A couple of years ago, we created a lead for a sales rep who lived in Pennsylvania. Our client sold a relatively high-priced software solution and generating quality opportunities for this company’s highly compensated sales force took a lot of work. For this client we did warm transfers of leads, and, before we could even introduce the prospect to the sales rep, the sales rep said, “Some telemarketing company we use in Atlanta said you were interested in our solutions – what are you looking to buy?” As a side note, we actually recorded that call, and that sales rep did not last the day with his employer.
I wish this was an isolated incident. But it is not.
The short version of the error reps are making is relatively straightforward: when they do engage with qualified prospects, they are skipping behavioral precursors in the sales cycle and moving too quickly to attempt to close deals.
Finally engaged and eager to move toward closed deal status, the sales rep assumes the next best action is to try to get prospect buy-in on his or her company’s solution. Unfortunately, this can mean the rep moves to a full-court-press overload of features, benefits, value proposition and competitive differentiators. Lost in this approach is the critical importance of the rep backing up to revisit, confirm and progress through five behavioral stages to ensure that the prospect is consciously buying into each step in the process.
Years ago I worked for a guy who had a genius for sales. He boiled everything down into processes that I remember today as clearly as when I learned them twenty years ago. His version of the sales process is as accurate today as it was then.
The five steps of the sales cycle
There are a number of very good sales training programs that work well with consistent application and follow up, and many address the steps in the sales cycle in varying ways and depth. Following are five steps that take multiple viewpoints and net them down into a flow of required outcomes. In some companies, these outcomes are all driven directly by sales. In some companies, there are two and even three layers responsible for moving prospects through the steps (these layers would include lead generation specialists, nurture specialists and, of course, field sales reps).
- Find the pain
The first step requires engaging with a qualified decision maker or decision influencer to confirm authority and identify actionable business pain. Discussions highlight the chasm between where they are now and where they want to be and include cause analysis.
- Get agreement there is pain
Getting agreement on pain includes identifying the motivations behind why a prospect wants to change. The three of the most common motivators are the fear of loss in the current situation, the risk of deterioration of the current situation or an opportunity to improve the current situation. Examples of impact areas for these motivators include revenue, costs, productivity and competitive advantage.
- Agree to do something about the pain
Movement stalls and the status quo wins if there is no agreement to do something about the pain—it must have sufficient strength and urgency attached (for example, what is sometimes called a “compelling event”) to drive forward motion.
- Agree to a generic solution
After the pain has been prioritized and commitment to action confirmed, the conversation moves to an exploration of the right alternatives in the form of a generic or category solution. This stage includes a review of specific solution requirements and how they would be successfully addressed by a generic solution.
- Agree to a customized solution
Only after the preceding four steps have been successfully addressed can the discussion shift to a focus on your offering as a customized or branded solution. The strength of your understanding of the prospect’s pain and requirements finally supports a full and detailed presentation of your solution’s value, competitive differentiators, features and benefits.
Too often, reps default to step five in this sequence. They erroneously believe that a single event—quickly closing a deal—is the priority, and they fail to see a new engagement inside the context of building a relationship and going through a multi-step process.
Subtleties are important, and they impact the overall success of the full spectrum of stages. No matter when a rep receives a lead, it is critically important to go back to stage one and confirm the prospect’s authority, pain and commitment to do something about that pain. This sequential revisiting of each stage by the rep obtains required prospect buy-in at each step.
I’d also like to make a note about lead handling when an opportunity is delivered as a marketing qualified lead (MQL) by a dedicated group inside the organization or an outsourced prospect development company. While the definition of a lead would be determined by the service level agreement (SLA) worked out between marketing and sales, a dedicated lead qualification team typically turns over an MQL after step three so that the sales rep ideally works with the prospect to determine what a generic solution looks like. Again, the rep would revisit steps one, two and three to confirm the prospect has the right authority, pain and commitment to action.
When all five behavioral stages are not addressed sequentially, reps risk being seen by qualified prospects as pushing for a too-quick close. And they risk losing deals because they have not confirmed progressive buy-in. When all stages are correctly revisited, prospects sense a rep’s professionalism in presenting the right, comprehensive solution only after their needs and situation are fully understood.
The importance of reps always starting in the right place—the beginning—cannot be overstated.