailed financial cost analysis:

  1. Determine the project’s cost savings impact over 3-5 years (a guess)
  2. Determine the project’s cost over 3-5 years (another guess)
  3. Subtract #2 from #1 for the project’s total cost savings (guess – guess = guess²)
  4. Factor in the average weight of capital to the equation (the mother of all guesses)

That is a lot of guessing. And there are obviously many more steps than in this simplistic example; imagine how all of those guesses keep skewing the results! And what happens if you or your clients aren’t happy with the numbers you generated? Be honest…you most likely go back and tweak the numbers until you end up with something closer to what you were expecting.  Guessing and manipulation – that’s a recipe for disaster.

The art of getting useful results out of this process will depend heavily on how you take the exercise and turn it into a discussion, not a complete financial analysis. After all, your goal is to help your client understand the problem and its impact, help place you in the role of a trusted advisor, and of course, help you continue to qualify your prospect. Besides, if you are like most salespeople, you are not a spreadsheet genius who delights in the world of credits, debits, and pivot tables. Fortunately, if you can help your 4th grader with math homework, you have all the financial skills necessary for this phase.

In How To Take Data And Turn It Into Impact, we used the example of rekeying the locks at a university to illustrate how to create a very basic understanding of the financial impact of a problem. This type of financial analysis is obviously simple, often referred to as “back of the envelope” math. The exercise reduces the amount of guessing (or makes it obvious to you and your client that you are guessing and agree that you are using round numbers to get a general understanding of the problem). You are now in a position to take your ballpark numbers and talk about them in a way that not only starts to firm up your mutual understanding of the problem, but may also allow you to uncover additional problems that your company can solve.

You both need to work this together

Besides the obvious face time this gives you and the client buy-in it produces, it will give you additional insight into your client’s opinions, allow you to test your assumptions, and enable better, more educated guesses (yes, we’re still guessing at this point, but that’s okay). As you talk about the problem, you will need to put your findings into the language of money. After all, the solution you offer will be based on money. In the end, if your client can’t apply a viable ROI to your solution,  even the biggest problem won’t get the funding to solve it.

HP-12C

Yes, they still make the trusty HP-12C

Keep the math simple, and keep things centered on positive and negative numbers. This is not the place for percentages or ratios, and it certainly is not the place to show off your MBA skills with your trusty HP-12C calculator. If the numbers come up larger than expected, your client may start to distrust the process, even though you both contributed to that process. If this happens, take the conservative route  and say something like, “That seems a little high…is this what you were expecting?”

Pay careful attention here…you are about to either get solution buy-in or problem abandonment

If they answer that the number seems about right or might actually be underestimated, keep moving forward. If they answer that the number seems high, work with them until you both reach a conservative number that you not only believe, but can later prove to the client’s senior management who ultimately will write the check for your solution. Then ask one final question:  “Is this problem big enough to require a solution?” Because while your solution might solve a problem with an annual ROI of $100,000, that might mean nothing to a $50 billion company with other priorities.

If after all of your work together you get to the point where your client is not seeing numbers that justify moving forward, you need to take a deep breath and evaluate where you are. Should you keep pushing and try to get to a number that works? If you have been lazy with your qualifying over the past few meetings, you may be fooled into pushing forward. If you have been constantly qualifying your prospect throughout your entire engagement, you will probably see that you have reached the point where further time will not pay off. That’s a tough call, but an important one. Don’t keep trying to push that rope uphill. Move on.

But wait, not so fast. There are few absolutes in business. It may make sense to continue on with what appears to be an unqualified prospect. What if there is more to this problem’s ROI than can be easily measured financially? Just as there are soft costs, there is also soft data. We’ll look at soft data and how it impacts your client in Chapter 23.

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Chapter 20: Helping Your Prospect Find Missing Data

In Chapter 19 we learned about the five types of data.  Knowing the different types of data (hard, soft, inferred, none, and fantasy) allows us to figure out if our prospect is dealing with real facts or not. Your first step is to ask questions to get a feel for just how solid those facts are.

Sometimes these can be easy softball questions (“You say that you don’t have a problem with shrinkage here at XYZ Retail Store…congratulations, that’s great, and very unusual!  Can you show me the audit records?  Maybe I can learn something here…”). Sometimes you may need more of a hardball statement (“You say you don’t have a problem with shrinkage here at XYZ Retail Store?  Really?  I’ve never heard of a client with zero shrinkage.  Why don’t we take a look at how the company has been auditing your inventory just to make sure…”).

