Chapter 6 – Partnering with your Prospect

In the last chapter we looked at the three most common ways to fail at sales.  Those three methodologies have been repeated and perfected through the years, and are very effective at making sure the client doesn’t get what he or she wants while turning you into ineffective salesperson.  As you have probably guessed, there is a better way.

Let’s work with a simple example.  Do you have a friend who is a gadget freak? Someone who drools over technical specs, compares all the different models, and camps out overnight at the Apple store every time a new product is released?  If you were in the market for a new cell phone, you might seek guidance from this person, discussing the pros and cons of different models and operating systems, all the while interacting as equals.  Perhaps at the end of your discussion, you might trust his judgement in this purchase more than you would your own.  This friend has little or nothing to gain in advising you, and you would probably take the advice given as trusted, impartial, and based on your true needs, resulting in your purchase of a perfect new cell phone.

It is this kind of dynamic that we are trying to create with a client-centric sale.

In the real world of sales, this isn’t always easy.  Most prospects have been trained over the years to expect salespeople telling them what they need (usually based on selling what they have) without really understanding their business.  As the saying goes, “If all you sell are hammers, after a while everything starts to look like a nail.”  If not that, prospects are used to telling salespeople what they want, eschewing any kind of value-add dialog from the salesperson that might benefit the prospect’s company.  If it is a large, complex, or technical sale, it is very likely that there will be a great deal of guessing by both the salesperson and the prospect.  These dysfunctional selling practices were covered in greater detail in Chapter 5.

A better way is to focus on a collaborative and consultative sale, acting as if you were not on commission, but instead were hired to help your client complete a successful project. Just as a hired consultant would do research with the client in able to unearth useful data, you will need to do the same with your prospect. During this question asking process, it is very likely that your client will not have all of the answers you require to create an optimum solution.  This is good news, not bad.  I have learned over the years that in the end, the salesman with the best answers does not win the sale.  My experience has shown the opposite:  the salesman with the best questions wins.

It is here that Client-Centric Sales takes a sharp turn away from the well known traditional consultative sales techniques that have been taught for decades.  At first, things might appear very similar to what you are used to.  But as we get deeper into the salesperson-prospect relationship, you will see that success comes from asking questions that your contact won’t be able to answer.  This opens up the opportunity for both you and your prospect to engage others within the organization.  Besides creating a greater sense of corporate buy-in, you may learn, for example, that you have been talking to the wrong person, that the project doesn’t have firm funding, that the European division wants the same solution, or that the president has squashed the project several times in the past. The right questions will help you continually qualify your prospect.

Client-Centric Sales is based on this methodology.  The chapters that follow will help you learn how to ask tough questions, obtain relevant data, meet key people within the organization, verify funding, cooperatively build a business case, jointly present it, and reach a definitive decision.

So roll up your sleeves.  We’re about to get our hands dirty.

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Chapter 4: How Does Your Client Measure Success?

If you were to ask your prospect, “How will you know if this project is successful?” I’m betting that they wouldn’t know how to answer you. A study on IT system implementations showed that 37% of them failed. That means only 67% of IT projects succeeded, which in any school would be rated a “D.” Why did they fail? The study cites that the requirements for the project were unclear, resources were lacking, schedules were unrealistic, planning data was insufficient, and risks were not identified.

Does this sound like any of your past projects?

Whether you are in the IT industry or the TP industry, there are lessons to be learned here. The most important lesson is that it was, at best, only after the project was completed that thought was given to how success would be measured. As customers are (thankfully) getting smarter, more and more are learning to define the scorecard in advance to measure the success of the project.

The greatest opportunity with your prospect is to help them develop the scorecard that will be used to determine what success looks like.

What kind of measurements will your clients be using? Return-On-Investment (ROI) is a common business measurement yardstick. It is certainly one that is dear to the CFO‘s, CEO’s, and Board of Director’s hearts. If you can show your prospect that your product or service can reduce costs, increase revenue or margins, increase productivity, increase quality, or increase customer satisfaction, then you have a good chance of moving your proposal up through the organization. If you can help your contact at that company matter to the C-Suite, and help him or her enable the company to survive tough times and even grow, then that contact will start to treat you like a trusted advisor who is out to help the organization.

After you have proven yourself to be an expert and have identified the key people you need to meet and work with (Becoming An Expert In Order To Qualify Successfully, Chapter 3), you are ready to start writing the score card that will be used by your client (and hopefully forced upon your competitor). The sum of that scorecard needs to be firmly anchored in the Client Centric Sales model of win-win; it is imperative that you work together to create and supply the optimum solution to the company’s most important problems.

Win-Win is easier said than done. The most difficult part of this is that the contacts you have at your prospect’s organization will most likely not have a full understanding on how the project affects the business drivers of their company. They may have secured budget money, and may even have a specification written. The project may have been funded to solve “Problem X” which is funded for “Y dollars” for a period of “Z months,” but has a business case been developed that would enable your contact to justify the project? Are you in a position to help your prospect show the C-Suite how the proposed project is a win for them?

You probably have a good understanding of your prospect’s industry, and an even better understanding of the challenges your prospect’s company faces. You will need to identify how your product or service can address at least one of those challenges, and you will need to help your client develop the scorecard that will be used to both establish the success of the project and can be used to make sure that your competitors are being measured to the same standard.

Problems?

Many, and half of them are caused by ourselves.  We don’t listen, we make assumptions, we think of solutions that we have already sold instead of working to understand every aspect of our prospect’s business, and we assume that we are talking to the right people within that organization. But it is not all our own fault. It doesn’t help that our prospects don’t really know what they need, can’t find a way of accurately describing the problem, keep key information to themselves, won’t let us near the right people, are unrealistic about expectations, and are more concerned with company politics than end-results.

This is why you need to help write the scorecard for your project. Granted, it is not easy, and it takes a lot of time. The good news is that each step you take will help you to continually educate and qualify your prospect. In coming chapters, we will examine a simple methodology that you can use to create a concise, measurable, and justifiable scorecard that you and your prospect create together that will help put you in the driver’s seat.

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