In the modern era of buyer centric markets, it’s still disappointing that very few B2B sales professionals truly understand their B2B prospects decision process for an active opportunity. Because of this it impacts their ability to effectively qualify, forecast and win deals. It’s one of the reasons why around 50% of deals forecasted last year didn’t happen. Not just for the forecasting sales person but for anybody, the prospects did nothing.
The buying process in complex sales is rarely fixed in stone. It’s something that evolves over time, especially in longer sales cycles. Often the buying team is not fully organised, coordinated or aligned (which contributes to deals never landing for anyone). Believe it or not this is an opportunity for sales professionals to help and add value.
Picture this, and be honest with yourself if you’ve done or seen this on a regular basis. You’ve got a new prospect, almost cause for celebration in some cases. It’s a platform for you to do your stuff, to impress them with your proposition, market and maybe even business knowledge. The most common questions asked by the vast majority in the sales industry, ‘when will you make your decision’? In many cases you’ll get an indicative month or occasionally a day of a month by which they plan to make a decision. Boom, that’s one for the forecast. Maybe with a few weeks or so of padding for safety so that management doesn’t put too much pressure on.
What’s wrong with that you ask? Well simply put, it’s madness. The sales person has focused on one stage of what will be many that precede it.
There are all sorts of milestones and approvals that need to be completed before a decision can ever be made. The process can be compared to trying to complete military selection, not just regular army selection, oh no, we’re talking Special Forces.
There are so many points of failure along the way that only the select few will reach the end. Focusing on just the decision date is the same as just focusing on the ‘Passing Out Parade’ with all of its glamour and pomp. The only way you will get to the end successfully is by understanding what needs to happen and what you need to do before you get there. Plus a huge amount of commitment along the way.
In any company there are always lots of ideas and projects seeking funding. But there isn’t enough budget to fund them all, so business cases have to be justified and priorities agreed. Sometimes these projects can be quite advanced before budget is pulled and priority lowered. My point is that lots of things can happen to alter an expected date.
Whenever you discuss the intended decision date make sure you understand what needs to happen before that can be achieved. One way of doing that is to categorise a buying process into stages and then build the framework from there. I like to use Definition, Evaluation, Approve and Contract, I know there are lots of other fancy descriptions for the buying stages but these work for me and give me a simpler understanding of the prospects position.
Definition – This is self-explanatory. How will they define and agree their final requirements, who’s involved and who does what?
Evaluation – Everything from bid submission to presentations / demonstrations and even Proof of Concepts. Once again who and what?
Approval – Signs off, you guessed it, who and what?
Contract – Ditto
Avoid a Spanish Inquisition
One of the biggest challenges is understanding who’s involved in the process.
Here’s a sample of the different sorts of questions that you could ask different buyer team members at different stages. This will help you to qualify the opportunity and build up an understanding of the buyer team structure and decision-making process.
A word of warning, I’m not suggesting some form of ‘Spanish Inquisition’ to gather this information. Ask the questions as part of natural business conversations with the different members of the B2B buyer team. Remember a buying process is often a moving target, so things will change.
- How do you determine which projects are ultimately staffed and funded?
- How does this project rank compared to other projects under consideration?
- How would you fund this project and how will you justify this investment?
- What is the process for getting financial approval for this project and what needs to happen for the finds to be released?
- What is your process for determining which solution is the best fit for you?
- Who would be involved in the evaluation and selection process?
- What are the milestones for the evaluation and selection?
- Which other departments, units or senior managers need to be on board?
- Which other people or departments will need to approve the solution of choice?
- Who would have to approve the staffing and implementation plan?
- What is the process for getting the final approval for a project like this one?
- Who provides the final approval for an investment like this?
- What is involved in getting a contract approved by your legal department?
- Who will have to approve the terms and conditions of contract?
- Will you need to go to your parent company for approval?
So, what did I mean previously when I stated the typical B2B decision process is an opportunity for the sales professional?
Well, rarely does a process run smoothly, for many buyer team members involved in the process it can be as much of a learning curve as it is for the sales people.
Look beyond the close date and build up a picture of what happens before that can be finalised. By understanding the required process, you can and take the necessary steps at each stage with the relevant people to add value and enhance your position.
Check out our blog on What’s the real cost when a sales person leaves?