Once the Champion Letter has been sent, the salesperson needs to follow up on that communication in order to get the buyer’s agreement to the following points:
The letter accurately summarizes the conversation(s).
The buyer is willing and able to provide access to the requested titles.
After interviewing all Key Players, there will be a chance to gain consensus that further evaluation is warranted.
Once the salesperson has verified these points and can produce the Champion Letter, the sales manager can now grade this prospect as a C. As we’ll emphasize again later, sales management should perform grading of pipeline—and forecasting in general. It should not be the responsibility of salespeople, who historically are optimistic and are motivated by their desire to have their manager believe that everything is O.K. within their pipelines, regardless of the actual condition of those pipelines.
There will be times when the follow-up call to verify the contents of the Champion Letter will not go according to plan. (If it always did, there would be less reason to write Champion Letters.) Buyer “push back” or disagreement must be resolved if the prospect is to be considered viable.
The buyer may question or dispute the contents of the letter, in which case a discussion is necessary to clarify issues. If the discussion succeeds, the Champion Letter should be modified to reflect whatever changes are necessary. The seller qualifies a Champion after obtaining the buyer’s acceptance of the revised letter.
Sometimes the salesperson’s request for access to Key Players may be challenged or denied. In the following paragraphs, we present the most common reasons why access is denied—at least initially—and suggest ways to handle them.
The buyers indicate that they will sell it internally. This reluctance may be an indicator that you are Column B (vying for a silver medal), especially if the buyer is the one who initiated the contact. The prospect may have been instructed to get pricing, but not grant access to others. Or, alternatively, buyers may simply want to maintain control and get all the credit for introducing the concept to others. In our experience, any one of these conditions dramatically reduces your chances of success in both selling and forecasting.
We suggest making it clear that your Champion is welcome to accompany you on meetings with Key Players whenever he or she feels it is appropriate. This may help to address the issue of the person’s wanting to maintain control and exposure. We have also found it effective to make the (accurate) point that you and the prospect have spent only a brief period discussing your offerings, and that it is unfair to place the burden of selling the offering internally on his or her shoulders.
The buyers say that Key Players’ involvement is unnecessary. In these cases, the salesperson can and should point to potential implementation issues if everyone is not on board from the outset. Another option is to indicate that unless Key Players are aware of an evaluation, both the prospect and the salesperson may wind up spinning their wheels by undertaking an unsanctioned initiative.
The buyer is skeptical, and indicates that it is too early to involve other people. Depending on the complexity of your offering, this may be a valid concern. Up to this point, you (most likely) have had only a conversation or two with the potential Champion about your offerings. Perhaps this is the juncture to offer a proof session or demonstration with a fairly straightforward quid pro quo: “If the proof satisfies you, then will you get me access to the specified Key Players?”
When attempting to get access to Key Players, the salesperson should be politely persistent. This is important. It simply can’t be sidestepped. Failure to have conversations with these people leaves the salesperson and company vulnerable to long sales cycles, no decision, silver medal competitions, and other bad things.
If access is not forthcoming, it is important to figure out what’s really going on: Is the Champion unable to provide access, or unwilling? If a prospect is unable to obtain access to decision makers, the salesperson needs to ask who could provide that access. If a prospect persists in being unwilling to grant access, the sales manager should be involved in making the decision as to whether or not to keep competing for the sale.