This week's article is my response to a question by David Cohen of Bridge-Soft.
"Quite a few prospects have told me that business is stagnant at the moment, but they are hopeful towards the 4th quarter. How do you approach the sales cycle where the cost of the product is relatively high and the sales cycle is lengthy, sometimes six months or more, in good times. I have little trouble generating interest in our products during my cold calls, but the relationship of a slow economy, long sales cycle, in combination with the cost of the software puts a few road blocks up. Any ideas on how to either avoid or breakdown these road blocks?"
-David Cohen, Sales Director, Bridge-Soft
Thanks for writing in David. Essentially what you want to know is how to speed up the sales cycle. Let's start the discussion from the standpoint of why people and businesses buy when they do.
Everyone buys to solve a pain or fulfill a desire. This is true for individuals and businesses alike (businesses are nothing but a group of individual decision-makers). Buying decisions are always prioritized, whether people are aware that they do this or not. Businesses making buying decisions usually have formal procedures for prioritizing their acquisitions. Individuals also prioritize their buying decisions, but this generally is a much more casual and often unconscious process.
To speed up your sale, you must move the pain that you are offering to solve near the top of the prospect's priority list.
Here are three ways that you can do this.
#1 - Choose Your Prospects Ruthlessly
To put it simply, the fastest sales happen when the prospects know they are in pain. For a given problem, the businesses (or people) who have this in common will likely share other characteristics. Look at who has been spending money during this slowdown with either you or your competitors, and ask yourself what they have in common. You want to have a profile of what these customers look like when you are prospecting. This will enable you to quickly decide whether to engage in a sales effort. Prospects who don't meet your profile should be thrown out.
#2 - Get To The Executives First
Not getting to the decision-makers early in the sell cycle is a common reason for lengthy sales cycles. To get there, you have to know how to talk to them. Exec's want to know how you are going to increase revenues or efficiency, and save money or time. Their biggest fear of salespeople is that you will waste their time with techno-babble.
You can create a direct mail and telephone campaign to make contact with your target executives. This is a topic that demands way more space than I have here to write. But the strategy is to get their attention with specific stories and questions that dramatize the pain using examples that they can identify with.
You can also have your current executive customer contacts refer you to other executives that they know within your target prospect accounts. Or You can use your management as a “power meets power" way of getting access. And you can also form partnerships with complementary vendors who might have access into your accounts.
In the case of a small software company, it could make sense to partner with a larger company who already has the executive relationships. Companies like IBM, HP, or Accenture have salespeople for every account you can imagine. When you show them how they can sell more of their products and services, they will want to work with you to get into the account.
#3 - Intensify Their Pain
When your sale is low on their priority list, it is because the executives believe they have bigger problems to focus on. You can influence their perception and priorities by getting them to experience the consequences of the unaddressed problem in advance of it happening. You want to make this problem feel real in the present moment.
There are two very effective techniques for doing this. One is to tell stories. You mentioned that you had a number of customers both large and small. Interview your customers and find out precisely why they bought your software. Determine the specific pains, and the specific results they got from installing it. Create detailed stories about your customers such that your prospect will identify with the pains that your customer's had. Discuss how bad things would have gotten if they hadn't solved the problem with your software.
Stories are an effective indirect way to get a prospect to open up about a potential problem. The most powerful motivation for a sale is the prospect's own fears and desires. You can uncover this and use it to propel your sale forward with planned persuasive questioning. People make decisions to buy, or move your sale up on their priority list when they are in an emotional state. Questions that get them to experience the consequences of problems that they are not dealing with can bring the pain strongly into the present moment.
Focus On The Right Things
You cannot control the slow economy.
Here are some things you can control.
- Who you sell for and what you sell.
- Which prospects you choose to engage.
- The level at which you first engage your prospects:
- executive, middle management, or staff.
- What you do, say, and ask when you engage people.
© 1999-2004 Shamus Brown, All Rights Reserved.
Shamus Brown is a Professional Sales Coach and former high-tech sales pro who began his career selling for IBM. Shamus has written more than 50 articles on selling and is the creator of the popular Persuasive Selling Skills CD Audio Program. You can read more of Shamus Brown's sales tips at http://Sales-Tips.industrialEGO.com/ and you can learn more about his persuasive sales skills training at http://www.Persuasive-Sales-Skills.com/