Software for Sales Managers


Are you selling or guiding?

by Adam Cuzzort

I recently had the opportunity to be featured on the Daily Sales Tip with Scott Ingram. The actual recording was done prior to the current pandemic and economic situation. We thought it would be helpful to expand on a few points and update this blog post to relate to additional hurdles and gates you may find in your sales process. We’ve included a link to the podcast at the end of this article as well. 

Nothing is more challenging than selling through uncertain times.

It can be difficult to decipher the difference between a prospect’s interest and the actual ability to make a decision. We will most definitely be seeing more “ghosting” and slipped deals in the near future. So how do we align with our buyer’s needs in times like these? How do we know the difference between a decision-maker, a tire kicker, or someone who recently lost budget authority? How do we as sellers and managers ensure we still hit our goals?

To answer this question you have to first look at how things are purchased. Do you know how software and services are purchased in your organization today? If you don’t, stop what you’re doing and go ask someone. Well, you can read this first, but then seriously go ask someone! Understanding the hurdles, checkpoints, politics, budgeting, and approval process in your organization will pay incredible dividends. The exact same forces you uncover are at play in your prospect’s organization as well. Senior sales leaders, this should be the number one priority for training and enablement today. Be as transparent as possible about how decision-making authority has shifted in your organization. Bring in your CFO or Finance Director and have them explain to your sales teams how things have shifted and changed. Even if you are talking to the ultimate decision-maker (DM), assuming they actually are a real DM and not just claiming to be one, they have checks and balances in place that you’ll have to pass. In software, it is oftentimes a security or IT check to ensure you align with their policies. It may be legal that has a certain clause that must be in a contract. Whatever it is, nothing is as easy as it seems. Every buyer in the world is accountable to someone and in many cases, many someones. This is even more important in today’s economic climate. Those that previously had actual power and authority now must ask permission for every purchase, big or small. You can be sure the CFO, or their equivalent, will be a DM for the foreseeable future. 

So how do we handle these situations? How do we align to buyers’ needs?

The most important thing we can do is gain alignment on some pain point or value proposition. If there is alignment from both sides, meaning agreement on interest, a need, and commitment to move forward, it is now time to shift from selling to guiding. Guiding is more about identifying the path to purchase than selling your product. 

In my experience, the biggest challenge most sellers face is that prospects don’t actually know how to buy. Meaning that internally they are unaware of the process, approvals, and budgeting that must take place. This is why they can’t provide a timeline, a ballpark budget, or provide you with a commitment even if they wanted to. Our job as sellers is to help them identify how things are purchased in their organization. A good friend of mine Todd Caponi writes about Mutual Decision Plans or MDP’s in his book The Transparency Sale. I bring up Todd and his book for two reasons. First, it’s a great book and highlights how trust is built today and second because the MDP is a great example of process transparency. As he outlines, you are building confidence by showing the prospect you’ve done this before. It should also highlight steps that the buyer may not be thinking of like the legal review, IT and security approval, budget cycles, decision-maker involvement, and so on and so forth.

Now you may be thinking, I don’t want to introduce a new step in the process and slow down my deal! Here’s the thing, if it’s not already a step in their process they won’t add it now! If they are in your court and you are helping GUIDE, NOT sell, then they want this to move as quickly as you do. On the flip side, if you don’t ask about a step that does exist, and your prospect doesn’t know it exists either, you just added 3+ weeks to your sales cycle, now that’s a slowdown! You may even miss your window to win the deal at all. This is going to become even more crucial as companies tighten their budgets and put additional constraints on how things are purchased in their organization. 

So how do we ensure we know what the buyer’s process is and add items to our MDP or MAP (Mutual Action Plan) or whatever acronym you so choose? We ask the hard questions first. We ask them as early as humanly possible. We dig in until we can’t dig in any further. Nearly every young seller that has ever worked for me has, at one time or another, had what I like to call “Happy Ears”. Happy Ears is when you get a little bit of interest and alignment and then get super excited and completely forget all about the sales process. This is a one-way ticket to slipped and lost deals. When you get that alignment and interest you must lean in and lean in hard. It is your opportunity to begin guiding. Here is an example: 

Seller: Does this sound like something that would help you accomplish XYZ

Prospect: Yes, I mean it does hit on the needs and is top of mind right now…

Seller: That is great to hear, I want to make sure I help in any way I can. Have you purchased something like this before? 

I can hear it now, woah Pat that is way to direct…here’s the thing: the longer you wait to ask this question the longer your sales cycle extends. The MOST important question of your entire sales process revolves around whether or not they can buy what you offer. Their ability to answer that question tells you everything you need to know about this opportunity. Why would you wait? If they have purchased something they will know the process if they haven’t we have the opportunity to guide and help them if they don’t have the power we’ve qualified out a bad opportunity! It’s win/win but it is difficult. The second hard question: if we move forward would you ultimately sign our agreement? We must identify the other players. The benefit of asking it in this way is that you are making the assumption they have power. You let them tell you they don’t. Now that we have the big rocks out of the way we can introduce the hurdles we’ve seen before and confirm if they have any of these challenges as well: internal business case creation, procurement or purchasing committee, security and infosec team, internal legal counsel, etc. etc. Now comes the timing. 

Why is timing so important? If we don’t determine timelines we will slip deals, miss forecasts, and ultimately miss quota. Even if you’re hitting quota you could just as easily miss an accelerator and leave money on the table. So guide your prospect through the process, confirm checkpoints and ask questions like: How long have you seen this step take? Can we get “Sara” (our decision-maker) on a call next week? Will your legal counsel be taking a vacation this summer? Any and every question that mitigates the unknown and helps your buyer sell and maneuver on their side of the fence is where 100% of your focus should be. If you have confirmed value the only remaining step is to close the deal. Not only to close the deal but close the deal on time. In doing so you will identify gatekeepers, eliminate opportunities with tire kickers, and ultimately close more business. Time wasted on opportunities going nowhere is time away from high-value prospects. 

Finally, if you aren’t guiding a buyer through their own internal buying process someone else is and will win that business. The best way to support your buyer and become a true partner is to help them gain approval internally. Help them navigate their own buying process and your sales process will move along much faster. You’ll be more accurate and focus more time on the right opportunities. Driving higher quota attainment and repeatability. Good luck out there!

Daily Sales Tip: Have you purchased something like this before? Listen here.

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