44 Ways to Stay Connected and Be Remembered!
* required field

44 Ways to Stay Connected and Be Remembered!

Profitable follow-up strategies to make your networking work. BONUS: Free subscription to NT News. We'll never sell or share your email.

Claim Your Free Guide

Each month Networking Today News features networking and business articles to help you connect with professionals, build relationships & grow your business.


Networking Article from Networking Today Canada, Nat'l

Recent Articles from Cities Across Canada

Nine Strategies to Accelerate the Sales Process

How long is your sales cycle? How many months does it take to go from first meeting to a paid engagement? Your answer probably will be, "It depends!" But whatever your answer, you no doubt wish that your sales process would move more quickly.


Since the 2008 recession, many of my clients report that, especially when dealing with larger companies, sales cycles have lengthened. A medium-size project or engagement might now require a six to nine month sales cycle. A large project or deal, e.g., a major outsourcing contract, could take a year or more to conclude. This is especially true if you have been involved at the very front end and collaboratively worked with your client to develop or shape the initiative.


In contrast, reactive projects, where you are reacting to a client request (perhaps from procurement) and are being pulled in at the very END of the client planning process, can sometimes be sold very quickly. If it's a relationship client who trusts you and just calls you up and says, "Let's get going," that's very positive. But if you're constantly reacting to small, last-minute requests where you have no ability to shape the scope of the solution, that's not so good. That kind of "short" sales cycle can actually sabotage your business.


You can accelerate the sales process. But it's easier to do if you start with the right kinds of sales opportunities to begin with. If you've already submitted a proposal and are waiting to hear from the client, there's not a lot I can do to help you except sympathize and light a candle.


Here are nine strategies that will help shorten your sales cycle.


1. Find the Red Issue. There's nothing like a "burning platform" to hasten a sale. What's a Red Issue? It's an issue meets most of the following criteria:

  • There's a high cost to not acting
  • There a high ROI for acting
  • It's getting in the way of achieving key strategic goals
  • It's a priority for the CEO and top leadership of the organization
  • It's the top priority for the buyer you are dealing with, and he/she is the decision maker and has adequate budget
  • It's a tough challenge that has resisted previous improvement efforts

You should intentionally seek out mission-critical client problems and opportunities. This means ignoring lesser challenges. Sometimes, you can take a lesser challenge that lacks urgency and reframe it into a Red Issue that warrants urgent investment by the client.
But remember, a lion cannot live on a diet of mice alone. He or she just can't catch enough of them.


Sometimes I will ask a client, "Is this issue we are discussing one of your absolute top two or three priorities? If it isn't, I then ask: "What are your top two or three?"


Your business won't grow if you don't say "No."


2. Build a Relationship First. If you don't have a trusted relationship with the decision maker, of course the sales cycle is going to get stretched out. Conversely, the sales cycle can last only 20 minutes if the person across the table knows you, trusts you, and isn't putting the work out to bid through procurement.


The best business developers are proactively building a broad network within existing clients, and meeting regularly with high potential prospects.


How do you build a trusted relationship before the sale even begins? By developing rapport, understanding the client's agenda, and then adding value to that agenda by sharing ideas, points of view, best practices, and potential solutions on a regular basis.


3. Work with Real Buyers. How many times have you heard this: "Thanks very much. Now I need to discuss this with my boss. It's her decision." Many people who call you are "feasibility buyers." They can say no but they cannot say yes.


If you're not working directly with the person who will make the decision to hire you, you will often find the sales cycle is long and uncertain. You should be obsessive about getting to and working with the executive decision maker—the real buyer. If that's not possible, you might consider opting out.


If you're stuck, try to build trust with the mid-level client you're working with, and then craft a persuasive argument as to why you need to meet with the decision maker. Suggest it be a collaborative meeting and that you go together. In a procurement-led competitive bid, this may be difficult to do. That's why Strategy Two is so important. If you don't have relationships, you're going to spend your life filling out RFP forms—with a one in five chance of winning.


4. Go Higher in the Organization. When I am working with a CEO or C-Suite executive, it's remarkable how short the sales cycle can be. If a senior executive makes the decision to work with you on an important challenge (Strategy One), things can happen very, very quickly.


But, if the initiative is entirely driven at middle management levels, it can get bogged down forever. Now, it depends of course on the budgetary authority of the middle manager. If you have a trusted relationship with the middle manager, there is a Red Issue they are grappling with, and they can make the buying decision, great! In some large corporations, a director could have a very large budget. But often, middle managers have limited budgets (that are frequently reallocated by their bosses!) and they tend to be risk averse. Which means getting "everybody" on board before making a decision. And getting everyone on board, as you know, takes a long time.


