By Bob Apollo
Even before the current crisis, many opportunities that had been confidently forecast by salespeople were failing to close. This was and still is particularly true of strategic decisions that need to be approved by a group of stakeholders rather than signed-off by a single individual.
The number of people involved in these decision-making groups has risen sharply over the past few years. When the Challenger Customer was first published in 2015, the underlying research concluded that the average decision group size was 5.4. Their latest research reckons this has now risen to between 10-11 actively involved stakeholders.
Think about that for a moment: even before the impact of COVID-19, it only took one key member of the decision group to ask “why do we have to spend this money now” (or “why do we have to make this change now?”) for the decision to be potentially delayed or put on hold.
Anyone like to hazard a guess as to how often that question is being asked nowadays?
Not spending is the new normal
Having spoken to a number of clients, I get the clear impression is that this question is now inevitable. It seems that the general consensus is that most organisations are deferring decisions on what are perceived to be non-essential projects and investments.
This does not mean that decisions are now at a complete stop – but it does indicate that unless our customer believes that our proposed solution is going to deliver short-term urgent value by helping them to fix, accomplish or avoid a high-priority strategic or tactical goal, they will conclude that they can probably afford to wait.
Crude non-empathetic traditional closing techniques are going to be of no help whatsoever – in fact they will (and deserve to) damage our future ability to do business with the customer. If they genuinely see the need to go ahead and the obstacle is one of cash-flow, and if both we and our sponsor are convinced of the value we can create, we may choose to be creative in how we structure our payment terms.
If the problem isn’t seen as being urgent, then we may have to accept that the project will end up being delayed. But better delayed than canceled altogether. As I’ve alluded to, the “why do we have to spend this money now?” isn’t a new one. What can we learn, and what can we do differently in the future?
Establishing the need for change
I’d suggest you start by assessing the quality of the all-important executive summary of your recent sales proposals. I’ve reviewed more than a few recently, and I have concluded that the benchmark isn’t set very high. In fact, the recent rise of standardised proposal writing applications may be making the matter worse.
Of course, I acknowledge the value of being able to assemble proven answers to predictable questions through the use of templated elements. But I have not yet come across any reliable automated approach to writing the critical executive summary.
Other than changing the customer name and the solution …read more
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