Business executives often report that they look back on the initial conversations they have with sales people and regard them as a frustrating waste of their time. Given this experience, it’s no wonder that it has become increasingly hard to persuade a potential prospect to invest time in talking with us.
And it’s not just the customers who are frustrated. When you analyse the actual outcomes of typical customer conversations, there are far too few genuine advances (in which the customer commits to take a tangible next step) and far too many “continuations” (in which both parties simply agree to keep talking and the sales person takes on any resulting actions).
These continuations can be addictive. We might not have been kicked out, but we haven’t moved forwards either. Once we get into a pattern of having agreeable but otherwise unproductive conversations it can be hard to kick the habit. In many cases, it would have been better for both parties to agree that there was little merit in continuing the discussion.
But we end up pursuing “opportunities” that are actually poorly-qualified lost causes. Their continued presence makes our pipeline look more impressive than it really is - which may offer some unjustified short-term comfort but simply defers the inevitable reckoning.
That’s why many top performing sales people have adopted the habit of using up-front agreements to establish mutual expectations at the start of every significant customer conversation...