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Follow The Money!

by David Brock on September 17th, 2010

Every sales person knows about following the money–at least from the point of view of who we call on at customers, we focus on people who have the money.  But let me look at this from a slightly different point of view.

Last week, I had a conversation with a good salesman.  He was dealing with a very complex sales situation.  It was very high stakes for him and his company, he expected over $10 million in the first orders and years of follow on business.  He’d done a pretty good job so far, but the deal was stalled.  He seemed to be in a position to win, but he was struggling with moving the customer to ordering.  He was working with the right people, he had met all their requirements better than anyone else and had a sound business justification.  He was working all the issues, but couldn’t break the deal loose. 

He was doing just about everything right (we consultants can never say anyone is doing everything right, it’s just not in our DNA).

It was really a tough situation, I asked all the standard questions about the competition, the decision making process, the value proposition, the business justification, the availability of the funding, everything I could think of.  He had reasonable responses to everything–he clearly had done his homework and was really working the deal.

Out of frustration in trying to find out what was keeping the deal from moving forward, I asked “Who stands to lose the most if they don’t get the system implemented?”  Jason said, “What do you mean?”  I responded, “Clearly they are buying these systems to address a new business need.  It appears they have a net increase in demand from their customers, who stands to lose the most if they don’t have the systems installed and operational?” 

We noodled on that a bit.  We considered the fact that the people he was selling to would not be able to serve their internal customers, that they would make people pretty unhappy if they couldn’t handle the demand.  They might also impact commitments made to the customers, making some of their customers unhappy.  Jason said they were aware of all these issues, but somehow they were still reticent to make a decision. The consequences of having some unhappy customers, both internal and real bill paying customers, weren’t great enough to get this customer to move forward.

I rephrased my question to Jason, “Who stands to lose the most if they don’t do this deal?  Follow the money, find out who loses the most.”  I instructed him to draw a map of the money flows.  He needed to look beyond the deal and the justification he had done.  He needed to assess the overall business impact and risks.  What parts of the business would be impacted if  the deal wasn’t done?  Who had the most to lose?  The system was being bought to help the business respond to customer demand, but what would the impact be on the entire business if it didn’t happen?

A week later Jason, called me.  He’s followed the money, he finally found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  It centered primarily on a European sales team for this customer.  They were trying to close a deal to supply parts to one of their key customers.  Over the course of several years, the deal was value at 100’s of millions of Euros (meaning a whole lot more dollars!).  Having the capacity to fulfill these customer orders and meet their schedules was critical to the deal!  Even worse, there were pretty large performance penalties for missing deadlines in the fulfillment of this contract.

Jason had found the people who had the most to lose for not having the system in place!  It was the sales team (and at that magnitude, the deal had a lot of visibility to top management).  The real money issue was not the justification or ROI for Jason’s decision maker, the Real money issue was a long way from that organization.  While Jason had done everything to meet his customers requirements and to present the best solution, he was unable to close the deal.  By following the money–by understanding what was really driving the need for the solution–by understanding who had the most to lose if a decision wasn’t made, Jason did something else for his customer.  It was a large complex organization.  Jason’s customer did not know the dependency the European sales team had on the system in order for them to get the order.  As is often the case in large organizations, the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.  In this case the “left hand” didn’t know their decision was impacting the ability of the sales team to close a deal worth 100’s of millions!

Surprisingly, this happens a lot, particularly in large complex organizations.  People don’t know how what they do or don’t do can impact others in their organization.  While they may be doing the best job possible, while they may be acting in a way that enables them to achieve their own performance objectives, their actions can have a tremendous and unknown impacts  on other parts of the organization.

When a deal gets stalled, when the customer doesn’t seem to have the urgency they should, stop and consider two things. 

  1. Who stands to lose the most if the customer doesn’t take action?  Remember, it is most likely not the people you are working with, but someone who depends on them to perform.
  2. Follow the money to find that person. 

By the way, Jason got the order!

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