3 Steps Business Developers Can Take When Prospects 'Need to Think About' BuyingBy Jeff Thull
On a list of the "Top 10 Things Business Developers Don't Want to Hear from Prospects," few rank as high as, "We'll need some time to think about it." For the business developer, this phrase signals a host of potential barriers to winning a deal: additional meetings, more people getting involved, requests for further detail and information, which prompt further questions, and more.
These frustrating and costly delays lengthen the sales cycle, put the sale at risk, permit competitors to gain a foothold, increase direct sales expenses, and deprive other opportunities of needed attention.
Given these costs, why does this continue to happen? Why do prospects seem to deliberately drag out their decisions? After all, it appears more logical for a buyer to quickly solve their problem as soon as a good solution is found.
The answer, in truth, is that prospects are rarely to blame for delayed decisions. Instead, it is the business developers themselves who contribute the most to the delays they find so frustrating.
Paradoxically, their eagerness to move the sale along puts them into the trap of prematurely presenting solutions. Too often prospects don't clearly recognize they have a problem. And, when they do, they may not fully realize its financial impact.
While clients give a lot of reasons for delaying a decision or not buying – price, feasibility issues, lack of internal alignment and so on – in reality there are only two:
- They don't believe they have a problem compelling enough to take action.
- They understand the problem exists, but don't believe the proposed solution will solve it.
These reasons both indicate a prospect's uncertainty and lack of clarity. To take this on and shorten the sales cycle, sales professionals need to:
- Guide their prospects to clearly understand their problem or realize it actually exists.
- Help them grasp the financial impact on their business if they don't invest in solving it.
- Quickly move on to a quality candidate, one with a relevant and costly business problem to resolve, if the current prospect understands their situation yet believes the cost of their problem is not severe enough to address.
To do those things, the sales professional must tackle three key challenges.
Challenge #1: A Poor Decision Process
Clients often lack a decision process for complex purchases. A business developer's presentation thus often feeds good information into a bad decision process, resulting in confusion and random and unpredictable decisions. Likewise, a doctor could present the details and benefits of angioplasty to a patient who isn't aware he suffers from any symptoms or health issues that would require such a procedure.
In contrast, the business developer could lead a prospect through a logical process of identifying symptoms – indicators of a problem in their business – and reach an agreed upon conclusion based on solid diagnosis of that problem.
A particular solution will then more clearly demonstrate why the investment is worth it. Again, this is analogous to a doctor leading the patient through a high-quality diagnostic process that reveals symptoms the patient is experiencing and measures those symptoms to see if they're serious enough to warrant the surgical solution.
Challenge #2: The Pain of Change
Sales professionals often overlook the fact that a decision to buy is a decision to change, and change can be painful. All the potential disruption, risk, and direct switching costs frequently cause prospects to delay or put off buying a service, and avoid change. Sales professionals need to remember this barrier and address the change process in a straightforward way.
If the solution requires significant changes, business developers must discuss and address them. Some changes will have positive effects and support the decision to buy. Other may have negative implications and offer a reason to hesitate. Regardless, clarifying these effects helps both parties understand the full context and what issues need to be managed.
Challenge #3: Measuring Value
Value, left undefined, can be a fuzzy concept. Prospects want to confirm they are receiving value, but may not have good methods for defining it, or quantifying it. Business developers can clarify and add credibility to their service's value by offering ways for prospects to measure its impact.
Until that happens, prospects can't easily predict what value they will receive for their purchase. And, post-sale, prospects won't be able to recognize the value once it is delivered.
Many business developers acknowledge the upside to metrics, but point to the difficulty of putting a dollar amount on a solution's impact. Hard or not, if something happens in a business, it can be measured. If the business developer has difficulty measuring an impact, the prospect will have an even harder time doing it.
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Sales professionals can dramatically cut the length of a sales cycle and win more business by:
- Creating a quality decision process prospects to evaluate the seller's service
- Addressing the challenges posed by change
- Offering ways to measure the service's value
Do that, and seldom will you hear, "I'll have to think about it." Instead, you'll hear, "How soon can we get started?"
Jeff Thull, President and CEO of Prime Resource Group, is a leading-edge strategist and valued advisor for executive teams of major companies worldwide. Thull is also author of best selling books, Mastering the Complex Sale and The Prime Solution. You can email Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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