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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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