Deals Stalled? How to Advance a Sale

In Yesterday’s post, Deals Stalled? How to Stop Taking Yourself out of the Sale, I wrote about the danger of agreeing to something that limits (or eliminates) the salesperson’s ability to influence the outcome of the decision to buy their product or service. This is another post on the theme of preventing deals from stalling in the first place.

Introduction

Neil Rackham is best know for his book SPIN Selling. Written in 1988, Spin Selling is still relevant and is the best selling book ever published by McGraw Hill. SPIN Selling is famous for its questioning model, asking Situation, Problem, Implication, and Needs-Payoff questions.

The model is a very useful tool. But hidden in the book is one of the real keys to sales effectiveness. On page 44, Rackham describes the difference between a continuation and an advance.

Advance

An advance is: “Where an event takes place, either in the call or after it, that moves the sale forward towards a decision.” Rackham includes examples like the prospect’s agreement to attending future meetings, trial product runs, or access to other decision-makers and influencers.

Continuation

A continuation is: “Where the sale will continue but where no specific action has been agreed upon by the customer to move it forward.” Rackham doesn’t include anything as concrete for examples as to what constitutes a continuation. Instead, he uses the language you might hear. Things like: “Let’s meet again some time,” and “Why don’t you visit us next time you’re in the area.”

Where the Trouble Starts

The trouble for salespeople starts when they do not have a solid advance set as the outcome of their sales encounters. They go into a sales encounter with good intentions and high hopes that something will happen. It doesn’t happen. More often than not, they walk away with a continuation.

Worse still, some actually set a continuation as their outcome. They say things like, “On this call, I want to work on building a relationship.” Relationships are critical. All things being equal, relationships will tip the decision in your favor a lot of the time. But building relationships is not an advance. And future appointments are much easier to obtain if you created value on previous appointments (real business value).

Those are clear examples of where an advance is not planned as an outcome. But there is another set of continuations that do just as much to derail forward progress on a deal, and most of the time they feel good, so they are easily agreed to. Some examples include things like:

Can you send me your pricing? What has the prospect agreed to do? Have they agreed to review the pricing? Have they agreed to make a decision to move forward with you based upon your pricing? Have they agreed to pass it on to someone else involved in the decision? This feels positive because pricing is usually one of the final stages in a buyer’s decision-making process. It may be positive, but it is usually simply the prospect deciding not to commit to any future activity.

Can you call me next quarter?” This sounds positive, too. It feels like the prospect has requested a future conversation. In fact, the prospect has agreed to no future event.

Building on Rackham’s definition, I would add: Anything that requires an action by the salesperson without a future event agreed to by the prospect is also a continuation. Both of the above examples fit this definition. The salesperson is the only person in either example who has agreed to do anything. The prospect has agreed to do nothing.

Conclusion

The most effective way to prevent deals from stalling is to schedule an advance on every sales encounter. This is difficult, but it is still much easier than having to reengage the prospect later.

The best way to ensure that you can obtain an advance on every sales encounter is to ensure that each and every call creates value for the prospect or customer. In order to be able to obtain the commitment for a future event, you have to be able to sell the value of agreeing to the future event to the prospect; they have to have a compelling reason to agree to that event. You need to give them that compelling reason by creating value on every call.

Questions

1. Do you agree to continuations believing that they are really advances?

2. What continuations are typically asked to agree to?

3. Are you creating enough value during a sales encounter to be able to command an advance?

4. What could you change so that you could turn continuations into advances?

5. Do you have a rock solid advance planned as the outcome of each and every sales encounter?

6. Do you have a range of agreements, including lower commitment level agreements, which you could obtain that all advance the sale?

For more on increasing your sales effectiveness, subscribe to the RSS Feed for The Sales Blog and my Email Newsletter. Follow me on Twitter, connect to me on LinkedIn, or friend me on Facebook. If I can help you or your sales organization, check out my coaching and consulting firm, B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, email me, or call me at (614) 212-4279.

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Read my interview on business relationships by Joe Sperry at S4 Consulting.

Comments

comments

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  • http://http//www.bloggertone.com Niall Devitt

    Hi Anthony, Great post! In my opinion failure to effectively manage the selling process is a significant reason for failure. An inability to successfully secure momentum means clogs up pipelines and results in extremely poor time management. I really enjoy your articles, Keep up the good work. Regards, Niall

  • Jim Jusic

    I too have found Rackhams definitions of call outcomes effective in ensuring salespeople respect what constitutes successful call outcomes. My advice is to examine pipeline conversations and refine an Advance to exclude anything that does not have the client doing something stronger to move the sale forward. This means classifying “lets meet next week to finalise the details” as relatively weak when compared to ensuring the client does something more than just attend next weeks meeting to sign the contract for example. There is always something more the client can do that will highlight their psychological commitment and ensure they are engaged in resolving their need.

  • Ajay

    Hi Anthony, I’d like to share with you an example of when ‘Can you call me next quarter’ actually became an advance instead of a continuation. A tyre brand entered India recently and we were really keen on working with them, so after doing our research we called them in September last year, nurtured them for a month and finally got an opportunity to meet them in November. After having understood their plans they said that we should see them next quarter when they will be in a position to entertain us. We called them earlier this month, met them couple of times and are now signing the contract next week. What I learnt from this was that it’s not always about you, sometimes you need to understand a prospect’s position before going all out in completing a sale.