How you ask questions about your prospect’s data depends on how deeply you have developed your relationship.  Obviously, a softball question is more appropriate for a first or second meeting – you can’t ask a hardball question right out of the gate unless you have established that personality trait as part of your hard-hitting, no-nonsense brand. Nobody expected that they would get easy questions when Mike Wallace showed up at their door, and if that is your image in your industry, feel free to charge ahead full speed.

Here’s the good news about data:  it either exists or it doesn’t exist:

  • What if the prospect has the data?
    • If it is soft or inferred data, can you help them solidify it with additional hard data?
    • If it is hard data, is it complete?
  • What if the prospect doesn’t have the data?
    • Does someone else have that data?  Can your prospect connect you to that person?
    • If nobody has the data, is there really a problem?
    • If nobody has the data, would your prospect like help in finding it?

You are not necessarily ahead of the game if your prospect has the data necessary to build a business case for your solution.  If you were not a part of the gathering process, you will never know how trustworthy that data is.  It is always a good idea, no matter how sure your prospect is, that you try to help them by furnishing additional data that you know is solid.  It will also serve as a reality check to see how the data that you bring is accepted by your prospect or his team.

When you bring any type of data into a team dynamic, it can be fascinating to see how different people react.  Put on your best x-ray glasses and look for those who may feel threatened that they are no longer the provider of data.  Healthy skepticism towards an outsider’s data is normal – unreasonable hostility to an outsider usually means problems for you down the road.

If your prospect doesn’t have the data necessary to build an effective business case for your solution, you are often better off.  First, if you bring or assist in bringing the data to the prospect, you will have a higher degree of faith that the data is accurate and useful. Second, if you both work together to find the data, you will be able to spend more time together and build a higher level of trust.  Collaboration is a much better way to work with a prospect, especially if the problem and solution is complex or technical in nature.

What if the client doesn’t want your help in obtaining the data?

This can be quite common.  Often, prospects can be a bit embarrassed when they realize that they were about to spend money on a project that is not supported by enough facts to create a solid business case.  They may push you off and say that they will go and get the data.  This can bring you back to square one, wondering if they are gathering hard, soft, inferred, or fantasy data.  You need to delicately push to assist them in this important part of the process.

You can help them realize that they need your help with a carefully worded question.  In the past, when I have encountered a prospect who didn’t want help finding or creating the necessary data, I have said something like, “I’m glad we agree that it is important to get this data before proceeding.  It’s great that you can go and get it now.  But I have to ask, if it is so important, why don’t you already have it?  It sounds like this may take some digging…I’d love to help so you don’t get too bogged down by this…”  Careful here – you need to walk that razor’s edge between being helpfully insistent and insulting.

What if they still want to do it themselves?  Enter the deadline statement: “No problem. To keep things moving, how about we set a date to review the data you are getting.  If you don’t have it by then, lets agree that at that point I’ll jump in and give you a hand.”

This can be very time consuming.  But it is time worth investing, as there is the possibility that you can use some of the data gathered with other prospects (stripped of anything that identifies your current prospect, of course) in similar industries as inferred data. More importantly, this is a great way to keep qualifying your prospect.  After all, is it really a good use of your time to work on a project with someone who is not concerned with supporting a business case for your solution with hard data?  That would only increase the odds of the solution failing to solve the real problem, or having the project cancelled before it starts because there was no convincing data that the solution would have an impact on the problem.

Chapter 16: How To Qualify A Prospect By Confirming Their Business Case

In Chapter 15, we discussed the five phases of a Client Centric Sale.  If you have in the past tried some of the more popular multi-step sales program, you might be a bit leery of yet another.  I don’t blame you – I’m skeptical of these “one size fits all” approaches as well.  Every aspect of the Client Centric Sales methodology may not work for everyone or every industry, but there is enough useful information in this series that you should be able to customize it to suit your own unique requirements.

