Think about any sport, any of your favorites, maybe the one you like to play or watch on the weekends. What is the objective of the game? To win, you would say; to finish first before the others. To score more than the opponent. To beat a certain time. To hear the final whistle so you can finally throw your hands in the air and do a celebratory dance out of joy. That’s why so many salespeople like to play or watch sport. It is competitive, it gets your adrenaline going.
But that is also why it is so difficult for sales executives to slow down their competitive pace, going back to work on Monday. Too often they shorten the sales process by moving through the discovery phase too fast, rushing to a presentation and proposal, and asking for the business. Then comes the big “surprise”; your prospect brings you to a screeching halt or is avoiding your calls. You went too fast, you finished alone. Certainly, in the new way of selling, if you finish first then you have lost. You can only win if you finish together.
Discover Together. Start with the end in mind, as Stephen Covey would say. If you want to cross the finish line together with your prospect, then you should keep the same pace in the discovery phase. That means you are not the only one who is “discovering.” Your speed needs to match that of your prospect. The challenge for you is to slow down and not to draw conclusions too soon or pitch your solution. Do that too early and your opportunity will vanish in thin air. Give your prospect time to discover too. Let them collaborate with their colleagues. Meanwhile, you can talk to other stakeholders in various functions and departments. Go vertical and horizontal across the prospect’s organization. Appreciate their buying process. Recognize where they are in the buying process. Be fully aware that your prospect has already a service in place – your competitor. So, when you start asking discovery questions, what they are thinking is: “We are okay, why should we change?”
Discover Risks. Customers are not looking for salespeople to discover needs they already know they have. They are interested, however, in exploring opportunities to save or make money in ways they didn’t even know were possible. In the new way of selling you facilitate the conversation in such a way, that they discover more about themselves. For example:
- Is their current set-up good enough to achieve what they are trying to achieve?
- How strong does their competitive strategy look like?
- How do they plan to achieve their top-line growth targets?
- In which countries would they like to increase their market share?
- Or, if cost-control high on their agenda, what options have they not looked at?
- Maybe they are going through a re-organization, or a merger and efficiencies need to be found soon.
- Do they have the right suppliers in place to achieve their objectives?
Whatever their goals are, what risks do you see for their business? Has your prospect considered these? What are the risks of not changing?
Discover Opportunities. Every Senior Management Team of a company is always looking for opportunities to grow, to control cost better, and to do things more efficiently. But they are also affected by external changes and they need to adapt. Examples like:
- Their economy is slowing down, but in other regions it is accelerating
- Governments in their exporting countries open up restrictions
- They face production shortage because of COVID-19 – what are the short and long term options available?
- Their competitors face similar challenges. Who is first to market with ideas and innovation?
- Consumers’ sentiment is changing again. How fast can they adapt?
What low-hanging fruit opportunities for their business do you see, and can you discover these together? Can they achieve these chances well enough with their current set-up and suppliers?
Together you achieve more. If any of the above conversations have been about strategic value, then answering the “Why should we change?” question will take some time. Ask your contact what his/her colleagues are thinking about the matter. Involve them. You have planted the seed in their head: Are they with the right supplier to achieve what they are trying to achieve? The moment you have the finish line in sight, you are challenged again. As the famous Bruce Lee once said: “Patience is not passive. It is concentrated strength.” Empower your Change-Champion to get more and more stakeholders involved. Only submit a proposal when your prospect, as a team, thinks you have a solid business case for change. There needs to be a consensus to cross that line as a team. On your own, you will fail. You can only win if you finish together.
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