Ever lost a sale you thought was in the bag? Not an unfamiliar feeling for many businesses large and small. No matter how good you think your product or service is, everything finally boils down to your ability to convince others that it is good for them. It is all about getting the decision makers who matter to say “Yes”.
In major sales the whole approach is fundamentally different to small scale selling and requires a very different set of skills and techniques. Being competent in the small, simple sale is no guarantee of success in larger scale selling. The traditional techniques and “tricks of the trade” such as closing don’t seem to work in quite the same way in the more complex large scale sale. They are replaced by precise planning, information gathering and behavioural skills that build trust in the minds of the decision makers. Fundamental to this is the development of a detailed understanding of how decisions are made in your target customer and who the key players are.
So what constitutes a major sale? For most businesses they have a number of characteristics:
1. A lengthy sales cycle. This can vary from a few days to a few months or more depending on the industry.
2. Multiple decision makers. Any decision becomes complex as soon as more than one person is involved in making it. Understanding who these people are and their role in the process is vital if you are to improve your chances of success.
3. High potential value/importance. This varies from business to business. If your turnover is £250k an opportunity worth £10k might be considered very important. If your turnover is £50m it might not.
4. Time consuming and costly to pursue. If the business is worth winning it is worth investing the time, money and effort that is required. However, because major sales can be time consuming and costly it is vital to identify those opportunities that are worth pursuing i. e. those that you have a chance of winning. If you adopt the lottery ticket approach and pursue every opportunity you will simply dilute your resources to the extent that you don’t have enough left to win the business you really want.
5. Competition. The sale immediately becomes more complicated when the buying organisation has a number of options. For example, in a bid/proposal scenario you could be up against a number of competitors. How you go about managing the sale can have a huge effect on the potential outcome. Additionally, never forget the hidden competitor – the “do nothing” option for the customer/client.
It is clear that in major sales there is a need for a simple , structured approach that maximises your chances of success. By their very nature major sales are too important to be left to chance. Despite this very few businesses seem to have a robust approach in place and every new opportunity is greeted either with unfounded optimism or utter panic.
So what is required?
Step 1: Before you even begin it is important that you decide whether the opportunity is worth pursuing or not. If you haven’t already got selection criteria in place to help you to decide don’t delay any further. Get your key colleagues together and agree what the selection criteria should be. If you want a generic “Go/No Go” checklist visit our website at www.fieldofdreams.uk.com where you can download one for free. You should then tailor this so that it reflects your business and its’ unique requirements.
Step 2: Identify the people in your target customer who are going to influence/make the decision and ensure you have the right people (skills and personalities) to deal with them. It would be helpful at this stage to have unlimited talent available but I accept that this is most unlikely! However, you should ask yourself “Do I have the team in place that can realistically be expected to win this piece of business?” If the answer is “No” you should revue your decision to pursue the opportunity.
Step 3: The Customer Contact Meetings. There are three activities that are encompassed within the Customer Contact Meetings:
i. Covering the Bases – this is all about ensuring you have identified all the people at your target customer who are going to have an input into the decision and then ensuring they are contacted by an appropriate member of your team
ii. Understanding customer needs – ok, I know this is obvious and no-one would seriously try to sell anything without understanding their customer’s needs would they? At this stage it is vital to recognise that there are two groups of needs that should be understood and addressed:
a) The corporate need. This is the detailed understanding of the business needs that require addressing and how they can be best approached.
b) Personal needs. “Businesses don’t make decisions – people do”. What are the personal needs of the individuals that make up the decision-making team? Understanding and addressing these can be crucial in coming up with a winning proposal.
iii. Testing out potential solutions/propositions. Assuming the process includes a formal proposal document and/or a presentation, there is a temptation to store up your solutions/propositions in order to deliver an exciting proposal. This is the “rabbit out of the hat” approach. It is based on the assumption that the decision making team will be somehow impressed by all of this and that it will provide you with some sort of advantage over the competition. All too often it has precisely the opposite effect, with solutions presented that are simply unacceptable, or that have already been looked at and ruled out.
Given that this is likely to be the case, it is increasingly important that we constantly consider and discuss potential solutions with the customer/client. In this way we will be able to develop and hone our overall proposition to address the real needs, rather than those we have assumed exist. Additionally, it allows us to demonstrate our competence on an on-going basis.
Step 4: Your Proposal. You've done your Customer Contact Meetings. Now make sure that your proposal reflects the needs that your client expressed during those meetings and the solutions you have tested with them. Don't let it read like a solution you just picked off the shelf. The proposal should clearly demonstrate that:
a. you have understood the key issues that the business faces
b. you have clear solutions as to how those issues can be addressed
c. you can demonstrate the benefits the target will enjoy as a result of your solutions
d. you can demonstrate your competence in these areas
e. Be concise. If you're in a competitive situation and you turn in a short proposal, that's the one that's likely to be read first, which means that all others will be judged against it.
Step 5: The Presentation. Some major sales culminate with a proposal and/or a presentation. Whilst this article is not about presentations per se, you will not need reminding that some people would rather die than give a presentation. These are not the best people to choose to present your proposal. I take the view that in many situations the decision as to who is getting the business has often been made by the time the presentation arises. Under these circumstances the presentation becomes not the opportunity to win the business but the opportunity to lose it. The three key rules for effective presentations are – rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. If you are not comfortable presenting you may need help – go and get some! You cannot afford to fail at this late stage.
Step 6: The Follow Up: Once you have presented your proposal document and/or your presentation the question is “What next?” You could sit back, congratulate yourself on a job well done and hope for the best. A more proactive approach is usually the best. Someone should contact the customer and make sure they have everything they need in order to be able to make an informed decision.
Step 7: Process Review: Win or lose, it is important that lessons are learned from the experience. The whole team should get together for a de-brief as well as an appointment being made with the target customer to understand how well/badly you performed in key areas. Why did you win/lose the business? What were the key issues? What did our competitors do that we didn’t? What could we do better next time? Ideally, put together a question checklist of the things it would be helpful for you to know and develop this list over time. Success is a continuous process of learning – this is a good opportunity.
Winning new business is the lifeblood of any B2B organisation and yet many simply do not give this absolutely fundamental area of their business sufficient thought and consideration. Business winning skill is critical to a company’s on-going success. If the skills and processes are not in place in your business you could pay the ultimate price.
Mike Wilkinson is a director of Simatt Associates a UK based consultancy specialising in helping businesses target, win and manage more of the business they want to win. We work with clients evaluating current practices, helping them to develop robust approaches to their business development activities. You can contact Mike through the sales link at http://fieldofdreams.uk.com