Sometimes it's mystifyingly difficult to get a mid-level contact to sign on the dotted line. Things seem to be going well; rapport and information flow; and all the signals are right. Then, for reasons that defy elucidation, delays of all kinds come into play when you go for the close.
Two of the most popular (and classically vague) delays are: "We need more information" and "I'll need some additional time to fully examine your final proposal." Often, these responses signal an internal shift: The person at the top of the organization has assumed control of the buying process. He or she may well have been involved in a behind-the-scenes way from the get-go, but is only now exerting authority.
Here are four classic scenarios for this pattern, which I call the "perched pen" syndrome. For each one, you must learn to send the right messages to the person at the top.
Situation #1: A proposed change of loyalty in any critical source of supply. Company A has been buying a particular (and critical) product or service from Company B, and both the sellers and the buyers are happy with the results. Let's face it: Ties have been established. The partnership is working, and it's comfortable, but business loyalty always comes with a price tag. If either organization begins to consider making a switch, the person at the top of each company will virtually always get involved to make sure the change will be worth it.
If you're the entrepreneur/salesperson trying to change the status quo and win business for your company, odds are good that the owner, president or CEO of the company you're trying to sell to, and the person at the top of the current vendor, are both monitoring your selling process closely.
Before too much work goes into formulating the deal, you must ask the person at the top of the buying organization some variation of this question: "Would you like to know what your loyalty to Company B is costing you?" Be ready to offer a cost-benefit analysis that highlights something you offer that Company B does not. When in doubt, quantify your findings with hard numbers. Be sure your package includes most or all the benefits Company A is currently getting from Company B-with a few new elements thrown in to show that you've done your homework. Be prepared for the buying organization not to make the switch. (Hey-it happens.) If possible, position yourself as a partial or backup supplier.
Situation #2: A proposed purchase of a product, service or solution that crosses departmental lines. Whenever anything might affect more than one functional part of any organization, the person at the top will likely get involved with the transaction. You can expect the target company's top person to play an active role in this buying decision.
Don't be shy. Call the top person of the buying organization and say, for instance: "We've completed our initial analysis, and what we suspected is correct. Working together, our teams have uncovered an unexpected revenue opportunity. Before we invest any more of our organization's resources, let me ask you something. From what your team knows at this point, could you see yourself becoming one of our customers between now and, say, the end of this fiscal quarter?" Then stop talking and wait for a response.
This is an incredibly effective call. If there's a potential sale, you'll find out about it at this point, and you won't have to wait as long for it as you otherwise would. This call will flush out dead prospects and completely clarify the buyer's intention.
Situation #3: Selling to a wannabe. In this situation, say this to the person you expect will make the decision: "Ms. Prospect, are you prepared to move forward? Are you prepared to begin to use our solution and realize the kinds of benefits we've been talking about?"
Let's say you get an answer along these lines: "This sounds very interesting, but I need to discuss it with my people. Why don't you call me back in two weeks."
At this critical point, you can wait the two weeks and never be sure that you've got the decision-maker on your hands, or you can grab that "perched pen" and say: "Ms. Prospect, if you didn't have your team to consult with for two weeks time-and I know that you do-but if you had to make the decision right now, what would it be?"
If you hear anything close to "I'm not prepared to answer that right now," guess what? You're talking to a wannabe, not the decision-maker, and getting the business in this quarter is doubtful.
Situation #4: The "premature shunt." In this situation, the person you're talking to says: "I want you to talk to Johnny B. Good, my senior vice president of sales. I've tasked him to bird-dog this task." Most sales types would see this as a good sign. I see it as yet another rendition of the "perched pen" syndrome.
In this situation, say: "Mr. Prospect, that's a great idea! Before you get back to your busy day, let me ask you, if Johnny likes what he hears and is convinced that we can help your efforts to overachieve your goals for this quarter, could you see yourself becoming a customer of mine during that period of time?"
If the person says, "If Johnny likes it, you've got yourself a sale," then you've just hit fourth quarter pay dirt. Go talk to Johnny and hammer the sale! If you hear anything else, you may want to forecast this opportunity for the first quarter of next year.
To get more of Tony's great sales tips, check out his newest book, Stop Cold Calling Forever: True Confesssions of a Reformed Serial Cold-Caller.
Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.