While not all phases need to be taken in any particular order, I have found that the order outlined below, if the situation allows, is the best way to begin.  As a review, they are:

  1. Confirm the Business Case
  2. Confirm the Budget
  3. Confirm the Scorecard
  4. Confirm the ROI
  5. Maintain the Client

The purpose of these phases is not to create a solution, but to solve a problem. You will need to be careful and not get absorbed with your own solution at this point.  It is difficult for salespeople to enter a prospect’s office and not have a preconceived notion of what they need.  Your prospect may even be telling you exactly what they think they need.  Please reread Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 for background on these troublesome assumptions and how you should treat them.

We are going to explore Confirm the Business Case first.  This phase includes both the salesperson and the prospect examining the problems to be solved, creating an agreement on terms, eliminating assumptions, and verifying that a solution exists.  We then conclude this phase after we jointly understand the impact that our solution will have on the prospect’s business, both the positive impact and the negative impact.

Don’t talk about your solution; instead listen for the REAL problems

It has become very fashionable these days to talk about solutions.  I keep hearing salespeople saying variations of “Mr. Customer, I don’t want to sell you a product; I want to sell you a solution.”  But a solution doesn’t mean anything unless it is applied to a real problem and creates some kind of ROI.   That’s why it is so important to have a full understanding of your prospect’s problems.  Even if you can control your own predisposed inclination to talk about the great solution you can offer, your prospect will be pushing you to do so.  Resist this with all your strength.  Solutions are a dime a dozen; the value you bring to your prospect is the experience and integrity that you apply to clearly understand the problems facing them.

How do you keep the conversation focused on understanding a prospect’s problems?  I have found the best way is to take each statement they make and turn it into a question that asks about problems, results, or issues.  Let’s use the example of a Visitor Management System, or VMS.  If a prospect were to ask you to sell them a VMS (a system which manages all aspects of a non-employee’s visit to a facility, including a temporary photo ID, safety briefing, NDA signatures, mandatory escort, etc.), you could answer in several ways:

  • “A Visitor Management System, or VMS, means different things to different people.  What does that term mean to you?”  (define terms)
  • “What kinds of problems are you experiencing by not having the right kind of VMS in place now?”  (define problems)
  • “What kind of results would the perfect VMS give you that you aren’t getting today?” (define results)
  • “What kind of issues are you trying to address by installing a VMS?”  (define issues)

Each of these questions helps to understand the core problems our prospect is experiencing, the results they are hoping to achieve (and thus the scorecard that will be used to measure us), and the issues that they are facing.  This process of question and answer will help you to continue the important task of continuously qualifying your prospect.  We all know that sales is about addressing the pain/gain issue.  If their problems aren’t big enough or real enough, no product or service will be a good solution for them, so never stop qualifying.

As you work through this process, focus on developing your questions so that they continuously clarify your prospect’s problems, desired results, or existing issues.  Every time a solution pops into your head, adamantly push it right back out.  This is not the time to jump into features and benefits.  An independent consultant gets all the issues on the table before trying to find a solution.  If you are to be a trusted advisor and consultant to your prospect, you will need to act in the same way.

Chapter 13: Can You Displace Your Competitor?

Yes is good, No is good, Maybe will kill you. We covered that in Chapter 11 and more in Chapter 12. There’s no doubt that Maybe is a dangerous word. Can you grab that marquis account from your toughest competitor?

Maybe.

If you are trying to break into an account that is currently using a competitor’s product or service, you will, sometimes despite solid assurances from your prospect to the contrary, have a very steep uphill battle before you.

But what if your product or service is clearly superior to the entrenched competitor’s product or service?  What if it is so obvious that even a casual observer to the process can see that your solution is a no-brainer?

It has always amazed me how over the years I have seen great effort expended in the pursuit of a new client, only to see it all fall apart at the end, leaving everyone scratching their heads wondering what happened. I remember one large company who was very frustrated with one of their technology suppliers. This wasn’t just a quiet grudge – high level executives flew in to justify why they should be kept on as a supplier. Promises were made, promises were broken, and the cycle repeated itself over and over.

When it was time for a major overhaul of the client’s system, many companies came knocking on the door, offering a better system at a better price. Thousands of man-hours were spent to land this Fortune 50 account, because everyone assumed (Chapter 8) that the customer had reached such a boiling point that they would finally throw out the competitor. But in the end, the client stayed with their existing supplier and system, even though they stated that they knew they would continue to have major problems.

