A question of priorities [and opportunity qualification]

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 4-Aug-2016

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Priority_Button.jpgHank Barnes of Gartner recently published a thoughtful post on the need for sales people to see the “big picture” and make a real effort to understand the customer’s perspective and adapt to their situation.

I believe that the issue is of profound importance - and explains why many sales people so badly misjudge the prospect’s appetite for their solutions, and why so many sales forecasts are rooted in hope rather than reality.

As Hank points out, it’s natural for sales people to be narrowly focused on promoting their product or service - without fully understanding or truly appreciating the world within which their prospects prioritise their actions…

But without understanding the context within which our prospects operate - without putting ourselves in our prospect’s shoes and understanding how the world looks from their perspective - we can’t hope to properly judge if, how, why and when they will decide whether our offering is of sufficient value to them to cause them to take action.

The opportunity qualification challenge is, of course, compounded in complex buying environments where, according to the latest CEB research there are typically at least 6-7 people that have a substantial personal stake in and a significant influence on the buying decision.

I’ve recently written about the importance of understanding whether the issue we’re addressing for the prospect is interesting, important or critical (“Is this project possible, probable or inevitable”).

If we are to truly understand the big picture, we’re obliged to put the project we’ve been working on in context, and to understand just how important the issue is in the grand scheme of things.

Every stakeholder in the decision will have an ever-expanding set of demands on their time. Every stakeholder will be juggling many more priorities and opportunities for action than they could possibly complete with the resources at their disposal.

They will probably have to navigate complex corporate politics where they may need favours or owe favours to others. They need to judge if and how to “sell” their personal pet priorities to fellow members of the management team.

Trade-offs and compromises will inevitably be involved. Now, I’m not suggesting that sales people can ever become fully aware of all the subtleties and nuances of their prospect’s business environment.

But if we at least acknowledge the truth that these factors are inevitably going to impinge on any high-value complex investment decision, we can at least start to look and listen out for the signs that can help us to better understand these complex dynamics.

First, let’s ensure that we understand where the project we are working on fits into the grand scheme of things: is the issue we are seeking to address one that is on the CEO’s priority list, or can we credibly associate our project to one of their pet initiatives? Establishing this sort of connection can significantly increase our chances of getting a favourable hearing when the final investment decision is being made.

Next, let’s make sure that we understand how similar projects have been shepherded through the decision-making process. Can our sponsor or champion offer any insights into the differences between projects that get approved and those that get rejected?

Can they help us better understand how the internal politics pan out? Can they articulate a credible strategy for navigating the project through the approval process, identifying the possible bottlenecks and working around them?

If they cannot, and if we are depending on this champion or sponsor to create a coalition of the willing and to mobilise their colleagues behind the project, we need to reassess our chances of success, and revise our strategy for winning the deal.

When we look at our opportunities through this “big picture” perspective, we start to realise that getting to the position of being the preferred option for the project we have been working on really is no guarantee of success.

Our prospect’s business environment is complex: it reflects a tangled web of internal politics and personal, departmental and corporate priorities. We may never hope to fully understand every element, but ignoring its existence isn’t going to get us anywhere.

If you’re a sales leader, I urge you to review the “big picture” with your sales people when reviewing their opportunities. And if you’re a sales person, I urge you to take more than a moment to reflect on how much you really understand about how your apparently most promising prospects are really going to decide if, how, when and what to buy.

You can read Hank's original article here.

Bob Apollo is the Managing Director of UK-Based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners. He writes and speaks regularly on the critical importance of thoughtful selling strategies in driving B2B sales success.

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This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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Topics: Thoughtful Selling, Opportunity Qualification