It’s coming up to the end of October, and if you’re in high-value, long-decision-cycle, multiple-stakeholder enterprise sales, it means that you effectively have a month-and-a-half of selling time before everything starts to slow down or stop for the holiday season.
It’s important to avoid surprises: it turns out that there are a handful of critical opportunity criteria that your B2B sales people MUST pay attention to if they are going to have a real chance of closing deals this year, rather than have them slip into 2016…
You’ll be relieved to know that I’m not going to focus just on the old-fashioned BANT criteria so beloved of 20th Century salespeople (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe). That’s not to say that these factors are unimportant - just that they are no longer enough, and that their presence does not guarantee that the opportunity will close when you hope it will.
After observing more shattered Yuletide sales dreams than I care to remember, I’d like to offer my six critical end-of-year opportunity criteria. Ignore them at your peril.
Clear Business Case
Almost every significant business decision needs to be supported by a clear business case - and every organisation has either formal guidelines or at the very minimum a set of expectations about what is required, both in terms of information provided and what is regarded as an acceptable return of investment.
They probably won’t accept your ROI projection - assuming you have created one - without a significant amount of scrutiny, interpretation and adjustment. But don’t go to the other extreme and assume they can complete the strongest possible business case on their own.
Your prospects need your help. They need your accumulated experience of helping other organisations derive tangible benefits from implementing your solution. And if you don’t know what’s in their business case, you have no right to assume they will get it approved.
Perhaps the most important of these is the prospect’s track record of doing what they say they will do, when they say they will do it. If a prospect is already a serial offender when it comes to missed deadlines, what do you think the chances are that they will suddenly switch to completing the remaining tasks on time?
And remember - even if they have delivered reliably in the past, the dynamics of having to actually make a commitment can throw even the best-laid plans off track. So understanding how similarly significant decisions have panned out in the past can be very illuminating.
Presence of a Mobiliser
If there are multiple stakeholders involved in the decision, getting them to all agree on the course of action in a timely fashion is going to be heavily dependent on the presence of a mobiliser - someone who is capable of making things happen and getting all the interested stakeholders aligned behind the related decisions to (1) change from the status quo and (2) change to you.
Mobilisers are critical to navigating the change management process. Deals that have no obvious mobiliser tend to slip. And you can’t conjure a mobiliser out of thin air. So if you’re working on an opportunity that has no obvious mobiliser leading the decision process, be prepared for slippage.
Access to Decision Team
Even if you’ve got a mobiliser on your side, having access to the decision team is another key indicator. But access alone isn’t enough: you’ve got to develop a clear sense of their priorities and motivations, and ensure that your proposal offers something of value to each one of them.
Here’s a big red flag: if you’ve already submitted a proposal that does not explicitly address the “what’s in it for me, my department and the organisation” for every key stakeholders, you had better address the shortfall urgently. Or expect it to take longer than you hope for the decision team to achieve consensus.
Proactively Mitigate Risks
Every significant change carries risks - it’s why so many complex sales projects end in a decision to do nothing and to stick with the status quo. These risks have a habit of rising to the surface during the final stages of the decision making process. If your prospect hasn’t raised risk factors with you already, you need to be very concerned about their seriousness.
Rather than sweep them under the carpet, it’s often far more effective to proactively raise risk factors with the prospect (“if you’re like the other organisations we deal with, you’re probably concerned about…”) and position your approach as one that is deliberately designed to eliminate or mitigate the most common risk factors.
Here’s my last nomination, but by no means the least important if (as many of my clients are) you’re a best-of-breed software vendor - what about the political power of incumbent vendors? Even if you’ve won the functional comparison, the street of broken sales dreams is littered with losses to competitors with weaker functionality but stronger access to power.
Be prepared for the incumbent to give things away “for free” to stop you gaining a foothold. As in mitigating risks, it’s usually best to pre-emptively bring the matter up and explain why the outcomes from a decision to choose you will (1) deliver palpably better results and (2) not result in the brave person who stuck their neck out losing their job.
So there you have it - 6 critical factors that can determine whether that forecasted Q4 close is really likely to happen. You don’t have to master them all to absolute perfection - but being ignorant of any one of them can result in disappointment or worse for all concerned.