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Making Progress, What Do We Talk About Next?

by David Brock on October 2nd, 2012

So you’ve finally qualified a deal, you have something real to compete for, an opportunity to win.  Usually, you start planning what you need to do, make some calls, find out what they want, prepare a proposal, present your solution, close the deal.  Simple.

In reality it seems things drag on and on and on and…..  We blame the customer, they aren’t moving forward.  In some cases, that’s  true, but too often, I think much of the blame rests with us–the sales person.

When I sit down and review deals with people, the strategies seem unfocused.  Some sales calls where we are exchanging information with the customer–what they want, what we have, question, answer, ping, pong…….  I ask, “What happened in the call?”  The responses are, “We exchanged information,” or “We presented our capabilities,” or other things.

I ask, “What’s next?”  The responses are, “I have to get back to them with this…., ” or “I’m waiting on them…..” or something else.  But generally, I get this uncomfortable feeling that things are wandering.  I watch CRM updates, seeing forecast close dates being pushed back 30 days, then another 30 days, then another….  I begin to wonder, “Is this real?”   “When will it close?”

We and our customers need to stop doing random walks through their buying process.  We each need to be focused and purposeful about what we do.  Each sales call has to move us forward — making substantive progress toward a decision.  Letting deals linger is a waste for both the customer and for us.  The customer is losing opportunity–presumably they are buying to achieve something.   The longer deals take, the more the defer the benefits they were hoping to achieve.  For us, we defer the potential revenue we are forecasting.

It’s not the customer’s job to manage their progress through their buying cycle–well actually it is, but here’s where we can create great value by helping them manage the process, moving forward to a decision.

How do we move customers through their buying process efficiently?  Well, that’s the reason we have a sales process.  Our sales process (hopefully aligned with the buying process) represents our best practices for helping customers reach decisions.  Leveraging our sales process in planning each sales call can enable us to move quickly and efficiently through the buying and selling process.

The basis for planning each sales call comes directly from our sales process.  Based on where we are in the process, the next steps and activities in the sales process provide the foundation for planning each call.   In planning the next sales call, look at your sales process and see how many steps of the sales process you can compress into the one meeting.  You’d be amazed at how much you accomplish and how much you compress the buying/sales cycle.

Of course, there are follow-ups from previous calls, but these cannot be the sole purpose of a call, we need to move the customer to the next steps in their buying process–otherwise things linger and never close.

We should never be at a loss for what do we talk about in our next sales calls.  Our sales process clearly defines, at a high level, the specific things we need to accomplish, so these provide the framework for our call plan.

As an example, over the past 5 years, we have compressed our sales process by more than 30%.  It was very simple.  We use the sales process as our guide to planning each sales call.  We’ve created a “game” with ourselves, as we plan our sales calls, we ask ourselves, “How many of the next activities in our sales process can we accomplish in this call?”  Initially, we focused on 1-2 things, it grew to 3-4 things, now we routinely accomplish as many as 5 key activities in our calls.  It doesn’t happen all the time, but we consciously think and plan our calls to accomplish more.  As a result, we’ve seen tremendous compression in buying/selling cycles.  Fewer deals end in “no decision,” customers are able to achieve results more quickly, we are able to accelerate our revenue generation.

Sales calls need to be purposeful.  We need to create value for the customer, we need to create progress in the deal.  Our sales process is our template for planning our calls and our next steps for moving customers to decisions.  Without a sales process, our sales calls become aimless conversations.

Are you making progress in each sales call you make?  Are you closer to a decision with each call?

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