Why would a buyer do this?  How could they justify their decision?

If you remember from our discussion of personality quadrants (Chapter 11), there are four basic personality traits, and an infinite combination of these four traits. Different people will make decisions for different reasons, but in the case of the example above, the client was a plodding administrator who chose to go with the safe decision. We have all heard the old phrase, “You can’t get fired by hiring IBM,” and even though this was a progressive global technology company, the decision to stay the course was made out of fear and uncertainty.

There's that elephant again...

There’s that elephant again…he’s not going anywhere until you address him!

Years later, after reconstructing this example, I realized that the fault was mine, not the client’s. In short, I had not qualified the prospect with a very simple question, which ultimately prevented me from setting the table properly for the sale to move forward. In this example, after building a high level of trust with my prospect, I needed to ask the most obvious question that nobody wanted to discuss:

“You have been doing business with ‘Company X’ for a while and have been happy enough to keep doing business with them. What do you need to see from me that would be so compelling that my company would have at least an even chance of winning your business?”

That wasn’t so hard, was it? And yet it took me years to learn this question, even though the answer to it would determine how (or if) I would proceed with my prospect. Let’s look at two types of answers you may receive:

“Your price needs to be lower.”

This is a Maybe. How much lower do you need to be? Why does it need to be lower? Can it be quantified, or is it just a gut feel by one person who only thinks about price instead of cost and value? If you can get this answer quantified, you will be able to move on if it is a Yes or form a strategy to deal with it if it is a No.

“You need to have a product that has been in use for five years.”

For you, this is either a Yes or No. Either is good, as it is definitive. If the answer is Yes, you can move on to other questions that will help you build your compelling case for change. If your answer is No, like the pricing example above, you can form a strategy to deal with this issue.

Often, the prospect’s scorecard is measuring irrelevant things that don’t really apply to achieving a successful solution. Asking up front what you need to do to be compelling to your prospect will help you not only form a strategy, it may help you complete your qualification process by deciding that pursuing this customer is not a good use of your time.

Walking away from a prospect is the ultimate No. But if you believe as I do, a No is good. The good news is that if you finally reach that ultimate No, you then become free to pursue a prospect that is a better fit for your product or service, instead of being stuck in the purgatory of Maybe.

Chapter 12: Why A “Maybe” Should Force You To Requalify Your Prospect

You are itching to write that proposal.

You know you are. All those glorious charts and graphs, just burning a hole in your hard drive. The hours spent drawing the mother of all org charts, topped off with the finest writing you’ve ever cut and pasted from Wikipedia and your previous proposals. You’re so clever, you brilliantly copied a low-rez, pixelated logo from your prospect’s website and pasted it on the front cover.

Yeah, yeah, me too. I eventually learned from my mistakes, and called this kind of effort my “rush to mediocracy.”

So let’s slow down a bit and do a quick review of the work you’ve done so far. You’ve become an expert in your prospect’s industry and company (Chapter 3), you’ve managed to to meet the right people at the prospect’s company to establish trust (Chapter 7) and further explore their real needs with tough questions, all the while keeping in mind (and in check) the assumptions that both sides of the table may have (Chapter 8 and Chapter 9). You’ve sorted out all the Yes and No answers to your satisfaction (Chapter 11).

Don’t start writing that proposal yet..now its time for the hard work.

Wait, wasn’t it hard already? Yes, it was hard in the same way that prepping the room before painting it is hard. But prepping a room (or prospect) is very straightforward, as long as you follow a process. If you follow the process detailed out in the first 11 chapters you will have completed the very important prep work. The tough old grizzled sales veterans know that the real work starts when it is time to figure out what to do with all of the “Maybe” answers to your questions.

Maybe might seem self-evident when used to describe the give and take of yes and no questions and answers. But there are lots of other kinds of Maybe out there. Depending on the era of business book you have read in the past, these Maybes have been called inflection points, road blocks, paradigms, yellow lights, and a host of other names. What they all come to mean to us is a warning sign that will require us to dig deeper with more questions, change our strategy, or requalify our prospect before moving forward.

