If you can help it (and you usually can), you don’t want to wait until the end of the sales cycle to begin trying to do all of the things that you know that you need to do to position yourself to win. The end of the sales cycle is too late.
You want to be in front of the opportunity, because that is where you have the greatest opportunity to influence the deal in your direction.
Influence the Buying Criteria
Early in the buying process, once your dream client recognizes that they are dissatisfied, they start to try to work out what they need to close the gap between where they are and where they need to be.
Early in the buying process, if you have the relationships, and if you have obtained the commitments that you need to gain, you have a chance to help shape your dream client’s needs. You have a chance to help work on a vision for closing the gap that only you can fill—and you were there participating in it’s creation.
This is sometimes called writing the A column. The ideas is that your dream client is going to use a spreadsheet to evaluate all of the competitors on certain defined criteria, all of which is listed in the A column. You and your competitors are listed in the following columns. And if you didn’t help to shape the A column as it was written, you can be pretty damn sure one of your competitors was on the job while you were sleeping.
It is extremely challenging to try to influence the buying criteria from in front of the boardroom table during your final presentation. I am not suggesting that it can’t be done; it can. But it is very difficult, and very unlikely, and a salesperson should never judge themselves by how well they perform in the boardroom fielding the tough questions. A salesperson should judge themselves instead on their ability to do all of the front end, heavy lifting that ensures that they go into the boardroom with enough confirmed votes in hand to ensure that they will win.
Proving That You Care
At the beginning of the buying cycle, you have a chance to nurture the relationships that you will later need if you are to win, and to spend the time working with your dream client—even though you are not yet billing them for your business acumen.
Early in the buying cycle is when you have a chance to prove that you care. You have the chance to develop the relationships and to earn your dream client’s trust. You have the chance to obtain commitments, but even more important, you have a chance to make commitments to your clients and to keep those commitments.
It is impossible to prove that you understand the outcome they are seeking with any specificity, to help shape the vision of what that future looks like and how to get there, or to prove how much you care about helping them achieve the outcome that they need during your 90 minute boardroom dog and pony show. None of this can be easily done at late in the sales cycle, when your dream client has usually moved on to the buying stage that is resolving concerns.
It is dangerous to present to you dream client without doing all you needed to in order to be in front of the deal, pretending that they are in the recognition of needs phase of the buying process when they have actually moved on to the resolution of concerns phase of the buying process. It is all but certain that one of your competitors has already helped to identify what it will take to produce the result your dream client needs, and your dream client is resolving the concerns by demonstrating how little you and three other boardroom presenters really know them or their business.
You’re not looking for a fair fight at the boardroom table during presentations. You are looking to stack the deck so heavily in your favor that it’s not a fair contest at all. There are no special prizes for winning a close race. You want to win in a boardroom slaughter.
- How much of the real influence and trust is built early in the sales cycle? On important decisions, how much do your dream clients rely on the relationships that they have with salespeople that spend time nurturing and developing relationships? How much more do they trust salespeople who are known to be value creators?
- Do you believe that your dream client wrote the A column by themselves? Isn’t it likely that either you or one of your competitors has helped to shape the way they think about their needs and what it will take to help them get the outcomes they need?
- Are you afraid enough of what your competitor worked into the A column? Would your competitor fear what you worked into the A column? What would you work into the A column? What are you doing about it now?
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