To create and win opportunities, you must recognize and understand the gap between you and your prospective client. That gap hurts your chances of winning the opportunity, so it’s your responsibility to detect and correct the misalignment.
Misaligned in Prospecting
Your first goal in prospecting is to earn a meeting with a decision-maker or decision-shaper in your target company, by showing your contact how they’ll benefit from the outcomes you can help them improve. Like anything in the craft of selling, different people use different strategies and language choices successfully for this task. There are some choices, however, that generally disconnect you before you start.
Say a contact answers their phone at 9 AM, only to be greeted by a salesperson who clumsily blurts out, “Did I catch you at a good time,” or its opposite, “Did I catch you at a bad time?” Once the contact responds, the salesperson jumps right to what they wanted to say in the first place: “I’d love to tell you about my company and how we help companies like yours improve their results.” The contact, not being aligned, politely rejects the lamentable attempt to get on their calendar and moves on with their day.
The salesperson here is not wrong about their ability to help their prospective client improve their results. Their intentions are good and honorable. But by moving right to pitching the client, they fail to recognize that the client isn’t yet ready to explore potentially better results, since they are a stage or two behind the salesperson.
Misaligned in Discovery
You and your client can easily drift apart in discovery, even when you are both in the same segment of the sales conversation. Those who are relatively new to sales sometimes struggle with discovery because they have a hammer of a solution and they believe that every client’s problem is just another nail. Even the very best salespeople can get ahead of their clients, inappropriately shortening the discovery conversation once they discover the root cause of the client’s challenge and the perfect solution.
It is not your client’s obligation to stay connected to you; it’s your responsibility to make sure they are ready to move forward. Sometimes you’ve already discovered what you need to know, but your contacts are not quite there yet. You don’t increase the speed of either creating or winning the opportunity by going faster—especially when you leave your prospective clients in a cloud of dust and confusion when you take off running. What’s important in staying connected is helping your client with what they need, so you can both move forward together.
Misaligned in Consensus
As far as I can tell, the greatest challenge buyers face in making a decision is the inability to get consensus from decision-makers, decision-shapers, executive leadership, and end-users. Their haphazard approach to getting everyone on board often ends with someone refusing to consent to move forward. An unfavorable opinion from one stakeholder, seemingly regardless of that person’s role or responsibility, can sink the ship.
Here you risk two fatal mistakes. The first is to believe that consensus is unnecessary: that the couple of contacts who are engaged with you are the only stakeholders you will need to convince. The second mistake is to believe the client can gain consensus without you.
Let me explain. Say you meet with your two contacts multiple times over the course of a few weeks. You are completely aligned, so they ask you to present your solution to their team—a group of people who have never spoken with or met you, until you show up to tell them how you are going to change what they do in the future. The reason these meetings end poorly is that you are so far out in front of the contacts who weren’t part of the conversation that they can’t possibly agree to move forward with something they are seeing and hearing for the first time.
Consensus requires that you do your very best to keep your primary contacts and the rest of their team aligned in their conversation, something they won’t think is necessary unless you explain to them why you need to bring other stakeholders in earlier than they might want to.
You are always to blame for the misalignment, even if your clients caused it by asking you to skip some of the conversations they need to have to move forward successfully. It can be difficult to articulate to your champion that you need them to engage in another conversation before you can, say, give them the proposal and pricing they asked for. You may need to be incredibly persuasive and diplomatic to help them do the right thing, but staying aligned is worth the effort.
It is your responsibility to recognize when you and your contact are aligned and when you are creating or allowing a gap to open. You are always better off trying to stay aligned with your contacts that allowing a misalignment to stall or kill your opportunity—and their better results.
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