In any given year, I may be involved in doing 100’s of deal or opportunity reviews. Inevitably, I end up asking many of the same questions:
- What are the most important things the customer needs to do next in moving through their buying process?
- How will you help them?
- What are the next most critical things you need to be doing on this opportunity?
The responses are interesting, mostly disappointing.
Often, it’s some sales person staring at me, thinking, “We’re paying you for this????” But the response is, “Well clearly I have to get a PO as quickly as possible!” I usually respond, “Well what do you have to do to earn that,” which generates the response, “I have to convince them to give me a PO.”
We end up going in circles, but there is no clear plan about what they and the customer need to achieve together.
Often, it’s focused on tactical activities about our product-not about what the customer is trying to achieve. “We need to get them more information and data…..” or “we’ve got to do a demo…,” as if drowning them in meaningless content that they can already get online will move this forward.
The problem is, too many sales people don’t have a strategy for managing the opportunity. Instead, they tend to react to what the customer is doing or asking, being driven by these activities, but not taking a longer view of the opportunity.
One might argue, “Well, isn’t responding to the customer important?” Of course it is, but providing leadership and direction in helping the customer mover efficiently through their buying process is, perhaps, more important.
For those that do have some semblance of a strategy, most often, it is focused on what we do to the customer rather than what we do with the customer to achieve an outcome (If you look at most sales methodologies, they really focus on the things we do to customers.).
Most sales people might say, “We have to convince them to buy our products, so all our activities focus on that!”
Well……. Yes……, but……
We know the biggest challenge the customer faces is not in solution selection–which is where most sales people focus, but in navigating their own buying process. They wander, start and stop, go backwards, change their minds and priorities. Fully 53% fail to reach the end of that journey.
So many buying cycles fail or take far longer than necessary because sales fails to offer the right leadership.
How can we develop and execute a sales opportunity strategy, when our customers don’t even have a buying strategy/plan? How can we make sure we and the customer are in alignment in executing our plan, when they don’t have a plan?
Take a moment, look at all your most important opportunities (ultimately, look at all your opportunities). Think about:
- Where does the customer think they are in the buying process?
- Are we aligned with where they think they are (trying to close while they are in problem definition is a huge lack of alignment)?
- How do they get from where they are to where they want to go? What can we do to help them get there, as quickly and effectively as possible?
- What are they trying to achieve, by when, what happens if they miss that goal?
- What are the most important things they need to do to accomplish (3), what can we do to help them execute that plan?
- Based on our experience, what are the likely stumbling points? What can we do to help the customer recognize them, what can we do to help the customer avoid them?
- Have we worked with the customer to develop a documented plan to achieve our shared goals. Can we, jointly, measure our progress on that plan?
We need to be able to take a long view of every sales opportunity, thinking “What are the critical steps and activities, we and the customer must take to complete the project and make a buying decision?” We have to help the customer establish and execute that plan, and as things change, we must help them adjust their process to achieve their goals.
Do you know what’s next for your customer and you in moving to completion, a solution selection, and a PO? Are you working with the customer to execute that plan?
Read more: What’s Next, Moving Forward