What are the chances of someone accepting a marriage proposal on a blind date? Okay, it’s been known to happen and I’m sure a few individuals might consider it, but for most the answer would be “no.” What if you asked in the most romantic and sincere way possible? Realistically, the answer is still probably “no.” Unfortunately, this is much like the mindset we have with many sales opportunities.
Simply put, Sales teams want to close more deals and too often, and we place entirely too much emphasis on “the close.” Sales training courses through the years have suckered Sales Managers out of countless dollars promising success with better (aka slicker) closing tactics (Assumptive Close, Direct Close, Add-ons, etc.). Most of these are based on manipulation resembling Jedi mind tricks. Guess what? Customers see right through that.
The logic around spending tons of time on closing techniques is the same as thinking that someone will accept your marriage proposal based solely on how you ask the question. In the case of marriage proposals though, the answer isn’t based on how the question is asked; it’s based on what happened between the two of you in the days/weeks/months leading up to the question. So how do we close more deals? Forget about closing techniques and put more effort into qualifying which deals are able to be closed based on the days/weeks/months prior.
Qualifying opportunities can be tricky. Prospects approach us with all sorts of questions, requests, needs, inquiries and hoops to jump through. Having a process to determine where they are in the buying cycle is key. Otherwise, your process will be disorganized and you’ll just try to work the most urgent opportunities and hope they move to a position to sign.
Business-to-business (B2B) Sales executives in today’s competitive landscape have to look at opportunities more critically and ask the fundamental question, “Is there any reason why these two companies should not be joined together in a corporate business relationship?” Simply put, what are the indicators that help me predict whether a deal will or will not close soon?
Here are the best practices I’ve encountered and used in my own sales process. Keep in mind this excludes RFP situations and stay tuned for a future blog on why that system of choosing providers is broken.
Executive Buy-In: Who are you working with? You can be talking with the IT Manager but chances are they have to get sign off from a member of the executive team. This can even trump budget as budgets are controlled by the executives.
The executive team controls the direction and by default, all the important strategic initiatives of the company. Find out early in your dialogue which executive team members are engaged with the initiative or issue you’re there to solve. Bonus question: Does their success depend on the success of this initiative? If so, you have a real opportunity. If not, don’t forecast this one.
Incentive to Act or Change: What precipitated this opportunity? Was it a growing demand on their internal IT staff, and existing solution or process that isn’t scalable, a workload that is unworkable? Was it a need to implement a document management solution because important company documents were destroyed? Or, were you politely persistent, and now you have the opportunity to present an overall capability proposal? The first two examples represent a significant incentive to act. The third, while still a good opportunity, gives the prospect a chance to vet you as a capable provider when the incentive to act does occur. You may win all of these, but the third situation will be a much longer sales cycle. If you spend too much time working this deal early on, you could miss out on a better, more immediate opportunity. Understanding this difference in need can save you a lot of time and disappointment and it can also save you from coming off as a pest to the prospect.
Related to this would be understanding the depth of the problem the prospect is looking to solve as well as knowing if they’ve tried other solutions. A strong reason to act combined with a failed prior attempt increases the potential of the opportunity.
On the flipside, it’s easy to see that even though a prospect may be extremely interested in your solution, if there’s no executive involvement and no immediate incentive to act, using the assumptive close is not going to help you get that deal signed. Put another way, prospects are not likely to say “yes” right now no matter how touching your proposal sounds.
Closing deals is only half the battle. Before you close, you have to be able to identify opportunities. To successfuly identify opportunities in your target markets and organize your funnel, you will need to do some legwork. Check out our Prospecting Tip Sheet for best practices!