A few months ago I was working with our client in Los Angeles and the managers were telling me they had a feeling their salespeople were not unearthing all the needs they should in their client needs analysis process. They cited a number of instances where the Account Executive did go deep enough and huge opportunities emerged for both the prospect and my client. They wanted to see that happening more often. After exploring the problem in more detail, I made several recommendations. One of those turned out to be particularly impactful.
Last weekend I set out on mission to Home Depot. Lately, I have found myself involved in a number of short projects around the house, and I had come to two conclusions:
I knew from keeping a casual eye on technology that LEDs and even some of the new efficient fluorescent bulbs put out plenty of light on battery power that lasts a long time. Sure enough, I accomplished my mission. Ten minutes and $31 later, I had my problem solved. I have already used it twice and it works well!
I bet this story doesn’t surprise you at all. You set out to solve problems in your life all the time, and often find good solutions, right? So when it comes time to approach a prospect, why do so many of us forget one of the most fundamental rules about capturing someone’s attention? It begins with identifying a potential problem within the business that needs attention. Otherwise, why would the prospect pay attention to you? The bottom line is that people only buy when there is a discrepancy between what they need to happen and what is actually happening. Motivated prospects are usually in one of two modes:
1. They don’t hear “yes” often enough.
2. They don’t hear “no” often enough.
When you talk to salespeople all time as I do, it’s easy to see the biggest problem with many proposals is that they seem to fall into a black hole, an abyss, where salespeople don’t hear either "yes" or "no." That’s a problem.
It’s better to hear “no” than nothing. As a result, salespeople feed pending information to their managers each week, which includes proposals still hanging out there, and sales managers continue to miss their projections with faulty data. Experience shows that each week that goes by between presentation and getting an answer, the chance of closing a proposal goes down. In fact, the closing percentage on proposals over 30 days old is usually less than 10%, far less than what the salespeople are projecting. The reality is a no answer is usually a “no” answer.
So, how can salespeople avoid having their proposals drop off the face of the planet, never to be heard about again? Here are some steps that should be useful:
Research with our client base, practical experience, and many years of consulting sales organizations of all sizes makes one thing abundantly clear: the biggest single problem salespeople experience is securing high-value appointments with key decision makers. If you agree, keep reading.
I surely hear a lot of talk these days about success in setting new-business appointments. Sales managers often say with a degree of pride, “Our team set 28 appointments last week.” Or, “We had a very good appointment-setting session and got 31 new appointments in only two hours.”
These numbers are impressive, and the logical sequence of events from there would be a steady increase in new business volume. But, too often, when those new business metrics come in, the cause and effect doesn’t exist. New business does not spike as one would expect after four straight weeks of appointment setting.
So, what is wrong?
The other day I was talking with a sales manager who was lamenting that his people were having a very tough time getting appointments with quality prospects. We talked about all the ways we recommend salespeople warm up otherwise cold calls, but we ended up focusing on perhaps the most powerful way to get a warm reception — a referral from a current, satisfied client. The problem is, most salespeople simply do not ask for referrals because they are not accustomed to doing it. So we decided we would instruct everyone to ask five clients for a referral in the next week. Simple, yet new! You know what is going to happen here.
You gotta know that modern software and a bevy of specifically-trained digital layout specialists is lifting the tide for everyone when it comes to creating absolutely gorgeous proposals. Who knows what tomorrow’s technology will produce for us. Perhaps 3-D versions of a proposal delivered by hologram, featuring the best-looking and best-sounding salesperson technology can conjure up. Intriguing to think of, isn’t it?
Despite the fact that very few proposals are unattractive these days, I hear from salespeople that it seems fewer of them actually get read—or if they are delivered in person, not enough of them are being sold. So what is going on? What the high-powered graphics packages don’t take into account is that a proposal must me more than a pretty face. CONTENT trumps appearance 9.9 times out of 10. A plain-looking proposal with strong content is more likely to sell than a graphically appealing production with weak or generic content.
Everybody’s got one. In fact, ideas are not only cheap and plentiful, but their overuse often obscures the work we should really be doing—gaining an understanding of what the prospect is trying to get accomplished. I see so many salespeople (and sales managers) default to premature ideas that end up nowhere.
The temptation is to vomit an idea the minute we see or hear a possible need in the customer’s business. Bad practice. Ask a few more questions and dig a little deeper about what business results the prospect is looking for, what problems exist for them in the marketplace, what opportunities are out there for their category of business they have yet to realize, or what conditions are specific to their category of business.
Keep in mind that all your competitors are talking about ideas as well. The prospect has heard it all before. What makes an idea valuable is that it addresses a very specific need in that prospect’s business.
There is an inherent danger in grouping two items together for conversational purposes, even when they go together. The danger is when they are always tied up in one phrase; they begin to sound like they are the same thing. Peanut butter and jelly go together, but they are not the same thing.