Have you ever had a series of good meetings with a prospect … gathered all kinds of information … and given what you thought was a great presentation … only to receive a response like, “Let me think about it”? Or, “I have to share all of this with my boss”? Or, “We’ll get back to you”?
And then you never heard another word?
You landed in sales limbo — the perpetual exile prospects call “very interesting” — for one reason and one reason alone. You didn’t qualify the prospect’s decision-making process.
Prospects have a process by which they make buying decisions. It is important that salespeople uncover this process before scheduling any presentation. Most salespeople make an effort to ensure they are talking to a decision maker, but they don’t always find out who else plays a part in the decision process, what exactly the approach is, how the decision is ultimately made, or what the time frame for making the decision is . . . until after they’ve made their presentation or submitted their proposal.
Without this knowledge in advance, the salesperson risks making a presentation of the wrong information to the wrong person, at the wrong time, and/or in a manner inconsistent with the prospect’s decision-making process!
As you uncover the problem, the available budget for solving it, and decision-making process elements of the opportunity, you must constantly evaluate the opportunity to determine whether or not it meets your criteria for a “qualified” opportunity. If you do get far enough along in the process to make a presentation, your prospects use that presentation to evaluate your product or service to determine whether it meets their criteria for a best-fit solution for their needs. It only makes sense for you to discover those criteria, including the decisionmaking process, in advance of your presentation! After all, if you don’t know what will be expected of you during your presentation, or how or by whom your product or service will be judged, how can you even begin to plan an effective presentation?
For some types of sales, a prospect’s decision-making process may be simple — made by a single individual based on just one or two criteria. In other cases, the process may be more complex. The decision may end up being made by several individuals, each of whom has his or her own perspective and concerns about the purchase, as well as differing degrees of influence and leverage on the decision. All too often, in those more complex situations, salespeople deliver presentations knowing only a few of the relevant criteria, to people who cannot, on their own, say “Yes!”
That’s why it’s so important to uncover a complete description of the decision process before you begin formulating solutions and developing proposals or presentations.
If you cannot meet the requirements of the prospect’s decision-making process, or if some aspect of that process (such as the timing of the decision) is inconsistent with your goals, then the opportunity is not a good fit and should be disqualified.
Here are the kinds of questions that will give you good information about the decision-making process:
“How are you planning to make the final decision?”
“Who else is going to be involved in that?”
“By when do you need to make the decision?”
“How would you go about making the decision to work with one vendor rather than another?”
If your prospect is unwilling to share this information, then it’s very likely that there’s something going on behind the scenes that is not necessarily in your best interests. If you can’t fill in the blanks, disqualify the prospect.
In most cases, when you ask these kinds of questions respectfully, as one professional to another, one of two things will happen. You’ll either get the other person to open up, and get a much clearer sense of what the decision-making process is … or you’ll get a clear indication that this opportunity is not really worth pursuing. Either way, you’ll stay out of sales limbo, and your closing ratio will go up!