By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
Many sellers have a bad habit of taking their initial contact (often mid to low-level staff) and taking that person as far as they can in terms of trying to sell their offerings. If it will ultimately be a committee decision they make a mistake in not getting access and commitment from others to qualify the opportunity.
A large part of navigating through complex B2B opportunities is to have a plan. Within CCS® we show sellers that there are three (3) phases of buying cycles:
- Solution development entails getting buyers to share desired business outcomes, diagnosing why those outcomes can’t be achieved and then showing only the capabilities within an offering that can help them achieve the results they are looking for.
- Evaluation is the phase where buyers (often mid-level staff) take a detailed look at offerings. Vendors will be compared, implementation issues will be considered, cost vs. benefit can be determined, vendor support and viability are researched, etc.
- Commitment is the final phase and usually only one (1) vendor is taken into Phase 3. Prior to choosing a vendor, committee members go through risk in determining if the desired results have a high probability of being achieved. If so, the final hurdle is price and most buyers will negotiate to get what they feel is the best possible deal.
Our recommended approach is that Phase 1 should be done with Key Players to make sure there is sufficient business value. Competent sellers should be able to complete Phase 1 with executive buyers without any need for support people to be involved. If there is a consensus amongst the Key Players that there is sufficient value, then a Sequence of Events with steps and estimated dates leading to a buying decision can be negotiated and documented. This nets out to agreeing upon the activities within Phase 2 and an agreed estimated date when a recommendation will be made.
If a seller becomes the vendor of choice, Phase 3 will hopefully result in an order but could degrade into “no decision.” Less talented sellers, whether having proactive or reactive entry points, go as far as they can with each “buyer” and try to climb org charts one level at a time. Most people they call on can’t say yes but can say no. Sellers run the risk of having long sales cycles that fall under their own weight because they are done “bottom up.”
Ultimately both buyers and sellers benefit from a “top-down” approach. Studies have shown that executive buyers like to be involved early (Phase 1) and late (Phase 3) in buying cycles. Similar to a vendor’s cost of sales in Phase 2 there are lower level resources that must be involved in the evaluation. Spending vendor and prospect resources only makes sense if there is sufficient value and evaluations take much less time when there is a written plan in place.