5. Know Their Decision Process. If you don't know how the client is going to make a decision, you are like an airplane pilot flying with no radar and no maps. What is their timeframe? What do they need to learn before they make a decision? Who will be involved and what are their roles? What are the selection criteria? What would they like to learn about you before they can decide?


You can and should ask clients these questions. Often, you'll get answers. And then you can develop a strategy and act.


6. Improve Your Benefits Case and Align it with Strategy  Years ago, there was a large consulting firm that produced what they called the "cost case" for each proposal they submitted. How times have changed. Today, you need strong value metrics to support your fees. Your goal is to portray hiring you as an investment opportunity, not a cost.


It's part art and part science to create a benefits or investment case. You need to explore direct cost savings or revenue increases, productivity improvements, operational efficiencies, and so on. You also need to quantify indirect benefits such as improved customer satisfaction or reduced time-to-market. Intangible benefits should be a part of your value case as well: Improvements in decision making, reduced risk, improved employee collaboration, etc.


Finally, you must convincingly show how your work will support higher-level strategic goals. This ties your benefits case to a much large set of impacts. It's the difference between telling a parent that their private school fees will help provide a solid education for their child versus talking about how your school will form the basis for a lifetime pattern of success at work and at home.


7. Align the stakeholders. Most major contracts or engagements today involve multiple stakeholders. The sales process gets slowed down or even paralyzed because these stakeholders may not fully agree on the design and scope of the proposed effort.


Think of the US Congress trying to enact a new tax reform bill—the diversity of positions held by different senators and congressmen will draw out the process and make it a near-impossible task (the last major tax reform was 1986!).


You need to approach this challenge head on and be an advisor to your client on how to align stakeholders. Who are they? Where do they stand on the project? What are their individual "wins" that they seek? You can even offer to be a catalyst for gaining consensus, perhaps running a short workshop with the key stakeholders to help reconcile their different views.


8. Make the Emotional Case. Modern neuroscience tells us that emotions figure very, very heavily in making decisions—even when they are based on a so-called "rational" framework (e.g., a competitive bid scorecard).


The emotional/personal aspect of your sales conversations, and your ultimate proposal, should address the emotional case for action—and for choosing you. Emotions, not facts, are what enthusiastically stir people to action.


How do you make the "emotional" case? Use metaphors and stories. A client once wanted to hire my old firm, along with three or four others, to all work on different aspects of the same project. I looked at him and said, "That's what I call the United Nations approach to solving important problems. And we all know how successful that has been. Most of my clients have had greater success working with a single provider who becomes a trusted collaborator working on shared goals." We got the deal—100% of it.


The emotional case must appeal to the positive—the dreams, aspirations, and goals of the individuals clients you're working with—and to the negative—the risks, concerns, and anxieties they perceive.


9. Gain Agreement Before Submitting a Proposal. This is a very simple technique that requires slightly more time upfront but which can then shave weeks or months off the sales cycle.


Never submit a written proposal without first getting "conceptual agreement" from the client. The proposal should document what the client has already enthusiastically agreed to. Simply call the client and say, "Before writing this up, I want to walk you through the outline of our proposal and get your input. That way the final document will closely reflect the approach that makes the most sense for you."


You may think you're moving quickly if you immediately submit a proposal. But more likely, you will turn in something that's not quite what the client wants and/or, their thinking will have evolved and what you send them won't reflect their latest ideas.


If you're in the middle of a procurement-led sales process that puts lots of constraints on who you can talk to and what you say in your proposal, you may feel that these strategies won't help very much. But they will—if you follow strategies 1-4 in the first place and therefore avoid the suffocating straight-jacket of competitive bids led by low-level procurement managers.


These strategies do work, and they'll help you conclude your sale in the least possible time.


Andrew Sobel helps companies and individuals build clients for life. He is the most widely published author in the world on the topic of business relationships, and his bestselling books include Power Questions, All for One, Making Rain, and Clients for Life. His clients include many of the world's leading companies such as Citigroup, Hess, Ernst & Young, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cognizant, Deloitte, Experian, Lloyds Banking Group, Bain & Company, and many others. Andrew's articles and work have appeared in publications such as the New York Times, USA Today, strategy+business, and the Harvard Business Review. He spent 15 years at Gemini Consulting where he was a Senior Vice President and Country Chief Executive Officer, and for the last 15 years he has led his own consulting firm, Andrew Sobel Advisors. www.andrewsobel.com



Search Articles

 in Titles
 in Content
 by Author

More Articles

June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
February 2001
January 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000
September 2000
May 2000
November 1999
October 1999
August 1999
May 1999
April 1999
March 1999

 









VOW©1998-2017 - Networking Today Franchise | Privacy Policy
A Vantage One Writing Project