There was a time when salespeople were meeting prospects armed with ready-to-sign contracts in their briefcase. Often these conversations ended in price discussions and negotiations. The salesperson would then pull from their briefcase a contract like a rabbit coming out of a magic hat. “What about going ahead right now and sign this contract I prepared earlier for you?” was then the “closing question”. True, the customer situation was often more transactional, and the buyer had not much loyalty towards any supplier, as long as the price was sharp.
The more complex the customer situation is, the less likely this scenario would be reality. Although, there are salespeople who hope that their customer contact can decide on the spot. And their sales process is still designed to close the deal in the Closing Stage. The new reality, however, is that most of the buying happens when you are not there.
The more you are aware of this, the better you know how to influence the buying process.
Your influencing starts when you meet with stakeholders, but most of the work is often done without you.
How do you control this? Start with understanding who potentially is influencing who. Then, regardless of who you will meet, the conversation you will have needs to be relevant to their interest.
Contacts at an Operational Level have a natural interest in tactical discussions. Their daily tasks are all around implementing direction from management with a focus on efficiencies and effectiveness. Scorecards monitor their performance that always needs to be improved. If you can help with that, then they will listen. They may really like your solutions, but for a change to happen, Management needs to be involved. Before you hang up the phone or leave the building, be conscious that the buying process continues when you are not there. Ensure you close the meeting with your Operational contact by two actions;
- Ask for the commitment to involve a Manager at the next meeting
- Provide him or her with insights to create interest from their Manager.
The same advice counts for when you are meeting with a person at the Management level. Although they are interested in Operational issues and continuous improvements, these will unlikely be the trigger to make a supplier change. If something is wrong at an Operational level, their first action will be to fix it with the incumbent supplier. The trigger for them to get the Executive level involved is to envision a strategic advancement for the company when making a change through your ideas and insights. More often than not, opportunities stall here when you fail to follow the two earlier mentioned steps. In fact, you need to add a third action: Ask who else is involved in the buying room when a potential change is proposed to an Executive. You need to get most of the stakeholders on board before meeting the top. For example, an Operational Manager may say, “Oh..that is Mia in Marketing” or “Sam in Procurement”. Ideally, you check together if Mia or Sam are available for the next meeting before you pack up and leave the building.
The buying process continues when you are not there, and hence you need Change Champions. Without people inside the prospect’s organisation, your chances reduce significantly. The next day when you are selling to other companies, you want Change Champions to be busy sharing your views, ideas, and insights with others in the buying room. This occurs not necessarily in the office but rather at coffee or lunch breaks. Many Change Champions may feel more confident sharing what you have discussed earlier with their bosses in these informal situations. Empower these special contacts because they will keep the buying process moving in the right direction. Most of the buying is done when you are not there.
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