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 11: Yes Is Good, No Is Good (But Maybe Will Kill You!)

Salespeople, it seems, are pre-programmed from birth to always be seeking approval. We strive to get to Yes, not just because it can mean a commission check, but also because of our deep-seated need for an “attaboy.” At least that is what all of those management seminars try to tell us. You’ve probably been to them; they carve up the working world into a four groups, with salespeople ending up in the top righthand quadrant. This is the space for not only salespeople, but also for entertainers, evangelists, and other overly talkative people.

CEOs are usually in the top left quadrant, along with others who believe in no-nonsense, straightforward methodologies. Other examples for this group include sports coaches, generals and admirals, and Machiavelli. The bottom right typically is for those who think (and think and think and think) and include engineers, scientists and other ponderers. The final quadrant is reserved for the bane of all salespeople:  those in charge of making things the salesperson promised actually work. This group is full of project managers, estimators, and administrative people.

There is quite a bit of science that has gone into these types of categorizations. Some are quite complex, such as one that classifies people into 13 different groups with 3 modifiers. On several occasions I have worked directly with one firm, Personalysis, who teach a standard quadrant analysis but takes it to a higher level by teaching how to be more successful interacting with the different types of people you will encounter.

How each of these groups address good news, bad news, and ambiguous news is important when working with a client, but for now lets just try to understand how the different answers you get during your questioning process affect you.

Good news is good news. Simple enough. It is easy for the client to give us a Yes and it is easy for us to feel good about it. Examples are that the budget is established, our product or service can be offered in a way to meet the budget, and we have a great relationship with the client. We tend to push all good news to the front of the line and give it ample weight. But as we’ll see below, Yes is not always good news.

Bad news is also good news.

That’s right. Bad news is good news because it is definite, and a defined No means we have reached an understanding on a topic of discussion. Bad news may not be good news, but it is always better than vague news. Why is this?

Bad news is usually more accurate than good news. For example, if you were to ask your prospect if the project has a budget and he gives you a Yes, that may not be 100% true. There may be a committee that is talking about the budget, or maybe he is digging around for enough information from you to put together a rough budget for next year. So a Yes may not really be a firm Yes – it might just be a Qualified Yes. A Yes can be (and often is) fudged. But if the answer to the budget’s existence is No, that is usually a very Definite No.

No” is the most truthful thing your client can tell you.

In this example, your prospect has revealed the most critical part of the sales process…there is no budget! Better yet, because this is an easy Yes/No answer and the answer was No early on in the sales process, you have discovered that no matter how many presentations, how amazing our proposal, or how tight your relationship is, you may be spinning your wheels on someone who at best is twelve months away from a purchasing decision. A No is good because it keeps you in the qualifying process, helping you decide how much time you should spend with your prospect.

When a prospect says No, it does not mean that the sale is dead and you should move on. In fact, during any large, complex, or technical sale, you will be told No many times throughout the engagement. Usually, No just means there are more questions to ask, more people to meet, and a joint strategy session with your prospect to look at the project more realistically and find out if there is a qualified pathway that would allow you and your prospect to move forward.

The title of this chapter is Yes Is Good, No Is Good, But Maybe Will Kill You.  In Chapter 12, we dive into the shark-invested waters of Maybe.

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.

Chapter 9: The Problem with Problems (and too many Assumptions)

There is more to the problem of assumptions than making sure that all parties have mutually agreed upon terms.  I have found that there are many different kinds of assumptions that can keep you from giving your client a great solution to their problem.

For instance, your client may assume that there actually is a problem when there isn’t.  Maybe there once was one, but for whatever reason, it is now gone, or that there never was a real problem in the first place.  It is also possible that the client may be focusing on a single problem, when there are really several problems.

While every salesperson may believe that his or her company has the best solution to the problem, there is a chance that there is no solution to the problem.  Alternately, the client may believe that there is only one solution to the problem when in fact there may be many. Or what if the reality is that the solution may be worse than the problem?  (Insert your favorite “the government made the solution worse than the problem” story here).

