One of the biggest obstacles in complex sales is the inability of salespeople and customers to understand each other. We call this gap between the two parties the Valley of Mystification. The salesperson stands on one side of the valley unable to see the problem, but with the solution in hand; the customer stands on the other side experiencing the problem perhaps not understanding it completely and unable to fully understand the solution. As a result, a successful sale becomes a random collision of pain, product, and lucky timing.
The process of confirmation is one way out of the valley. By confirming that our customers and we are on the same page and that everyone involved in the engagement comprehends both the problem and parameters of the solution, we eliminate ambiguity and confusion and foster mutual understanding.
In our sales process, confirmation is driven by a discussion document. Discussion documents are much like preliminary sketches that architects draw. In the process of designing a building, an architect and the client first discuss the features that the client wants in the design; then the architect draws a preliminary design based on those requirements. A client can't actually build a house from these drawings, but they do serve as a starting point for the blueprints that are needed to begin construction.
The discussion document serves a similar purpose in the complex sale. This pencil sketch recaps the problem, its financial impact, the customer's expectations, and the decision criteria with which the best solution will be determined. It sums up the engagement to this point and puts into writing the agreements and understandings reached with the customer.
When a customer won't confirm the discussion document, we know that a serious impediment to a successful sale has surfaced. Before we move forward with the engagement, we need to trace each concern or disconnect back to its source and resolve it to the customer's satisfaction.
When the customer does confirm the contents of the discussion document, it tells the salesperson two things: First, all of the requirements needed to design the best solution are addressed, and second, it is now the right time to formally offer the customer that solution. It is time to move into the final phase of the sale process, Delivery.
Normally, the answers to these two questions lead you to one or more members of the cast of characters who believe that they will experience pain because of the solution. You can neutralize that pain by recognizing it and addressing it in the solution or by building a consensus that it must be accepted for the overall benefit of the organization.