by Terry Ledden
He or she who controls the dance gets to control the tempo and pace of the dance, how far the dance goes on the floor and when it comes to an end. Unfortunately for too many salespeople the buyer has left them to dance alone while singing aloud with demos, proposals and even more unpaid consulting. The buyer has taken up the dance with a different partner or may even have completely left the building not to return the seller's follow-up calls and pleas for feedback and next steps in the dance.
Sellers want to sell. Buyers don't want to be sold. Therein lies the source of the tension and the set of defensive strategies or "system" buyers have developed out of necessity to control the overjealous seller who is paid and driven to sell. Buyers don't want to be sold. Buyers want to buy.
When approached by sellers with a relevant value proposition, the curious buyer feigns interest initially, then pumps the seller for information, knowledge and expertise with seemingly serious questions (unpaid consulting), asks for a proposal (more unpaid consulting) and then fails to respond to the seller's follow-up attempts for a decision. Impact on the cost of sale varies depending on the length and complexity of the sales cycle and level of pre-sales resources invested in the pursuit.
Big problem! Sales pipelines are filled with deals involving buyers who have left the seller alone on the floor waiting for that buyer's next move ..... which often never comes.
Five Dance Steps to Impress the Buyer
1. Trust and Rapport
On first meeting, establishing a level of comfort between buyer and seller is critical to advancing the relationship. Stop the safe, idle warm-up chit chat based on events, weather, and physical icons in the buyer's office he placed there as bait for stereotypical salespeople. Instead, let the buyer make the first move in the dance. Follow her lead and match the pace, content and style of communication she exhibits. People trust people they are comfortable with. People are most comfortable with people they feel are like themselves. Adjust your style of communication to that of the buyer.
2. Getting down to business
Stop asserting control. Stop trying to impress. Establish a mutual agreement up front, before you discuss the business at hand, to conclude the meeting with a decision to either a next step - conversation to move the process along or a decision not to move the process along. Any version of needing to think things over is not in the definition of a decision and is a form of strategy buyers have invented in order to avoid a socially uncomfortable negative conversation. Up front, give the buyer the permission to end the dance and to tell you it's over. Its a high integrity conversation based on mutual respect between both parties and further reinforces the evolving trust established in Step 1.
3. Discover "THEIR" reasons for investing in a solution with you
Stop the self-promotion. It's not about you. It's not about your feature set, functionality, quality, your service or how darn good you are. That comes later, maybe. Right now it's all about figuring out if there is in fact a compelling enough reason from the BUYER's point of view to make a change and qualifying their degree of commitment to make that change. What they tell you up front is their issue, problem or objective most often turns out to be something different, below the surface that strong and effective questioning needs to uncover. Sure the need may be important to them, but just how urgent is it? Sure it may be urgent, but in the bigger scheme of things are there are other issues that will push this one to the back seat. In today's climate nice to do's just don't make it past the CFO, if they even get there at all.
4. Get a commitment to the money up front
So they have a need. Let's get them a proposal, right. NOT SO FAST cowboy. You're about to step right into that big broad wasteland of unpaid consulting. Instead, get a clear explicit up front decision to invest the required level of resources (Time, Money, People, Change) required to address the issues discovered in #3.
5. Understand what's involved in getting a decision
So, they have a need. They've committed to invest what we need. Let's get our internal coach - champion that proposal he needs so he can sell it internally, assuming he even admits that he wants - (needs???) to "run it by" a few people first. Who are these people and what influence do they have on a GO - NO GO outcome? Would it be appropriate to get in front of these people, discover their view on the issues and assess their level of commitment and urgency to address the issues at hand? What would they need to see and hear to be comfortable moving to implementation? What concerns do they have? Will their concerns and reservations kill the deal? When would you want to know that, sooner or later after investing more time, energy and expertise in the chase?
Timeout, regroup - Close on a decision to make a decision
They've convinced you their situation is important and urgent enough that they'd do something about it. That's right, THEY convinced YOU ... remember, you weren't selling, pitching, right? They convinced you they'd make the investment needed. You covered the bases with all the other influencers and got their commitment. At this point what's standing in the way of a decision ... to move forward or not move forward? Oh right, the proposal. This is make it - break it time. Bring the future back into the present conversation. Find out, up front, what they'd actually do if you did in fact come back to them with a recommendation, solution, or proposal that addressed their needs - issues (Pain) within the investment (Budget) they agreed to. Anything that falls short of a commitment to do business is bordering on more unpaid consulting and yet another chase with no capture. if you and your buyer are out of synch, end the dance ... exercise your right to leave the floor.
Still dancing? Then it's finally time to propose! How do you feel when you're working late, working the weekend developing that proposal not knowing the outcome but thinking you've got it, but at the same time wondering if this one too shall fade away to proposal purgatory? On the other hand, how do you feel when you're working late, working the weekend developing that proposal knowing you have an agreement UP-FRONT, that the proposal is simply formalizing the agreed scope and terms of the deal.
Oh, by the way ... the time for any negotiation is up front, when the leverage is on the side of the seller.
Qualify by DIS-qualifying, Close on an agreement to do business, then Propose.