What if nobody cares about the problem?  While your contact may think that the problem is a mission-critical issue that could affect the very survival of the company, there is the possibility that nobody else believes him.  And if the person who signs the contracts and writes the checks for projects doesn’t think there is a real problem, then you have a very steep road ahead of you.

As more companies focus on ROI as part of their purchasing decisions, it may be a poor assumption that the problem and solution can be measured in a way to prove ROI.  In fact, it may be impossible to measure any aspect of the problem or solution.  Also, if the client has many people involved in the project, there is a great chance that each of them will have their own perception of the problem and the solution.  How do you handle this if your client has a team of twelve people who all want a piece of the decision?

One of the worst assumptions is that your client perceives your solution will solve the entire problem.  While it may be true that ultimately there are only two kinds of problems (people problems and money problems), the world of large, complex, or technical sales usually means that many problems within the client’s organization are causing varying amounts of influence and these can greatly affect any solution you may be proposing.

Let’s go back to our cloud-based CRM example from Chapter 8.  After lots of questions (Chapter 7), we all agreed that the client’s problem was that they couldn’t keep track of key data for their staff and customers, and they didn’t have a large budget to solve this problem.  In reality there would be much more to this, but let’s agree your product or service met the client’s stated needs.  How could this project possibly fail?

While your solution may solve your contact’s problem, it may cause real or imagined problems elsewhere, creating friction within the client’s organization that could  result in a failure of your solution.  For example, the IT department may not like the fact that your cloud-based CRM stores sensitive data offsite instead of on their servers.  The HR department may not like the additional responsibility of training staff on how to use the new system.  The finance department may not like the monthly software license costs, preferring to make a one-time purchase of a software program that the company would then own.  The CEO may not like spending any money at all.  And those always annoying, whiny salespeople?  Instead of efficient data management, they see management asking them to do more reports.

How do you overcome all of those problems?

Don’t get too overwrought by all of this.  Everyone involved in your project will have problems with assumptions – that’s just human nature.  However, if you are  aware of the multitude of assumptions that are being made, on both sides of the table, you can better navigate the sales process, keep qualifying, and reduce the possibility that some of those assumptions will have a negative impact.  Keep your eyes and ears open to these issues and you will walk a straighter path towards a successful sale and implementation of your solution.

Chapter 8: How do you spell ASSUME?

We all know the “to assume is to make an ASS out of U and ME” line, but how far are you willing to go to reach an understanding on the facts of the problem you are trying to solve?  In Chapter 7 we talked about creating trust so that you can mutually discover the full set of facts, but there is actually more to this than asking great questions.

The first assumption problem involves terms.  If you are a 20-year industry veteran, and the client is new to your industry, there is a potential minefield of errors that can get in the way of your fact digging based on differing ideas of what terms and phrases mean.  For example, let’s say that your client wants to talk to you about cloud-based CRM systems. We all know that it is poor form to talk in endless acronyms, but worse, CRM might mean one thing to you and another to your client.  And the cloud, as used in the computer industry, is so new and abstract to some people that you would definitely need to make sure you both were talking about the same thing.

How do you agree on the meaning of terms in a way that doesn’t sound condescending to your client?

Done properly, a quick discussion on terms can be a great way to show that you want to be 100% accurate in every aspect of the solution process (at the same time, it helps with your continuous prospect qualification process).  It might be something as simple as saying, “We’ve found that cloud-based customer relationship management systems (notice CRM is defined here, not abbreviated) can mean different things to different people.  To make sure we are on the same page, can you tell me what that means to you and what you are trying to accomplish?”

You might find out that to the client, CRM means Consumer Research Methodology. Better to find that out now than 30 minutes into a presentation.  Or you may find that their idea of a cloud platform is a Hotmail account when you think it means a hosted software platform with full redundancy and real-time failover.  Whatever happens, you have removed assumptions, clarified intent, and set up a pathway that you can now both go down together.  In addition, the client has had a chance to think about what her real problem is, and what a successful outcome might look like.

