Part II: Reframing the Sales Cycle to Lead an Executive Customer to a Decision
In the previous post, we talked about how the success of the Customer Intimacy solution is dependent on equipping your sales people to move early sales cycle discussions away from price and instead, establish, upfront, the value of your company, your people, and the potential solution/opportunity itself. Since this capability isn't easily put into practice by most sales forces, we'll now discuss how to do that.
To turn theory into reality, sales people need to be equipped with the talk track tools, not to mention confidence, to get through the many customer interactions that will occur when selling complex solutions. In short, they need ways to reframe conversations so they are not about price; that is, until the end of the process when the last thing to be decided upon is price.
Remember, we are targeting executives now, not Procurement. And, we are engaged early in the process, i.e., there isn't a mandate within the customer organization to buy anything, or even do anything, about the opportunity/topic that your solutions address. So given this context, the sales cycle needs to be approached with the mindset that there are three decisions being made throughout its duration, shown in figure 1, below. The sales person's role is to lead the customer organization through the process of making these decisions. Understanding what phase of the decision process a prospective customer is in helps determine the discussions that need to take place, as well as those that do not.
Figure 1: Three Phases of an Executive's Buying Decision
PHASE I: Whether to Act - in this phase, the discussion will generally focus on questions about the feasibility and impact of an opportunity:
- Is the opportunity real?
- Does it apply to me?
- Is the implementation path practical?
- Are the risks and effort worthwhile?
- How does this rank vs. other priorities the executive might have at this time?
PHASE II: How to Act - in this phase, the discussion focuses on different paths to realize the opportunity:
- What is the role of technology?
- What various solution architectures should be considered?
- What process changes need to occur?
- Does outsourcing make sense?
- How can we be sure the benefits are being realized?
- How do we decide the best implementation path?
PHASE III: With Whom to Act - in this phase, the discussion
focuses on the specific players to whom the executive will hand over
- Who will project manage this?
- What partners will I use?
- Whose technologies will we use?
- Who is accountable?
- What's the role of internal management vs. external providers?
For executive buyers, these decisions happen in sequence. Understanding where a prospective customer is in their decision process is vital to connecting well, or in other words, to building intimacy. As one converses with an executive prospect, one's talking points need to align with where the executive is in their decision process, else those points will come across as irrelevant or, worse, annoying. To a prospect in the Whether to Act phase, it matters not that your company has more experience than any potential competitor. To a prospect that is in the How to Act phase, it is already understood that the operational cost savings potential of the opportunities makes for a rapid payback on investment. Nothing discredits a sales person more than speaking to a decision that has passed, or making points that aren't relevant to the decision at hand.
By understanding where a prospective customer is in their decision process, a sales person can tailor the talk track to help progress the prospect through the current decision and onto the next. In so doing, they are better positioned to win the decision that matters most in the end: With Whom to Act.
Knowing which decision phase a prospect is in also helps guide a sales person's responses to various questions. Take the innocuous question, "Where have you done this before?" Depending on where a customer is in their thought process, the meaning of the question is different:
- In the Whether-to-Act Phase: This question is most likely intended to probe on the feasibility of the opportunity. The more it's been done, the more real the opportunity and the lower the perceived risk. Follow-up questions are likely to probe the specific circumstances of previous customers and the applicability of their situation to the executive's situation.
- In the How-to-Act Phase: This question is most likely intended to probe the different approaches used by others as a means to inform decisions about possible implementation paths. Follow-up questions will likely address the challenges faced in each of the different situations and how they were overcome.
- In the With-Whom-to-Act Phase: This question is most likely intended to probe the specific experience and qualification of your company. Follow-up questions will likely address your success rate, and past customers' specific experiences. If references are going to be checked, this is when it would occur.
An analogous breakdown can be done on another innocuous question, "How much does it cost?" The answer depends on the phase of the decision process. In the early phases, the question is about the feasibility and the economics of acting relative to the potential impact. In later phases, it's about price relative to alternatives.
Of course, none of this matters if a sales person can't respond to questions in the right way relative to the decision phase. We've written up case examples for clients to put the theory into practical use and to help sale people prepare for situations they are likely to encounter when selling True Solutions and leading their customers through their own internal decision processes. We also place high importance on writing very specific talk tracks or dialogue maps to guide meeting flows, and provide some response pathways to questions a sales person is likely to get.
The point of all this theory, examples, and preparation is to give the sales force not just tools, but the confidence to leverage the real power they have in a proactive sales cycle. After all, they are bringing to the table real opportunity backed by know-how, resources, and the leadership to bring a customer's organization forward and realize the promise. This power is made possible by the Customer Intimacy Business Model.