Complex B2B buying decisions are fundamentally exercises in change management and in an increasing number of cases even apparently well-qualified prospects, after carefully evaluating their options, are deciding to stick with the status quo and not change anything - at least for the moment.
After investing significant time energy and resources into an opportunity, it can be incredibly frustrating to lose to “do nothing”.
The only consolation is that at least the prospect didn’t choose a competitor, and the door may still remain open for a possible future sale. But let’s face it, losing to a decision to “do nothing” is both dispiriting and a waste of resources that could otherwise have been applied to a more winnable opportunity…
It’s impossible to completely avoid “do nothing” decisions - but if we adopt a few simple principles, we can at least identify these risky projects at an earlier stage in the sales process, and take steps to bolster the case for change in situations where the decision might be marginal.
ESTABLISHING A ROCK-SOLID CASE FOR CHANGE
No matter how insistent your contact is about their “need” to do something, unless it is absolutely clear that sticking with the status quo will expose their organisation to unacceptable costs, risks and/or consequences, there will always remain the danger that they will decide that their current situation can, after all, be tolerated for just a little longer. And if that happens, it’s striking how often “just a little longer” can turn into a permanent delay.
A need that is not based on a serious and clearly defined underlying problem is nothing more than an aspiration. Before jumping ahead and proposing the solution, my advice is to keep developing the problem until both you and the prospect (and their colleagues) are persuaded of the inevitable need to take urgent action.
For our part, we need to identify every other executive and every other part of the company that are impacted by the identified problem, and to establish whether the problem is irritating, important or critical to them - and we’ll want to identify a clear set of negative consequences that will inevitably follow if they were to continue with the status quo.
It’s also useful to find out whether the prospect has made previous attempts to address the issue, and with what effect. What can we learn from these failures? How can we eliminate the constraints that have been holding them back? And how can we both be confident that any new solution proposal won’t suffer the same fate?
ELEVATING THE RELATIVE IMPORTANCE OF THE PROJECT
Unless and until we establish a compelling case for change, and unless the prospect and their colleagues collectively buys in to it, we will continue to be exposed to the risk that - even if we are selected as the best available option - they won’t actually commit to implementing the change programme.
Because even if we are selected, and even if the project satisfies the organisation’s general ROI goals and other investment criteria, it’s still possible that the project will not be approved because other even more attractive or important projects end up competing for funding and for management attention.
That’s why it’s so important to try to associate our project with a “must do” corporate goal or initiative. If we can successfully achieve this, we dramatically increase our chances that the project will be approved. If we can’t, we run the risk that our project will be usurped or displaced by another project that is seen to support one of these critical corporate initiatives.
Understanding where our project stands in the pecking order against competing investment opportunities - and doing all we can to elevate the relative importance of the project - can make the difference between approval and deferral. And we can’t safely assume that our internal champion will always have the ability to achieve this.
We need to provide them with all the ammunition we can to make the strongest possible case for approving our project now - and that includes making sure that the costs, risks and consequences of any delay are clearly spelt out. There’s no point in leaving this to chance, or in assuming this will happen without our involvement.
In complex sales, we often start by competing against “do nothing” at the beginning of our sales campaign, and (whether we realise it or not) end up competing against “do something completely different” at the end of the sales cycle. We need to master both competitors - and that surely starts by acknowledging that they both exist in the first place.
This is one of the key principles that underpins our Value Selling System®. Have you read our introduction to value selling and our map of a value selling process yet? Simply click the links to download your copy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Association of Professional Sales and the Founder of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, home of the Value Selling System®. Following a successful career spanning start-ups, scale-ups and mature corporates, Bob now works with a growing client base of tech-based growth-phase businesses, equipping and enabling them to systematically create and capture mutually meaningful value in every customer interaction.