Using the example above, let’s assume that you and the client have agreed that a cloud-based CRM is a software package that resides on your company’s computer servers, is accessed over a standard web browser, and allows you to import, export, and sort data on the company’s staff and customers (an example of this is SalesForce).  The next step is to find out why your client wants this.  The client may answer, “I Googled it and found that it is cheaper to get a cloud-based system rather than a self-hosted system.”

If you sell cloud-based CRM systems, it is time to fire up the PowerPoint, show 12 slides of your company’s org charts, and close with the classic “sign here, three copies, press hard” and run for the door, right?

Not so fast.

If price is the only reason that they are buying this type of system, then you are now in the commodity business; in a race to the bottom to see who can have the lowest price and margin.  There is a place in every industry for the lowest cost product or service, but I’ve always preferred to be known as the Most Expensive Guy In Town (more on that later). There must be another thing other than price that is driving this decision.  There almost always is.

This is where real sales begins.

What about the other things that your company can do, such as give  24/7 for tech support, automatic software upgrades, user-friendly software, special customizations, etc? What about other advantages of cloud-based systems, such as real-time security against spam, malware, hackers, and Nigerian e-mail scams?  Only after agreeing on what each of these terms means to the client can you proceed in a way that makes you a resource to your client, and if you are resource, you can earn your way to Trusted Advisor status (see Chapter 3).

These are just assumptions on terms.  In Chapter 9, we will look at other types of more complex assumptions, all based on the frailties of the human mind.

Chapter 7: Earning Trust Before You Ask the Tough Questions

To fully succeed at sales, we must think and act with a client-centric mindset at all times.  To do that, we need to first gather accurate information from our prospect, and to get that information, we must have trust.

We can’t have trust until we earn trust.

What happens if at our first meeting, we ask, “what were the three biggest failures of your department last year?”  Count yourself lucky if instead of a door in the face, you only get a blank stare followed by a variation of, “our department has had no major issues over the past fiscal year.”  Either way, you are shut out, possibly for good. But you read “Chapter 6:  Partnering with your Prospect,” and you understand the need to ask those tough questions.  Why are our prospects afraid to answer those questions?  Don’t they want to help their company by doing a better job?

People are people, and whether it is due to personal ego, petty internal politics, the inability to get to useful information, or just because there has been so little trust built with past salespeople, most prospects have built up wide moats and massive walls to protect their world from people like you.  Don’t take it personally – it is just part of the dysfunctional sales dynamic that was built long before you were born.

How do you ask 100 MPH hardball questions when your prospect is used to underhand slow pitched softballs?  Or maybe even even used to hitting off the Tee?

(A note to my international friends:  sorry for the baseball sports analogy.  While I understand your puzzlement with an American sport that has an event called the World Series but negates to invite teams from outside North America, my shameful lack of cricket or rugby analogies forces my hand here.  Client-Centric Sales will endeavor to keep sports metaphors to a minimum.)

If you haven’t already, read Chapter 3:  Becoming an Expert in Order to Qualify Successfully.   When you become an expert on your prospect’s industry, company, and problems, you are taking down the first set of barriers that prospects usually put up. They will open the door quite a bit wider for you if they have “discovered” you through your previous industry networking on LinkedIn, through trade associations, or by referral.  If you managed to invite yourself for a meeting to discuss industry best practices and how upcoming regulations may impact their business, they may drop their defenses even further.  If you keep your corporate brochures and PowerPoints under lock and key (believe it or not, they don’t want to see your 12 slides of org charts), you have the possibility of opening up a real dialog.  And if during that initial dialog, which may take place over several meetings, you can keep your mind off your quota and instead focus on your prospects issues, you may become successful at avoiding the salesperson’s biggest offense:  Listening With Intent To Sell.

We’ve all done that.  We get a great dialog going and then 20% into the discussion, we start to tune out and figure out how we are going to sell the prospect the new POS-2150 GlurpMaster 2.0 with an extended warranty agreement.

Wrong.

