When a sales opportunity slows down, whose job is it to get it moving?
I attended a sales conference once where it was suggested that just as customers have the ability to use social media and other forums to publicly rate their suppliers, so too should sellers have a forum to rate their buyers. The suggestion was offered in a somewhat humorous vein but there was an air of seriousness behind it. One of the main rating criteria for the customer that was put forth was slow buying decisions. Was the customer a “slow buyer?”
Listening to this, I thought more about this common sales perception that when a deal that you’re working on slows down, and loses momentum, that it invariably is the fault of the prospect. Undoubtedly, there are multiple valid reasons why a prospect will slow down the pace of their buying process. Organizational upheaval, changes in their market, fluctuations in the economy and stock market, are examples of the changes that can have an impact on a prospect’s buying process.
However, more often than not, the party responsible for a deal that has stalled is the person you see when you look in the mirror in the morning. Why?
Are Prospects Waiting For You?
First, let’s look at the customer decision making process. There are several different perspectives on how many steps are in a customer’s buying process. Some say 4 (AIDA). Others think 5. I happen to believe that there are many more steps in a customer’s buying process. However, irrespective of the number of steps there are in your prospects’ buying process there is one hard and fast rule. The prospect will not move from one step of their buying process to the next until their information requirements for the current step have been completely fulfilled.
And, you must keep in mind that your prospects don’t possess a limitless store of time. They’re just like you in this regard. Time is at a premium and they want to make an informed purchase decision with the least investment of their time and resources possible. No customer ever sets out to buy a product or service by saying “I want to take as long as possible to make this decision.” They don’t want to spend 6 months making a decision that they could make in 2 months if they could receive the information, insights, context and value they required from a seller in order to make an informed decision faster.
If you aren’t quickly supplying your prospect with the information they need to continue to move through their buying process, and meet their objective to make a fully informed purchase decision with the least consumption of their resources and time possible, then your dealings with them are going to come to a halt.
The Buyer’s Process Doesn’t Stop For You
But, that doesn’t mean that they are not continuing their evaluations of the competition. They are. It is important to remember that your prospect’s buying process is not monolithic. It is not a giant decision-making process that includes all the vendors or alternative solutions the prospect is considering. Your prospects have a distinct buying process for each solution/vendor they are evaluating. They could be on Step Four of their decision making process with you while at the same time they are on Step Sever with one of your competitors. The beat goes on. With or without you.
A study by DemandGen and Genius.com in 2010 titled “Inside the Mind of the B2B Buyer” contained the finding that 95% of B2B customers selected the seller who provided them with ample content to navigate each step of their buying process. If you aren’t giving the customer the information they need to progress from one step of their buying process to the next, then your chances of winning their business are pretty low.
Proactively Define The Steps To A Decision
So, if you’re working on an opportunity with a well-qualified prospect that suddenly slows down, don’t point fingers. Do some quick investigative work. Where is the prospect in their buying process? What information is the prospect waiting on from you to move forward that you haven’t supplied?
If you don’t know the answer to this question, don’t guess. Ask. And, don’t delay. Here’s what worked for me:
1. Meet with the prospect and do a quick recap of their requirements and the steps you have accomplished so far in their buying process with you. Review from your first contact with the prospect and work toward the present. It should become clear what the prospect needs from you. If is isn’t, don’t be afraid to ask. Frame your question to the prospect in the context of confirming your understanding of what the next steps in their process will be. They’ll correct you if you’re off base.
2. Map out a schedule with the customer of the information that they will need from you now through their decision point and agree on the timeframes when you are going to provide it. Invariably this schedule, and the information required, will change as the buyer continues through their process. But, you will have secured the prospect’s commitment to a next step with you and it gets you back into the game. And, you may also have something that your competitors don’t: the prospect’s schedule to work with you to their decision point.
When the deal you’re working on slows down, don’t point fingers. Be proactive and be the solution to get it back on track.