OK. It’s time to act. You’ve done the collecting and processing and organizing and reviewing, so the preparation is complete and now you get to implement your strategy and tactics to win the sale. And you’re better armed and ready to act efficiently and effectively because of the groundwork you’ve done.
This is the point where many (most?) sales people go wrong.
You’re eager to get on with it, to grapple with the challenge of getting that customer to do the right thing, which is of course to buy your solution. So you jump right in and start ad-libbing a conversation.
But what do you talk about?
The answer to that is the science of selling, and we’ll discuss that in depth in other articles. Briefly, the science is knowing what to talk about, and when. The art is actually doing it, and doing it well.
Today we’re sticking to the science. And the science says you have three sales cycle phases that correlates to the customer’s three-stage buying process (need recognition, solution research, negotiation). What you need to know, and what you ask for, are dependent on where you are in that sales cycle.
We’ll start with the first sales cycle phase (Probing) because that is where you gather most of your information. At this stage, you need to understand four distinct issues, and here are the questions you must answer yourself.
1. Customer needs.
How well do you understand the customer’s needs? Not how well do you know the customer. Not what are the customer’s needs. This question is not about the customer. It’s about your level of understanding of the customer, how much do you know about his needs. At this point, it might not be much.
Given your level of understanding, how urgent is that need? Has their production line ground to a halt for lack of some critical part? Or is this some component for a planned expansion that might or might not get off the ground in two years? This is the customer’s commitment to seeing the purchase through.
How well does your solution meet those needs? Can you get his production line re-started this afternoon? Or does your solution mean he has to change some process, or does it make the proposed expansion more feasible? This will tell you a lot about your position in their preferred solution hierarchy.
2. Customer budget.
Does the customer have the money to buy something? That does not mean are they profitable or do they have a capital budget. It does mean that they have the ability to pay for a solution to this need, and it has been allocated for that purpose. No one is still waiting the CEO to approve this expense.
Does your price match the customer’s budget? This is not the “are we the low-price solution” question. That is a competitive issue. No, this is whether you are within their budget range so you have a chance to win even if you’re not the lowest price.
3. The competition.
How much competitive pressure is there? This is pretty straightforward, illustrated by two extremes. Do they already have two of your systems and are adding a third? Or do they have two of your competitors and you’re trying to break in. There’s a lot or space in between, and where do you stand?
4. The customer.
How well do you know them? Not just the one close contact who you take to lunch, but his boss or colleague in some other department and their organization and politics and pressures and goals.
And within that organization, who is the financial decision-maker? The technical one? The user? They may be the same person, or they may be a committee of twelve, but who are they?
These are the questions that you have to keep asking yourself. These are the questions that you act upon to satisfy yourself you know the sales environment.
Your answers are not specific or concrete. The name of the financial decision-maker is not the answer. An understanding of who he is and his role in the buying process and his influence on the ultimate decision and what is important to him, is. The names of your competitors are not the answer, your position relative to them and your ability and plan to impact that position, is.
So when act, act to get more and more information on these issues.
This post is part of the Getting Sales Done series. Here are the other articles in this series:
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