There’s an end-of-quarter scene that’s about to be played out in companies across the world. The sales forecast so confidently predicted at the beginning of the quarter has been steadily eroded. Deals have dropped out, fallen in value or lost to a competitor. The quarter is at risk. Management is under pressure. Then - at close to the last minute - the superhuman efforts of one or a handful of your best sales people rescue the situation. The heroes are applauded. And then the process starts all over again.
But there are obvious reasons why having a sales heroics dependency is ultimately a losing strategy. For a start, prospects are much less likely to be manipulated by traditional end-of-quarter or end-of-year closing strategies. The avoidance of risk has become a predominant driver of buying behaviour. Consensus is replacing the individual championship of projects. Why should any prospect risk making a rushed or flawed decision for the sake of a slightly better commercial deal?
Are your prospects playing your sales people like a vintage violin?
And if they are genuinely in a buying mood, then your prospects will have been coached by analysts like Gartner and their own experiences to play vendors like a vintage violin in order to extract the best possible closing concessions. Celebrating sales heroics hides the real issue - and that’s the absence of a truly repeatable, scalable and predictable marketing and sales process that is aligned with the way an organisation’s prospects really make buying decisions.
Targeting the right sort of prospects
Eliminating sales heroics dependency has to start at the very top of the sales and marketing “funnel”, by identifying and agreeing the common characteristics of your organisation’s most valuable customers. If your sales and marketing organisations haven’t yet got together to agree and document simple descriptions of your most valuable prospects - and if those profiles don’t go beyond demographics to embrace behavioural, environmental and situational aspects - you’re already bound to be wasting significant amounts of effort chasing the wrong sort of prospects.
Addressing the right sort of issues
Your potential customers will - if pressed - often admit to a list of issues as long as their arm. But that doesn’t mean that they are going to be prepared to invest time, resources or money in fixing any of them, or that they are prepared to make the necessary changes in their behaviour. The lure of the status quo - for the majority of these needs - is usually simply too strong.
Distinguishing between interest and impact
Your prospect might appear interested. They might appear to be keen to learn more. But if they can’t (with or without your help) articulate the potential impact of the issue, nothing much is likely to happen. What would happen if the prospect chose not to deal with the issue? If the answer is that they could struggle on regardless, they are probably going to do just that.
Focusing on the consequences of inaction
Any vendor worth their salt can come up with what appears to be a compelling ROI case. But in a world where there are many conflicting demands on a prospect’s resources, having a positive ROI is no guarantee of success. It’s often better to have the prospect clearly articulate the cost to their business of not doing anything. If they can’t, your case is weakened.
Is the business really worth winning?
Of course, it’s still possible through sheer determination to pull off a sales win by offering attractive, “one-time-only” concessions (assuming the prospect believes you when you claim that the offer is unrepeatable) - but is the business really worth winning at any cost? Are they really going to turn out to be a good and sustainably profitable customer? Many heroically-won deals turn out to be anything but.
Breaking the cycle
There is a better way. It involves breaking the heroic sales dependency cycle. It starts by focusing your marketing and sales attention on organisations that have the potential to become sustainably valuable customers. It demands that you identify and concentrate on the issues that those prospects simply cannot afford to ignore.
It requires that everyone involved in the marketing and sales organisation focuses on helping to facilitate your prospects buying decision process and systematically removing the obstacles that often derail otherwise apparently well-qualified deals. It recognises that sustainably successful sales is a company-wide team sport, rather than something practiced by a gifted few. And it rewards smart, sustained effort rather than end-of-quarter heroics.
Are you going to be depending on the successful heroics of a few sales people to hit your numbers at the end of this month? If so, wouldn’t you prefer to have a less stressful and more predictable outcome in future quarters? Then start laying the foundations today.