Take control of the sale
It’s all in the words; try this dialog
By Jerry Stapleton, for SBT
Let’s say you sell — whatever — software. You’re sitting at your desk minding your own business when, suddenly, the phone rings. This time it’s not your boss asking you for your latest numbers. No, this time it’s a live one. A prospect!
Yes, at a time in your company’s business cycle when you’re beginning to wonder if anyone out there even knows your company exists, a prospect (Let’s call him Bob, and let’s say his company is local) actually calls you. And Bob seems interested. In fact, he’s asked you to come see him and demo your software. You’re about to lose it with excitement. But you maintain your composure long enough to get Bob’s address and schedule a date. After slamming the phone and jumping from your chair, arms in the air "Rocky"-style, you call that nosey boss of yours to tell him you’ve got an interested prospect and you’re going to meet with him for a demo.
At this point, if you’re a "Vendor-level" salesperson, you’re elated. If, on the other hand, you’re a Business Resource, you realize that you blew it! You lost control.
Vendors — and most traditional salespeople — tend to equate "interested party" with "qualified prospect." At best, they reason, "I can further qualify this Bob-guy when we meet. I just want to get in front of him. Besides, this shouldn’t waste too much time if I find out he’s just kicking tires."
Such a response is all too common. There’s more to risk here than just your time. By responding this way you set a precedent that says, "Sure, I’m a Vendor, so go ahead and jerk my chain when you need me. I’ll just be waiting here at the door." You also are locking yourself in with Bob who is almost certainly a low-influence person in his company. So how should you respond? What kind of dialog should you have with Bob, if not the one described above?
Apply Business Resource principles
There are several Business Resource principles at play here. Chief among them are to steer the sales campaign — not react — and to make decisions on objective criteria — not "gut feel." Naturally, operating in seek mode is one of those omnipresent principles that applies, too.
This means that, on the one hand, you want to convey responsiveness. On the other you also want to convey personal stewardship of your company’s resources-and, as a Business Resource, you’re not afraid to let Bob see that stewardship.
Try this dialog
First, you must immediately make Bob comfortable that he won’t be getting the runaround while you’re setting the stage to learn more about his request before committing to visit him. That can be accomplished with something like, "We certainly appreciate the call. Why don’t you take a few minutes to give me the big picture, then perhaps I could offer a suggestion on how we might best proceed. Make sense?"
You must control that "big picture discussion." The best way to do so is by asking a question before he starts talking. Also, by saying, "Perhaps I could offer a suggestion on how we might best proceed, Make sense?" you are very subtly getting Bob’s permission to control the sales cycle from the get-go. Subtle, but powerful.
Now that you’ve gingerly wrestled control, it’s your responsibility to qualify this "opportunity." In addition to the specific things you need to ask to determine technical fit with your solution, you might also ask questions along the lines of:
— What prompted your call? (What triggered [Bob’s company’s name] to investigate [your type of solution]?
— How do you know about [your company name]?
— What results are you hoping the software will produce for [company name]? (Don’t ask, "What are you looking for?" or Bob will go straight to features)
— What are you currently doing and how is it working?
— Where is [company name] in the process of looking for a solution?
— What is your role in the company, Bob?
Let’s say at this point that Bob’s opportunity seems worth the chase. You’ve decided to go pay him a visit. But do you want to set the stage for a traditional demo meeting with Bob and relegate yourself back down to Vendor status or do you want to continue being the Business Resource that you’ve been to this point? I’m willing to bet that you want to go with the Business Resource thing.
At this point you might want to say something like, "Based on what you’re saying I agree, it does seem to make sense for us to get together. May I suggest a format for our meeting? (They always say, "yes" to this)? Something we’ve learned here at [Your Company] is that all of our best customer relationships seem to have one thing in common — we understand their business. Add parenthetically, ("We think that’s a key reason our customer retention rate is so high"). So how about if we do this. Let’s get together and I’ll give you a high-level overview of what our software does and how it works, etc., so that we can get your most immediate questions answered. Then I’d also like to devote a good chunk of our time together going into a little more depth about your business, how your organization ticks and the like. Make sense?"
In this simple dialog-filled with subtleties — you have displayed many Business Resource qualities. You now own the control of this sales cycle with Bob and you have clearly started to differentiate yourself from all the other Vendors who would have jumped all over the chance to show their stuff.
Jerry Stapleton is president of Stapleton Resources LLC, a Waukesha-based sales force effectiveness practice. He can be reached at 262-524-8099 or on the Web at www.stapletonresources.com.
May 16, 2003 Small Business times, Milwaukee