We like to ask our audiences if any of them have ever gone out with the intention of getting a particular order on a particular day, and failed to get it. Almost everyone who has been selling for more than a couple of months (and responds honestly) raises his or her hand. We then ask them to quote their buyer's reasons for not signing on the dotted line that day. The reasons do not vary much from workshop to workshop:
He needs to get someone else's approval.
The contract is still in legal.
The CFO has not approved it yet.
They are still waiting for another proposal.
We are not on their approved vendor list.
They're still on the fence.
And the dreaded
Something's come up.
But what was really going on here? In most cases, the seller was asking for the business before the buyer was ready to buy. This is a big mistake. We tell sellers that once they close the first time, their relationship with their buyer will never be the same. It will be either better or worse, but it won't be the same. And almost without exception, it will be better if they were ready to buy, and worse if they weren't.
Sellers are often justified in blaming their own management for closing prematurely. It was the final 10 days of the quarter, and management is pressuring the sales force to see what opportunities they can pull in from the next quarter to this one. Again, big mistake: The saddest situations we see are salespeople who sincerely want to help their buyer achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need, but are pressured by their management to close early. In many cases, this trades a long-term relationship for potential short-term gain, and increases the likelihood of a significant discount.
We live in the real world, and we understand that there are exceptional circumstances under which it's necessary to attempt to close early. When this is the case, the sales manager needs to acknowledge that this is the situation and explain why he or she is asking the salesperson to accelerate the buying process. But this should be the exception, rather than the rule. When management pressures salespeople to close early at the end of each quarter, there's a structural problem, and it's likely that larger future gains are being traded away for smaller near-term gains.
Before asking a buyer to buy, sellers should ask themselves:
Have I documented the buyer's goal(s)?
Have I diagnosed the buyer's current situation?
Have I documented how the buyer's goal(s) can be achieved by using my offering?
Have I helped the buyer cost-justify the decision?
Have I provided the buyer proof that our offering and organization are for real?
Have I asked the buyer about and mapped out organizational decision requirements—legal review, approved vendor list, and so on?
The salesperson should have some version of this list in mind very early on. He or she should be prepared to share it with the sales manager, if and when pressure comes down the pipeline, and explain which preconditions to a sale haven't been met yet, and why. And sometimes, being able to respond to these questions—or most of them—with a "yes" helps the salesperson get comfortable with the idea of moving up his or her timetable for closing.