You’re making calls, you’re sending emails . . . and it still doesn’t seem like you’re any closer to closing the deal than you were last week.
Sometimes it can be easy to get wrapped up in the action you’re taking, rather than what the actions are accomplishing. Unless each contact with a prospect is moving the deal forward, the deal has stalled. Even worse? There may be momentum in that “stalled” deal — backward momentum.
If it helps, think about your deals as though they’re sharks — they have to keep moving forward or they die.
The point is: Every contact between salespeople and their prospects needs to result in forward momentum down the sales pipeline. To do that, you need to know not only what the path forward looks like, but what’s keeping your prospects from taking the next step.
Kendra Lee, president of the KLA Group, a Colorado-based sales consulting and training firm, said that knowing your sales stages is one of the most important steps to a forward-moving pipeline — one that many small businesses miss. “One of the first things a business has to do is to define their sales process and their metrics, so they can see are they doing well against that,” she said.
Each sales stage needs to have a clear definition that everyone is on the same page about. Most often, they’ll be defined by whatever trigger comes before. For example, once enough information has been gathered so you can be confident of the project scope, that could initiate your “quote the project” stage.
When a salesperson is working with a prospect in the “define the project scope” stage, every action they take should drive the prospects toward the trigger, which might be defined as “enough information has been gathered to make a confident quote.” Every phone call, email and in-person meeting needs to be in service to that goal.
Even once a business’ sales process is hammered out, it still needs to be tailored to every prospect. Leigh Ashton, co-founder of Sasudi, a U.K.-based online sales training platform, is emphatic that salespeople create new criteria and checklists for every prospect.
“You will see that all of your prospects have similar issues — there will be givens,” she said. “But even within the same sector, that doesn’t mean [the usual given] is the important thing for that person.”
Ashton refers to the process of understanding each prospect’s needs as “identifying their map of the world.” Once you’ve identified the prospect’s specific needs, you can address each of them in turn, taking steps away from your prospect’s “map of the world” and leading them toward your own solution through examples that are specific to your prospect, rather than by talking about your company.
“I can show them a case study of how somebody else got the experience they want, and then I’m not talking about ‘we,’ I’m sharing a story with them,” Ashton said. “And that makes you very magnetic. And then they take one step toward you.”
This same psychology helps make your deal sound like a better one, too, Ashton said. Say, for example, your solution has 10 major features but this particular prospect is only interested in five. If you toss all 10 at them right away, only five of them will sound like a benefit to the prospect.
“If you talk about five things that are wrong, then they think that your offering is only 50% perfect,” Ashton said.
But if you only talk about the five they’re interested in at first, then when they say, “Yes, it’s perfect,” you can throw the other five things in to reinforce that their decision to buy from you is a good one. “Now they’re a bonus,” Ashton said.
Even if the sales process is spot-on, the deal may still begin to stall. Ashton recommends getting real with prospects who seem stuck in one stage, asking them — after building a good rapport — to rate the chance of closing the deal on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being “absolutely not” and 10 being “where do I sign?”).
“The person normally goes silent for a while — what you’re asking them to do is to equate everything that’s going on in their head to a number,” Ashton said. If they give you a high number, you can ask the question that identifies the gap: What needs to happen to get us to a 10?
“What you get is actually a whole load of information about why they are not saying yes right now,” Ashton said. “Some things you can’t do anything about. But once you have that information, then as a salesperson, you can see what you are able to contribute to.”
Lee recommends a similar route of refocusing the discussion on what the prospect initially wanted. “If the process is stalled, something is different,” Lee said. She recommends bringing the discussion back to the conversations in the beginning of the deal, and focusing on what the prospect said they needed. “The question I would then ask is, ‘What’s changed?’” Lee said.
All too often, though, deals stall in the pipeline when there’s no timely follow-up. “It’s not that salespeople don’t want to follow up,” Lee said. “But they get busy and it just slips, and then all the valuable time spent on prospecting or in creating the proposal is lost because they didn’t follow up.”
Lee likes to plan certain times out of the week for follow-up, then set alerts that show up during those times. “That way it’s not popping up at a time that I can’t possibly look at it; it’s popping up during a time that I already have set aside,” she said.
Both Lee and Ashton agree that no matter how well your stages are defined — and how well they’re aligned with your customers’ general journey — it’s still up to the salesperson to take action.
“The biggest obstacles to forward momentum and sales is either that you’re relinquishing control and blaming someone else or something else, or that you don’t actually believe that you can do it,” Ashton said.
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