If you're more than a bit puzzled as you look at your sales pipeline and the calendar for the year wondering why many of the deals you're working on have yet to come to fruition, don't think you're alone. In a recent survey of 25 of my top clients, I found that 60 percent of what's in their sales forecast will never turn into a sale by year-end! Yet salespeople continue to call on and try to sell to that 60 percent in what can be called the sales equivalent of "beating a dead horse."
If you want to get a grip on the stalled deals and either kick them through your sales process or out of your life, then take the following advice and steps to heart.
Know Who You're Dealing With
By my count, there are four distinct categories of individuals in just about every sales account in existence. They are:
The Approver. This is the person who sits at the top of the organization and has the authority to do whatever needs to be done. This person has the ultimate veto power, and if you've been reading my column for the past few months, you'll know I affectionately call these folks "VITO"--the Very Important Top Officer.
The Decision-Maker. Typically one level down from VITO you'll find the Decision-Maker. Titles vary from vice president to director to CFO, CTO, CIO, COO and so on. These individuals will lead you to believe they're making the decision to buy when in reality they can't say "no"--unless they want to hit the job market! Imagine a Decision-Maker telling VITO that what VITO wants done can't be done. Nope, not a chance! At the end of the day, Decision-Makers have to say "yes." And if you don't get the yes vote, your competition will.
The Influencer. These players are many in number, and their job is to be the all-important advisor to the Decision-Maker by providing them with their opinions and evaluation results. Their titles can be lofty and impressive, such as director of IT, office manager, administrative advisor and marketing analysts. Keep in mind that their opinions can be either taken or ignored.
The Recommender. Typically they're the worker bees in any organization, and at times, they're asked to take a look at the "functionality" of the opinions the Influencers are giving to the Decision-Maker. They can form a committee or be part of the team that will evaluate your proposal.
Now it's time to take a look at your sales forecast. While you're reviewing it, jot down an "A" for Approver, "DM" for Decision Maker, "I" for Influencer or "R" for Recommender next to each and every deal you're currently working on. Now, let's do some math:
1. Add up the total number of Is and Rs and put that number here.
2. Add up the total number of DMs and put that number here.
3. Add up the total number of As and put that number here.
My guess is that your total for the I and R area is the highest. If you want to start closing deals and cut your losses on the ones that will never close, you'll need to now make the following two calls:
- For every opportunity you marked with an I or R, you'll be calling the Decision-Maker.
- For every opportunity you marked with a DM, you'll be calling the Approver.
When you call the Decision-Maker, you'll say:
"Your [IT Director], [Seymore Jones], and I have been working diligently on an idea that we suspect could [increase the accuracy of your production runs while at the same time contain costs] within the next [two months]. If you were me, how would you approach your organization to sell them our [wireless network services] between now and the end of this [quarter]?"
- Say anything negative about the Influencer or Recommender you've been working with or the fact that your sale isn't moving along as you would like it to.
- Challenge the opinions and/or advice of the Decision-Maker.
- Keep your conversation free of too many details.
- Listen carefully. They'll tell you what you need to do to make the sale.
- Make brief, credible and sincere complements.
For any opportunities you marked with a "DM," you'll call the Approver. Before you pick up the phone, remember that in every single sale you'll ever make--and for all the ones you've already made--there will always be an Approver whose job it is to do just what the name implies. The Approver is the most important contact you'll ever make. When the approval happens, the sale is made. Period. They win (and you will, too) when you can bring ideas to the table that will:
- increase shareholder value
- overachieve any of their goals
- increase efficiencies and effectiveness of anything
- beat the competition
- hold on to existing customers
- get add-on business from those customers
- cut non-value expenses
So call the Approver and say:
"Ms. Importanta, your [VP of sales], [Tommie Lee Jones], and I have been sharing ideas on how to [increase the effectiveness of your customer-facing employees] while at the same time [compressing your time to revenue]. We suspect that we can deliver these results to you by the [end of this quarter]. What's the best way for us to move forward?"
- Challenge the Approver's ego, power, control or authority.
- Use industry jargon and techno-babble or any other words and phrases they may not understand.
- Be brief and to the point.
- Keep your focus on results (see the above list).
- Keep your talk time as short as possible.
If you're now thinking "Tony, what happens if by making these calls, I lose the deal?", don't sweat it. You'll never lose a sale by calling any Decision-Maker or Approver that you haven't lost already.