Keeping Close to the Customer and Ahead of the Competition
We hear two common statements from executives when they call on us to help them improve their organization's sales performance. They sound like this: "Our team isn't bringing home the sale often enough. We can't overcome objections and close." "We're getting beat up on price. We don't know how to negotiate." Can you see what's right and what's wrong in these statements?
Here's how we interpret the situation: The statement of the problem—declining sales and profit ratios—is based on observations and represents a very real and serious situation. But the identification of the cause—the inability of salespeople to close and negotiate—is an opinion and, in fact, is not the actual cause of the problem.
Closing and negotiation skills, in the traditional sense, are rarely needed in the enterprise sale. Or, more accurately, you don't need to worry about closing and negotiation during the eleventh hour if you follow our sales methodology. These two most erroneous, and often feared, tasks in sales are simply no longer necessary.
This is a difficult idea for salespeople to grasp. "What? No objections?" "No negotiations?" Their incredulity is a measure of how deeply the conventional selling mind-set is implanted in the psyche of the salesforce and how radical a shift away from that mind-set this sales process actually represents.
Our sales process eliminates the dependency on closing and negotiation skills because by the time the enterprise sale comes to its conclusion, our customers have already understood and confirmed the causes of their problems, the consequences of those problems, the parameters of a high-quality solution, and the financial value of that solution. As long as our offerings address these preestablished elements, all of our customers' concerns have been met. There is literally nothing for our customers to object to and no reason to question the price of our products and services. If any unexpected questions do surface, they can simply be linked back to the information that we've already developed and confirmed with the customer.
Negotiation takes on a new definition in our sales process. The essence of the sale process is clear and precise communication and collaboration—a continual "mutual understanding." Continual mutual understanding and agreement is negotiation at its finest. Open collaboration from moment one of the process means the process proceeds with continual agreement. If the enterprise salesperson is still engaged with the customer by the time the Delivery phase is reached, he or she has already passed all the milestones required to provide the solution. We should not be in the room unless both parties believe there is a strong fit between their problems and our solutions. This translates to no objections, no price negotiations and pressure, and no buyer's remorse or other deal-canceling reactions. It also means faster sales cycles, more predictable outcomes, and higher margin transactions—all of those things that define success in careers and organizations.
So, what are we doing at the conclusion of the sale process? The final phase of the process, Delivery, is focused on two goals: (1) successful completion of the sale and (2) the postsale relationship between the salesperson, the organization, and the customer.
Elements of the first goal, successful completion, include formalizing the sale and then delivering and implementing the solution. Formalizing the sale includes the salesperson's preparation and presentation of the proposal and the customer's acceptance thereof. In delivery and implementation of solutions, salespeople manage the risks of the solution implementation and ensure that their customers are getting what they have been promised.
Before you enter the Delivery phase, there is one question to ask yourself: If you were the customer, knowing what you know, would you do what you are about to propose? This is the acid test of the sales professional and the primary tenet of ethical selling. Imagine that the customer is your best friend or that you are the doctor and the customer is your patient. Would you be offering the same solution? If not, now is the time to stop the process and reconsider the alternatives.
The second goal of the Delivery phase is focused on the postsale relationship between the salesperson, the organization, and the customer. It includes, first, the monitoring, correction (if necessary), and communication of solution outcomes; and second, the expansion of the business relationship salespeople have been building throughout this new sales process. Educated, aware salespeople who successfully establish this expanded role become the preferred providers for their products and services in their customers' minds.