By Andrew Sobel and Olivier Jacob
Sometimes it just seems impossible to turn an interested prospect into a buying customer. You talk and talk but never get to the next step.
Have you experienced any of these scenarios?
- "We've met several times over the past six months, but nothing seems to be happening."
- "They keep saying they are interested but there is no progress."
- "They keep asking for more details on how we can address the problem, but they won't buy."
- "I feel like they are only using us to get information so they can do it themselves."
- "They only talk to us to pressure their already existing supplier's pricing."
These situations are not as mysterious as they seem. There are 6 essential conditions that must be in place before a customer becomes a buyer. If these 6 things are missing, you'll be stuck like a never ending Bill Murray movie, where you repeat the same meeting or conversation over and over again. I call these 6, "The 6 Prerequisites to Creating a Buyer":
1. The client perceives a problem or opportunity that is significant in size and importance.
It must be a "big problem". Fixing it has to be very cost effective and the executive has to take care of it - they have to be the economic buyer (otherwise they can't become the buyer!). "We really need to solve this problem or we won't be able to achieve our goals"
Test: Ask them to describe the payoff they are considering. Ask if they have ever tried to solve it themselves (if not, why would it matter?). Make sure the person you are talking to has ownership of the problem/opportunity and is empowered to act.
2. The customer is very dissatisfied with the rate of change.
The customer is not satisfied with the progress made in solving the problem or realizing the opportunity. Perhaps they are not moving fast enough, or perhaps the level of quality or performance is not up to expectations. "We just haven't made the progress I was hoping for"
Test: Watch for words like "frustrated," "concerned," "dissatisfied," "unsure," etc., missed opportunities, and/or the need to seize them quickly.
3. The client feels that they lack internal resources and/or expertise. The client feels that they do not have the right skills or enough people to address the problem in a timely manner. "Currently, we don't have the capabilities to do it on our own"
Test: Ask why they want to use or are considering an external resource. Probe to understand what the shortfall is: Expertise? Staffing? Skills? Understanding of the process? Knowledge of competition and best practices?
4. The customer has confidence in your ability to solve the problem. They need to believe that you not only have the ability to solve the problem or seize the opportunity, but also that you are the best alternative to others and can handle it. "We think you are the best people to help us in this area."
Test: Are they asking you for more documentation and details about your methodology and approach or are they talking to you about a potential collaboration?
Do you see a buy signal, a suggestion for a proposal, a question about fees or anything else?
5. The executive sponsor feels that the right stakeholders have all aligned to retain you and use the approach you have suggested. This is especially true in large organizations where many constituencies and different scales of management may have a vested interest in the issue at hand. "We have the support of our management and the alignment of all the right constituencies."
Test: Ask "Who needs to be aligned with this, and where are they today?", or "Who needs to approve this on your leadership team? "
6. They can see the concrete next steps for moving forward. The client needs to feel that the solution and approach you are proposing is clear and logical for the organization. If they don't see these tangible next steps, they will hesitate. "Your solution is clear and we are confident that this is the right approach for us".
Test: does the client demonstrate a clear understanding of the approach you have suggested, or do they continue to ask questions like, "I'm not sure how this part will work..." Ask, "Is there any aspect of our approach that you still don't fully understand or have questions about?
Note that I did not specify "available budget" as a prerequisite. Indeed, budget is always available for a client's highest priorities. If it's really important, and these prerequisites are met, there will be funding.
If any of these prerequisites are missing, the sales process will come to an abrupt halt. Whenever you feel that your conversations with the customer are going nowhere, take a close look at each of them. Most of the time, you will find that one or more of these six prerequisites are not fully present. You may then need to schedule another meeting with your client to retrace your steps and see if the precondition can be met or achieved. You can even put it on the table, for example, "Bill, we've had several conversations about sales force productivity over the past three months. When I think back to the clients I've had the best relationships with - when I've really made a difference - they usually started by focusing on a problem that the client felt was really important - it was a problem or an opportunity that absolutely had to be solved. Do you think that's the case here?
About the authors
Andrew Sobel is the leading authority on the strategies and skills needed to develop clients for life. He is the world's most published author on the subject, having written eight best-selling books on customer relationships, including the international bestsellers Customers for Life and Power Matters. More than 100 leading firms, such as PwC, Citibank, UBS, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cognizant, Deloitte and many others have used his book Clients for Life to develop trusted advisor skills and increase their clients' revenues.
Olivier Jacob has decades of expertise as a coach, trainer, and conference facilitator on the topics of management and sales. Author of the book "Make your business grow" and passionate about personal effectiveness, strategy, sales, commitment and new technologies, he created Inéa Conseil in 2008 to help companies sell more and better, and managers better mobilize their employees.