An obvious Maybe is a vague answer to the question, “Does this project have a budget?” Other Maybes may be a little harder to address, such as vague answers to questions such as, “Who from your company will be making the final purchasing decision?” or “What are the factors that will make up your score card when it comes time to award the project?” In those cases, the truth might be that the prospect does not really know the answers. Perhaps he thinks he gave you a correct answer, but his answer could be right, wrong, vague, or incomplete. That little voice deep inside you, the one who has become more vocal as you become a more experienced salesperson, is quietly gnawing at you that things aren’t quite right.

Listen to that voice!

You may be tempted to move ahead, belittling those doubts about the budget, the competition, the specification, the timeframe, or even your own company’s ability to do the job well. What that soft but persistent voice is telling you is to slow down and reevaluate things. It is time to re-qualify your prospect by asking yourself some important questions.

elephant in the roomIs the existing supplier well entrenched in the prospect’s organization? Do I fully understand not just the specification being used, but the full intent of the solution? Is there an ROI angle that will ultimately grab the attention of the C-Suite? Can a lack of clarity on the specification work to my advantage by putting me in a position to develop a deeper dialog with my prospect? Are these Maybes obvious to everyone working on the project, but nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room?

These examples of potential problems are very common in any large, complex, or technical sales. Most of us breeze right by them, hoping that they won’t get in the way of the sale. But according to author Rick Page, a guru of complex sales, hope is not a strategy. There are, however, tactics that can help you reevaluate these warning signs, dig a little deeper, ask even more tough questions, and then determine if you should continue with this prospect or cut your losses and start on another.

One of the most difficult situations for any salesperson is trying to unseat an incumbent service or product supplier. There are no shortages of Maybes in this situation. It is not easy to wedge your way into a longterm, stable relationship when you have only promises to offer. In Chapter 13, we’ll look at this situation in greater detail, and introduce a tactic that I and others have used with great success to get our foot in the door.

Chapter 10: Are You Afraid To Ask About Their Budget?

Of course you are.  Well, maybe afraid is the wrong word.  Maybe apprehensive is a better word.  Or cautious.  Maybe we can just keep thinking up words so we run out of time and can’t ask our prospect all those squishy questions about his budget.

Why is it so difficult to ask our prospect questions about the project’s budget?

Talking about money, in any kind discussion, business or otherwise, tends to make us feel very uncomfortable.  But not having an understanding of the budget can lead to false assumptions (see Chapter 8 and Chapter 9) and waste both your and your prospect’s time. It is important to realize that the budget needs to be discussed up front and early.

Early in my sales career, I was so excited to be talking to an interested prospect that I forged ahead at full speed, asking about everything except the budget.  “I better not ask about money at this point,” I reasoned to myself.  “She’ll be so impressed with my proposal that it won’t matter what what my competitors price is.”

Let’s look at the assumptions I typically made.  Besides the 13 (yes, 13!) assumptions discussed in the previous two chapters, I typically increased the odds against myself by assuming that:  1, there was a budget;  2, there was a budget with enough funds for the project;  3, there were more funds than I was assuming;  4, project funding was only coming from one budget…and so on and so on.

Did unspoken budget questions stop me?

It didn’t even slow me down.  Many hours, and then many more would go into my glorious proposals.  Company history, corporate organization charts, staff backgrounds, charts, graphs, drawings, all printed out and bound into an inch thick booklet, dripping with fresh ink – customers were impressed with the sheer weight, if not the content.

As I would thump the proposal down on my prospects desk, all those assumptions would rear their ugly heads.  Bypassing all that carefully crafted prose, those detailed charts and graphs, and going straight to the last page with the pricing, I would hear one of two things:

“Wow.  This is way over our budget.”

or

“Wow.  This is way cheaper than I thought.”

Neither of those statements is what a salesperson wants to hear.  Not once did I hear, “Wow.  This price is exactly what I expected.”  Sadly, this problem is typical with not only most junior salespeople, but with quite a few senior salespeople as well.

It may be uncomfortable for you to ask questions about their budget, but if you have established trust (Chapter 7) and expertise (Chapter 3), you can accomplish this in a way that is acceptable to your prospect and furthers the sales and qualification process.

This is an important part of any business-to-business sale, and it is critical to any large, complex, or technical sale.  We will be spending quite a bit of time honing in on tactics to enable a mutually beneficial discussion on budgets and assumptions.  Otherwise, you are wasting time, killing trees, and annoying your boss.

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