Sometimes I think we make selling entirely too complicated – and by “we,” I mean my profession of sales authors and trainers. Sure, selling can be difficult. That’s why they pay us the big bucks. We’re dealing with people and trying to persuade them, and that’s always a challenge. Still, why make the sale more complicated and cumbersome than it has to be?
The truth is that, boiled down to its elements, every sale consists of a prospective or current customer making four decisions. The trick is that there’s no gray area – every decision must be in your favor, or you won’t win the sale. Here they are:
Decision One: The decision to engage with you. Yep, the first decision that your customer makes is the decision to talk to you – or to engage with you, if you prefer that terminology (and I do; “engagement” implies a two-way street). If you can’t get an audience with your customer, you can’t sell them. Yes, you can receive an order from someone who doesn’t talk to you (technology these days is wonderful), but you won’t have an opportunity to persuade or affect the outcome of that decision. This means that your approach to them MUST communicate the value of a conversation with you. In fact, in most cases, that’s all you should be shooting for; by trying to sell more than the simple value of the conversation, you can get neither.
Decision Two: The decision that you can solve their need(s). Every customer has needs. Your ability to discover their needs, and then solve them, is the key to getting a “yes” at this stage of the sales process. That means that, first and foremost, you must ask copious amounts of questions. Even if you THINK you know what the buyer needs, you don’t KNOW until you ask them. Ultimately, you must know how the BUYER will define a successful purchase. Not how you define it, not how most of your other customers define it, not how your boss says it’s defined, but how the buyer defines it. Without knowing how the buyer will define a successful work, everything else is just guesswork – and guesswork rarely wins sales.
Once you know their needs and how they define success, two burdens are placed upon you. The first burden is this – if your offerings do not and cannot solve the buyer’s needs, and meet their definition of success, you must bow out. This is the only way to retain your (and your company’s) professional credibility. Yes, I know, there’s nothing more painful than walking away from potential dollars – but would you rather collect the dollars by hammering someone into a bad purchase, and then live with the failure? Walking away early means that you live to sell another day when your solution fits; making a bad sale means that you are forever disqualified. Even pushing a solution when your buyer knows it’s not a solution can forever disqualify you.
The second burden is that, if your solution does meet the buyer’s needs and definition of success, your presentation must be specifically and intimately tailored to those exact needs and definition. This is harder than it sounds, as sometimes (many times) you have to develop a presentation on the spot. Salespeople can get into the “sell sheet” or “slide deck” mentality that says, “I have all this great information, and I have to get it all out,” even when the customer doesn’t care about all the information. If I go to the doctor for a sore shoulder and he gives me a pill that will fix it (I know that’s not a real thing, but work with me here), I don’t care that it will also solve a sore throat because I don’t HAVE a sore throat. When presenting, present specifically to the customer’s needs. Hit the points hard and often that are meaningful and leave out information that is meaningless. If you execute these steps correctly, your buyer will make the second critical decision – that you can solve needs – and move you to the next step of the process.
Decision Three: The decision that your solution represents good value. If your buyer is interested, he/she is probably going to say, “Okay, how much?” At this point (or as soon after as you can), you offer a proposal with price and terms. Your buyer is then going to evaluate your offering and basically ask themselves whether it’s a good spend of money, time, and resources, or not, and make their third decision. If you’ve asked enough questions about priorities, needs, and the impact of solving those needs, you should already be 80% toward the answer to this question. Still, we sell to human beings, and those human beings can be somewhat unpredictable.
Decision Four: The decision to buy from you. “But wait, Troy, isn’t the decision that you represent good value also a decision to buy?” Nope. Not in the slightest. This is where variables outside of your control come into play. Sometimes your solution is a good spend for the department you’re selling to – but corporate priorities dictate that resources go in a different direction. Or, the timing just isn’t right (maybe they have other projects going on that require the attention and resources that would otherwise be devoted to yours). In any case, you can have the greatest solution to a big problem, priced right, and still not win the sale because some externality is blocking you. Your best strategy here is, back when you’re doing the questioning, to ask questions about overall company priorities, ongoing projects, etc. Sometimes you can sell against those priorities if you know about them – but final decision time is too late to ask or sell against it.
Here’s what you need to know. All of these decisions MUST go in your favor, and each one qualifies you to move to the next step. Fail any one and you will not win the sale, even if your buyer “allows” you to keep selling (by offering a price that won’t result in a sale, for instance).