If getting opportunities into the pipeline is the most universal sales challenge, then getting opportunities closed comes in a close second. I'm talking about prospects who aren't ready to say, "yes" but are still "very interested". These calls pose problems for salespeople for several reasons:
- Prospects go into hiding and don't take or return calls - from their prospective, the prospects don't need the salesperson right now because they already have the pricing, solution and terms. Therefore, since they haven't made a decision, they have no reason to speak with the salesperson, have nothing to tell the salesperson, and as a result, simply don't take or return the calls.
- Salespeople go into desperation mode - As their inability to reach this "very interested" prospect continues, they don't want to ignore a "good" prospect and don't want someone else to land the business either. So they abandon common sense strategies and tactics, and call repeatedly without compelling reasons to speak.
- Salespeople usually don't know why the prospect is hiding - even though it's usually for the same reasons each time, salespeople don't seem to learn from experience and understand that either they aren't getting the business, the prospect hasn't come up with the money, the prospect hasn't decided who to buy from, it hasn't yet been approved, or there isn't enough urgency to buy it now. While each of these reasons are different, they can all be lumped into the same category - nothing has changed since the last conversation. In other scenarios, the prospects decided not to buy or they bought from someone else. In other words, it's a "no" and the prospect can't justify the time or isn't comfortable letting the salesperson know.
Two questions that must be answered are:
- what can salespeople do to prevent this from happening? This is a very preventable outcome, although you would never think so judging by how prevalent this problem is. There are several reasons why this happens:
- the salesperson did not identify any or enough compelling reasons for the prospect to buy, and buy from the salesperson. As a result, there wasn't enough urgency for the prospect to take action now - a guaranteed delay.
- the salesperson was not thorough enough qualifying the opportunity so there were surprises relative to timing, availability of money, decision making, competition and communication left unresolved at closing time.
- the salesperson presented a solution, provided pricing, and/or developed a proposal prematurely, arriving at the end of the sales cycle alone - without the prospect.
- the salesperson was uncomfortable asking tough questions about incumbents, competitors and money leaving a gap in his/her understanding of where he/she stands.
- the salesperson didn't recognize the stalls and put-offs at closing time and gladly accepted the duties of following up because the prospect was "very interested".
- the salesperson recognized the stalls and put-offs but wasn't comfortable pushing back and challenging the prospect because he/she didn't want to damage the relationship.
- the salesperson understands the prospect's need to think it over because he/she would do the exact same thing in that scenario.
- dozens more possibilities but this is an article, not a book!
- What can salespeople do after this has happened to them - again - and what shouldn't they do?
- they simply must learn from their mistakes. There is no excuse for this to happen more than once.
- they must identify from the partial list above, why this happens and how to solve that particular issue. HINT - The solutions are in Baseline Selling.
- Ask for help. The salesperson must know how to effectively reengage this prospect. There must be a compelling reason for the prospect to return to the conversation and it isn't to let the salesperson know if they've made a decision yet! Compelling reasons to reengage take the form of new information, new questions, changes and challenges.
- don't offer incentives to get them to buy now. If they will purchase because of an incentive, they would have purchased without the incentive and they'll jump to the next competitor that offers a nice incentive to switch.
- don't get upper management involved. Use them to get a difficult opportunity closed, not just to get someone back to the table.