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 18: Is Your Prospect’s Problem REALLY A Problem?

Part of the process of Confirm The Business Case (Chapter 15) is to guide the conversation so that your prospect is actively engaged and not just giving you the same pre-programmed answers that he is giving back to your competitors. You know that if you focus on developing your questions (Chapter 16) so that they continuously clarify the prospect’s problems, desired results, and existing issues that you can then help them prioritize (Chapter 17).  Now it is time for two very important questions:

Is there really a problem?  Does it really matter?

Let’s break these down a bit.  When I ask if there is really a problem, we both know that the answer is yes.  After all, you’ve done the work associated with the above listed chapters. If you are meeting with the person who actually writes the check, then you are well on your way.  However, if you are working on a large, technical, or complex sale, you are going to have to help your prospect justify to others within his organization that there is indeed a real problem, and that takes evidence.

What evidence am I talking about?  Let’s go back to the example we used in Chapter 17 of replacing an antiquated e-mail system with a new one.  We asked our questions, and were told that “The existing system uses old servers which are becoming unreliable, we have a hard time pushing large attachments through the system, it won’t do web-based e-mail, and it is hard to keep anti-virus software up to date.”  We then helped our prospect prioritize these issues, and in the middle of that process found out that the president had a brand new iPad, which changed the priorities again.

Now that we have this kind of data, we need to ask the Who, What, Where, When, and How questions.  This is old school stuff, and you probably already know that you need to add hard data to some of the soft statements your client is making.  In the e-mail system example above, let’s take the first thing our prospect said, “The existing system uses old servers which are becoming unreliable.”  To properly build a business case, we need to ask questions such as:

  • Who manages the existing servers?
  • What are the existing problems?
  • Where will funding come from?
  • When will the budget be approved?
  • How will this project be managed between multiple stakeholders?

You get the idea.  These are all proof points that different people within the organization will want to understand, even if they are not directly responsible for the project.  These questions can seem obvious, but they help to clarify to others that there really is a problem.  The other aspect of building a business case is to quantify how the problem is negatively impacting the organization and then how a successful implementation would positively impact the organization.  For example:

  • Who is impacted by the server’s reliability problems?
  • What hard costs and soft costs are absorbed because of the reliability problems?
  • Where is the data that could verify those hard and soft costs?
  • When could the investment in the project reach a break-even point?
  • How can we measure if the project is successful?

These questions help to establish not only the impact that the problem is having on the prospect’s company, but to also set up a scorecard that can eventually be used to prove the success of your solution.  When you can answer these kinds of questions, you will be able to help your prospect show that not only do they really have a problem, but that it really matters.  It is surprising how many clients ultimately take this alternate way of exploring issues to assemble a compelling business case and use it in their daily life.  If they have been shot down in the past for projects that they worked on, they usually find that building a business case that the C-Suite can relate to is a skill that will pay dividends for years.

A side effect to this kind of questioning is that your contact may come to the realization that they do not understand the problem as well as they thought they did, especially when dealing with the financial impact.  In fact, it is likely that many of the answers are scattered throughout the company’s departments (silo alert!), and that some information is simply nonexistent.

This is not necessarily bad news.  In Chapter 11, “Yes Is Good, No Is Good (But Maybe Will Kill You!)” we discussed how bad news isn’t the end of the road, but just an inflection point.  We can show our value to our prospect not only by asking them tough questions that they can’t answer, but by showing them how to go about getting those answers so as to help build a strong business case for their project.

This will become very important down the road whether you submit your solution in a written proposal or as an in-person presentation.

Chapter 15: A Sales Process For Salespeople Who Hate Sales Processes

How many sales seminars have you been to that involved a lengthy or complicated sales procedure? Or perhaps they had a canned presentation with a general methodology that worked in their industry back in the days when they were carrying a bag? Too many, I’m betting. You’ve seen all kinds, from spreadsheet-intensive flow charts that require you to fill in all the blanks with names and titles whether they are pertinent or not, all the way to complex wall size documents that could have been used as a planning guide for the invasion of Normandy.

The problem? One size does not fit all. In fact, one size does not even fit one.

The reason is that every industry is different, with a unique sales cycle complicated by a multitude of factors. If you consider the individual nature of your prospect and the other people who will be a part of the decision, add the complexities of your own company plus your own sales style, it is easy to see why these overly complicated “fill in the blank” template sales seminars rarely have any lasting impact on salespeople. While they may make sense on paper, they become more of a hindrance than a help after just the first few minutes of your sales call (“Slow down Mr. Customer, I’m still filling in the blanks”).

After slinging all these arrows at sales processes, am I really going to offer you my own sales flowchart procedure? Yes, but I promise it won’t hurt. Much. It doesn’t fit into a nice format having exactly 10 steps or have the first letter in each step spell out a word. It would be great if the sales process was that predictable and linear, but so far, I’ve never seen that happen. At Client Centric Sales, there are ultimately only five phases:

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

It would be great if the last one was “Confirm the Client” so I could call this my “5 C’s Sales Program,” but then I would be as guilty as anyone else who was putting out a mnemonically titled program. You could argue that “Qualify the Prospect” should be added in there somewhere. But as regular readers of Client Centric Sales know, qualifying is done continuously within each of these steps. We will cover the above in more detail in coming chapters, but for now let me explain each a bit so that they make a bit more sense as we move forward:

Confirm the Business Case – We need to mutually examine the problems to be solved, agree on terms, eliminate assumptions, and verify that a solution exists. We must also understand the impact that our solution will have on the business, both positive and negative.

Confirm the Budget – We need to verify that there is a budget approved for the amount that is required for our proposed solution. It is also important that we align ourselves with our prospect’s expectation of not only the financial side of the budget, but also the time and people who will be required from both sides.

Confirm the Scorecard – There are many parts to the scorecard. We need to not only confirm that the person we are talking with is a decision maker, but we also need to verify who, if any, the other decision makers are. At this point we should have mutually created a scorecard that will be used to clarify what problems the product or service will solve, how it will solve them, whom it will impact, and how the purchase decision will be made.

Confirm the ROI – Here we finalize the business case with data gathered by our prospect and by our company. This data will be used to confirm in great detail how our product or service meets or exceeds the solution required for the prospect. This step is often the creation of a formal proposal or presentation, and it will summarize the data gathered in the first three steps.

Maintain the Client – Whether you won the sale or not will affect your future relationship with the prospect. If you were awarded the sale, it is only the first half of the relationship. Over the next five years, a well-maintained client relationship can produce additional revenue equal or greater to the original sale. If you were not awarded the sale, that doesn’t mean your engagement with this prospect should end with a slammed door.

We have covered all of the above in Chapters 1-14. Next we will spend more time getting into the detail of each of these steps.

Will the Client Centric Sales method work for all sales situations? Obviously, the answer is no. The depth of engagement that I am asking from you is best served when dealing with large, complex, or highly technical sales. And if you take the lessons we will be discussing in coming chapters as a guide, and then add the particulars of your personality, your company, your prospect, and your industry, then you can use these five simple steps to develop your own unique sales process that fits you perfectly.

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