Keep listening.  Don’t think solutions yet – that’s a ways off.  Listen some more.  Ask questions that help you both discover the deep sources of the problem instead of the more easily recognized topical symptoms.  Your competitors have already tried to sell bandaids; you, my friend, are going to do surgery. So listen.  When the prospect comes to what he or she believes is the end of the answer, keep digging. Your prospect may declare that he or she has reached a conclusion, and that you are ready to discuss a solution.  Don’t take the easy way out and stop there.  If you are working on what appears to be a promising line of questioning, keep going.  It is often as easy as taking a short pause, and asking, “what else?”

Asking “what else?” is an amazingly powerful question.  A local Fortune 500 company turned into a long term client due mainly to the fact that I kept asking that question. When the prospect got to the point that he thought he was done, I would ask “what else?” It was only after asking “what else?” 14 more times that we finally drilled down far enough for us both to understand the problem.  Reaching that understanding allowed us to zero in on a solution which saved the client almost $1M.

I didn’t sell anything that day.  I helped someone understand his business, identify a problem, and enact a solution.  The solution was simple and had nothing to do with my company or what I had to sell.  But you can bet the next time I met with this company, I was treated as a trusted advisor, not a salesman.  At that point, I was in a position to ask the really tough questions, discuss the elephants in the room, and mutually engage with this company to look at other issues that I could directly help them resolve.

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.

Chapter 5: Three Ways to Fail During a Sales Presentation

What happens when a client can’t properly articulate his or her company’s needs?

That’s easy.  We do what most salespeople love to do…we TALK. Oh, how we love the sounds of our own voices. We interrupt our clients so that we can finish making our point. We keep talking after they have told us they want to buy from us, because we’re not done with our sales pitch.

For example, I needed two tablet PCs to use as part of a major presentation to a Fortune 50 company. The choice of tablet PC was easy, as the prospect had a key relationship with one of the tablet PC makers. With no research to do, I walked into the store and said, “I’d like to buy two of those tablet PCs.” The correct answer? “Yes sir, here you go.”

What answer did I get? “You know, those have dual-core processors.” Now this might seem like a minor sales transgression, but if I had more time on my hands, I would have said, “Oh, in that case, I don’t want them” and walked out of the store and into another. But I stayed, and endured hearing about all the technical features that this tablet PC had, the cool apps you could get for it, and so on. He committed one of the most terrible sins of all sales sins:  he kept pitching after he had the sale, potentially talking me out of the sale.

In your sales world, what else is wrong with going through your rehearsed presentation? Instead of working to understand your prospect, are you just telling them what to do? Without a back and forth discussion, you risk a one-sided solution, potentially resulting in a lack of buy-in from your prospect. If the project fails, guess who will get the blame? Besides appearing arrogant, your force-fed presentation may keep you from learning about other problems that your company could solve.

When is not okay to take the money and run?

What if the client knows exactly what they want (like me when I bought the tablet PCs)? If you are going to have a long term relationship with this client, then you risk that they are wrong when they tell you what they want to buy. Again, guess who gets the blame? There are other problems, however. If we haven’t added any value to the transaction, then we have just entered the dreaded world of commodity sales. And if we haven’t established a base dialog on the prospect’s issues, we will never understand the root causes of the problems they face, and once again we won’t be able to solve any additional problems they may have.

The only thing worse than these two sales transgressions is what I see over and over again – guessing. Of course, we don’t call it guessing at all. We have a short meeting, form opinions, declare that the problem can be solved with the product or service that we just happen to sell, and then formalize this mass of guessing into a glorious, search-and-replace, cut-and-paste rehashed document called a proposal. The thicker the better.

I’m betting that the majority of the client interactions done in the world of large, technical, or complex sales fall into one of the above three categories. Is there a better way? Perhaps a way that keeps us from wasting our time and increases the odds that the prospect will become a long-term, profitable client who values our wisdom and expertise so much that they become the gatekeeper who excludes our competitors from knocking on their door?

There is a way that has served me and others well over the years. In Chapter 6, “Partnering With Your Prospect,” I will give you an overview of this alternate way of doing business with your clients.

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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