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The Illusion Of Control

by David Brock on December 23rd, 2014

Matt Heinz wrote a provocative post, “News Flash, Sales Doesn’t Control When The Deal Is Closed.”  It is a great post.  Many of us, in and out of sales, operate under the illusion that we are in control, but we aren’t.

Many might respond,  well the customer is in control, so we have to work with them.  As Matt points out, this may not be true, the customer may not truly be in control of their buying/decision making process—which is a possible reason so many deals end in no decision made.

If one pushes this argument further, we realize in the strictest sense of the concept, no one can ever be “in control,”  there are too many things that can derail our efforts.  Stated differently, “Shit happens.”

Does this mean we throw up our hands in forecast/deal reviews, saying, “All I can do is try hard and do the best that I can.  It will happen when it happens.”

This is unacceptable both from a sales, but more importantly, from the customer point of view.

The longer the customer delays, the more they lose in terms of achieving the desired goals and business return they were seeking in the first place.  Remember, if the customer doesn’t have a compelling need to change, we and they are wasting time with our sales efforts.

So while we and the customer can never be totally, “in control,” this doesn’t eliminate the need for purposefulness in the buying/selling process.  It is irresponsible to both our customers and our own companies to leave things to chance, to only try hard.

We create great value for our customers and ourselves by helping them drive their buying process, accelerating their abilities to achieve the desired results.

We can help our customers drive some level of “control” or purposefulness by helping them develop and execute their buying process project plan.

Applying project planning/management approaches to the buying process helps keep focus on achieving the desired results.  Any good project plan establishes time based goals and milestones.  It establishes critical activities required to achieve the milestones and goals.  It clearly defines roles and responsibilities within the project team. assuring everyone is aligned with the goals of the project.  Good project planning always considers, “What could derail us,” anticipating problems that can impact the ability of the project team to achieve it’s goals.  Effective project management means there is strong project sponsorship–senior executives aligned with the goals of the project, perhaps serving as a steering committee.

Project managers know they can’t anticipate or control everything.  They build in contingencies that enable them to achieve the desired goals/target dates.  If something happens, they do everything they can to adjust the plan without changing the end date for the project  (again, slipping that date has a significant adverse impact on the ability to achieve the desired results.).  While this can’t always be achieved, slipping the schedule is the last alternative considered by great project managers.

So while we and our customers can never be completely in control, we create great value by helping our customers be purposeful in their buying process.  They are, after all, seeking to accelerate their ability to achieve business results.  Leveraging strong project planning methods helps keep the focus, anticipate and manage obstacles that may be encountered in the buying journey.

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  1. Great post Dave! Completely agree with you. Great salespeople are advocates not for their product or service, but for their customer. They’re active advocates for the outcomes the prospect has agreed is important.

    It’s too easy for a well-meaning prospect to get distracted, to chase the fire drill of the day. It’s your job as a seller to reinforce the prioritization and commitment to change they made previously (assuming that commitment still exists).

    When you serve as an advocate for your customer, your buyer, you put yourself consistently in a point of leadership, leverage and “control” (relatively speaking) of what happens next.

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