Rather than merely restating the effectiveness of the product or service, they are reexamining the customer’s changing needs. They are redesigning their pipelines with opportunities that address these new circumstances. Doing so requires considering the factors underpinning changes to the customer’s goals and challenges.
The effectiveness relies on the sales professional’s ability to apply questions in a way that addresses new and more challenging circumstances. The factors represent a repeatable framework that sales professionals can use to revisit the opportunities in their pipeline.
With these questions, sales professionals will be able to:
- Determine how well the opportunity is positioned for a win
- Identify any gaps preventing forward progress
- Target the most important customer information early in the pursuit
These three capabilities all serve one key goal: to focus the right skills on the right sales opportunities so that more of the sales professional’s efforts yield results.
A Structured Approach to Understanding the Customer’s Changed World
Here, we list six factors sales professionals must consider when reassessing the sale with their customers. While these factors serve the sales professional in a normal business setting, they have become even more important in our current environment.
Many sales opportunities arise from a pain point within the customer’s world. This pain can be a missed opportunity, difficulty navigating an industry change, or an emerging competitive threat. While the list of possible challenges is limitless, they all connect to one of three base needs: to earn more money, to save money, or to manage risk. In the changed environment of today, sales professionals need to reconfirm their understanding of the customer’s pain because it has changed for most. Goals like increasing revenue have become goals like preserve revenue.
Without revisiting this topic with customers, the sales professional risks delivering a value proposition that addresses outdated needs and, in some cases, outdated business models. Sales professionals and stakeholders must work from a shared definition of the core challenge.
Here, power refers to the stakeholders who are authorized to make a purchasing decision. Sales professionals need to ensure that they are accessing this group and positioning the solution in a way that resonates with the decision makers. This approach becomes more challenging in a stagnant or shrinking economy in which budgets decrease and purchasing power consolidates within a smaller number of individuals. In this setting, budget authority often moves up the organizational chart. Therefore, sales professionals must seek new relationships with leaders who may not have been part of the original conversation. Moreover, sales professionals may need to overcome objections to a new set of stakeholders seeking to pause or cancel existing deals.
The sales professional may not be able to depend on their existing contact or an established advocate within the customer’s business. These relationships may be less influential to the sale but can also serve as starting point for navigating the new decision hierarchy.
In most cases, the sales professional will need to alter the solution to ensure that it aligns with the customer’s most current challenges. They may need to get creative and rethink the solution components and how they are delivered. A truly aligned solution must also be differentiated and positioned to meet the customer’s long-term needs. For this reason, the sales professional’s role as an ongoing partner and collaborator is important because the customer will likely need to adjust the solution as the nature of their challenge continues to change long after implementation.
The most sophisticated sales professionals do more than track the customer’s current challenges — they also help the customer gain clarity on what those challenges are. In doing so, the sales professional has a valuable opportunity to shape the customer’s thinking. As businesses struggle to find their place in a changed economy, sales professionals have a chance to influence the customer’s strategy.
Customers are focused on value more than ever. Budgets have thinned considerably, and all spending demands a thoroughly vetted ROI justification. As a result, sales professionals will need to place the value of the solution within the context of measurable business factors like expected revenue gain, gross margin, or long-term savings. The value of the solution must exceed that of the status quo and any competing solution the customer is considering.
Anchoring value might require the sales professional to offer case studies that share quantified outcomes. Articulating value is difficult because it challenges the sales professional to convert some soft factors into numerical figures that place a stake in the ground. Over the long term, sales professionals must deliver on a commitment grounded in unambiguous measurement.
Collaboration with the customer must increase as conditions become more dynamic. Customers are continuing to adjust and adapt. They are exploring new avenues for revenue as global business conditions slow. This process is iterative. Therefore, sales professionals need to work in lockstep with stakeholders. They must also ensure that they access all of the stakeholders who are involved in the long-term direction of the business. This group is likely to change and even contract as the business navigates uncertain terrain.
With challenging times and new solutions, customers might need more comfort when evaluating the purchase. In response, sales professionals need to mitigate risk with collaboration focused on how to evaluate a new or changed solution.
Sales professionals must understand the customer’s next steps. At this stage, sales professionals should begin to look at a timeline for reaching the sale. Collaboration is an opportunity for gauging the customer’s sense of urgency and their commitment to engaging in a solution.
6. Compelling Reason to Act
No sale can occur unless the customer has a compelling reason to act. This fact is even more evident as new hesitations surface in a strained business setting. Sales professionals must ask themselves if the customer has a high-priority reason to continue. What may have been compelling at the start of the year may now be low priority. The factors that compel a stakeholder to move forward have become elevated. That is, the solution must yield more results, offer more certainty with regard to outcomes, and deliver outcomes faster.
In some cases, the customer may in fact find compelling reasons to not act. In this situation, the sales professional will need to use an objection resolution model by neutrally acknowledging the objection, asking questions to determine the underlying cause of the objection, then finally positioning the solution in a way that addresses the objection.
A Structured Plan for Preserving Pipeline Opportunities
Each of these factors represents a critical juncture in the sale. Recognizing these junctures is what enables the sales professional to approach the sale with a structured plan that preserves many of the pipeline opportunities that may otherwise be at risk due to the economic conditions of today.
Sales professionals can bring even more structure by assigning a numerical value of 0-5 to reflect the degree to which they have satisfied each of the six areas. A zero indicates no movement, and a five indicates complete success. This scale offers a measurability that is critical for success, as seen by research from Bain indicating that metric-driven initiatives “increase profitability by as much as 25% over sustained periods.” Metric-driven initiatives also bring much-needed stability to an unstable and uncertain world.