In today's business climate, useful or important needs might help to get a vendor considered or evaluated, but only urgent needs will get them bought. So it's become critical that sales people are able to elevate the prospect’s need for their solution. This ability to identify or create urgent needs makes all the difference between successful and unsuccessful sales people, and between companies who lead their markets or follow as also-rans.
In fact, I’ve observed that the inability to distinguish between useful, important and urgent needs, or to elevate a prospect’s need for the solution from useful or important to urgent lies at the heart of many sales pipeline challenges.
Why not just look for urgent needs?
Given this, why wouldn’t sales people and vendors concentrate solely on trying to find prospects with urgent needs? There are a couple of reasons why this is not an effective strategy – first, prospects with urgent needs are often already in an active sales cycle with another vendor’s fingerprints all over it and second, urgent needs often have personal, painful and emotional dimensions, and getting prospects to acknowledge this in a first contact may be challenging.
Distinguishing between useful, important and urgent needs...
Useful needs drive curiosity, generate interest and can be helpful in initiating buying processes. Important needs drive consideration, cause evaluation and can be helpful in stimulating evaluation. Urgent needs drive action, lead to purchase and are essential to concluding the sales process. A key way of distinguishing between the different levels of need is to get the prospect to describe the potential impact of not dealing with them.
Useful needs are often irritants without clear economic consequences. Important and urgent needs typically have some measurable economic impact, but the things that differentiate urgent needs include escalating economic impact the longer the issue remains unresolved, the number of people affected, and explicit linkages to “top of list” personal or corporate goals.
The consequences of inaction...
Clearly defined consequences of inaction are an essential foundation for urgency. Faced with an acknowledged prospect need, sales people must establish how the prospect may have tried to deal with the issue before, why now is the right time to address it, who else within the prospect organisation is affected by the issue and – most critically - what would happen if they fail to deal with the issue soon.
It’s rare for needs to be elevated to urgent status unless the economic consequences of not dealing with them have been acknowledged by a sufficiently powerful champion within the prospect. These economic consequences don’t just revolve around the opportunity to reduce cost – they can also relate to missed revenue opportunities.
Qualifying for urgency...
So, with a very few exceptions, if the pain cannot be monetised, persuading the prospect to invest in solving the problem is going to be an uphill battle. In fact, a growing number of our clients have adopted the approach that sales opportunities cannot be valued and should not be forecasted unless and until the pain has been monetised and acknowledged by the prospect.
This has interesting consequences: applying the rule at first reduces the perceived value of the sales pipeline - but in the absence of urgency the affected opportunities were almost always overvalued anyway. It also forces the sales person to think carefully about how to elevate the urgency of the prospect’s need or (if this cannot be achieved) to accept that a longer-term “nurturing” strategy may be more appropriate. Either way, forecasting accuracy inevitably rises.
What proportion of the prospects in your current pipeline have acknowledged urgent needs, and are you able to help them to monetise the consequences of inaction? Are your sales people able to accurately distinguish between useful, important and urgent needs? What are you doing to help elevate your prospect's need for your solution, and how are you dealing with opportunities that seem to have no current urgent need? And does your current sales forecast include prospects who have not yet acknowledged the cost associated with preserving the status quo?