One of the most intriguing and challenging aspects of selling in the global digital world is that according to the Corporate Executive Board, 57% of a potential new customer’s decision is made before they engage with a sales professional or that sales professional’s company. There are several major reasons for this change including the fact that so much information – from web sites, user groups, and social media – is available that decision makers don’t need a sales professional’s expertise until it’s time to discuss specific details or of course pricing.
As the sales process continues to evolve and transform, decision maker behaviors evolve and transform as well. The process of selling has become more transactional and mechanical as a result, which means the way we sell must also evolve.
I was recently working with a group of sales professionals in a Strategic Business Selling ™ workshop and we were focusing on new strategies of selling in the new environment, in particular sales prospecting. One of my participants told me a story that resonated with the rest of the group and it’s a story that I think is playing out every day around the world. She shared that she was recently given a great lead from her marketing department for a sales prospect that was on her account list but had no success with it despite repeated nurturing with follow-up calls, emails, and attempts to LinkedIn. As soon as she got the lead, she called the prospect and when he didn’t answer, she sent a follow-up email. A few minutes later, she received an email back stating that the prospect was in a meeting but could talk in 30 minutes. She set up the call and quickly prepared for the call.
The conversation went very well as the prospect “knew exactly what he needed” and gave several different buying signals. The sales professional did everything well including gaining a commitment to work on a proposal and then setting up time for a proposal walk through call and possible trial of the product that she was positioning.
The sales professional and a small group of technical engineers worked through the weekend working on the proposal. The team tried to show value and create every an advantage so that they could to close this deal. Bright Monday morning she sent the proposal off and then followed up with a phone call to make sure the prospect received the proposal and to see if he had any specific or immediate questions. There was no response.
The following Thursday at the appointed time of the follow-up call, the prospect was a no-show. The sales person sent a nice email giving the prospect every “out” possible including the obligatory “I am sure that you are very busy please let me know when you are available” email. Again no response.
Despite several calls and emails, the prospect never responded. The sales person’s hypothesis was that the prospect got several proposals and decided what he wanted and didn’t have the courtesy of letting any of the other sales people he engaged with know.
In the global digital world of professional selling, this is the way it is going to be. So what are some suggestions to deal with this evolved world? Here are a few ideas to think about…
Ask the decision making process upfront
Prospects in this world have turned the sales process into a one-way flow of information from you to them. Stop the one-way flow and turn it into a two-way dialogue. Ask the prospect questions about the process including understanding the decision making process, the criteria for making a decision and most importantly the business drivers that the prospect is looking to impact. (These will come in handy in a few moments.)
Don’t give away too much early
Most sales professionals want to please the prospect by giving them everything they think the prospect wants to know including specific and deep details about the solution, how other customers have used the product/service, and how much it all costs. My suggestion is to hold back on how much information is given in the early part of the process. There is no need to rush. Make sure to ask questions, engage in a two-way conversation, and provide the right information at the appropriate time.
Go well beyond being an expert, be an authority the customer can’t live without
The only way to move this new sales process from being transactional to a value-based process is to move from just being a “disposable” asset to an invaluable asset the prospect can’t live without. The only way to do that is to be a real expert. An expert in the prospect’s business, your business, and how your solutions will impact the prospect’s business performance.