You’ve been invited to a friend’s long-anticipated party. But something delays you along the way, and you arrive late - long after the other guests. What’s your natural inclination? Unless you’re a raving exhibitionist, your inclination is probably to not make too much of a fuss, join quietly, merge into the crowd and play it low key for a while.
That may be a good guiding principle for (most of) our personal lives, but it’s an awful approach if you’re a salesperson arriving late to a prospect’s buying decision process that has already been underway for some time. If you’re late, you need to stand out from the crowd and do your best to disrupt the process. Here’s why…
If you arrive late to the buying decision process it’s likely that your prospect has already been influenced by what they have heard from all the other vendors they have already been in touch with. It’s even entirely possible that they have only invited you in so late because they already know who they want to go with but need to demonstrate that they have at least considered a number of other options.
And even if you’ve not been set up as “column fodder”, appearing to be the same as or only slightly different from a bunch of other already-familiar options isn’t going to do anything for your chances of winning the deal. No - in complex sales, if you arrive late to the party, you’ve got to disrupt it.
Not a better party. A different party
Simply trying to demonstrate that your solution or approach is “better” is unlikely to do it. Your prospects have become immune to the siren songs of vendors claiming that they offer a better solution without offering any credible proof, or seeming to be genuinely and usefully different. Having a marginally more impressive spec sheet rarely does the trick.
If you’re to stand out as the late arrival, you need to demonstrate how and why you are different before you then go on to prove why this will drive a better outcome for the prospect. Not a better solution. A better outcome.
And that usually means working backwards to get to the heart of the problem the prospect has set out to solve. It requires that you seek to understand the root cause, and not just the visible symptoms. It requires that you fully explore the implications and consequences and that you challenge some of the lazy assumptions that other vendors have made about how the problem might best be solved.
Time to reframe their thinking
It requires that you help to reframe the prospect’s thinking about what they really need and how they might best go about solving the problem. And, of course, if requires that you are then able to present your approach as being distinctively and meaningfully different from the other options available to them.
Of course, it’s a heck of a lot easier to do all of this if, instead of arriving late, you are one of the first to join the party and can set the scene for everyone else instead. But if you are invited to respond to an RFP without ever having influenced the contents, you may well be constrained by the rules of engagement.
But if those rules of engagement are fundamentally unhelpful (as they often are) and can’t be changed (as they often can’t), then surely you’ve got to carefully consider whether you ought to be accepting the party invitation at all, and whether you wouldn’t be better off starting up your own party with a much more attractive prospect?