Dealing With the Dreaded “No-Decision”

Nearly everyone in sales and marketing is familiar with the moment in the sales cycle when a deal stalls out due to customer inertia — otherwise known as the dreaded “no decision.”

In fact this phenomenon is so common that it is a main focus of the CSO Insights research report, “Proper Prioritization: Optimizing Revenue in 2013.” In the report, CSO Insights managing partners Jim Dickie and Barry Trailer relay a number of interesting findings related to “no decision.” For purposes of the study, only forecasted deals — not pipeline deals — were taken into account. The first finding is that sales teams close only about 46 percent of their forecasted deals. Among deals that were lost, 26 percent were attributed to “no decision.”

Clearly, something is wrong in the world of selling when deals are not lost to competitors but to the customer’s decision to not make a purchase. While this seems bleak, I would actually argue that the “no decision” described In the CSO Insights study is a step up from the passive “no decision” where the customer doesn’t choose to not move forward, but instead never makes a decision.  In the words of Rush, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”  This often occurs when the customer cannot financially justify the solution and just keeps asking for more information.

Even so, losing 26 percent of deals to “no decision” is nothing to celebrate. However, as the CSO Insights report mentions, when you know you’re losing deals to customer inertia, you can formulate a plan to mitigate that impact on you. One of the solutions is better segmentation and data analysis to determine which among your prospects are most likely to lead to closed deals, and simply prioritize those opportunities over all others.

In the end, losing a deal is frustrating. But the reason you lost the sale is informative and can be used to build a framework for future success.  Even more important though is learning to walk away from deals that will get stuck in the passive “no decision” cycle.

What’s the biggest reason you lose forecasted deals? Is “no decision” a major problem for your company? How do you get past a “no-decision” scenario?  Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Overcoming Objections in a Complex Sales Cycle

Learning how to overcome objections is an essential selling skill. It also takes time and experience. This is particularly true for sales teams with a long and complex sales cycle.

With that in mind, here are links to four of our most popular blog posts related to overcoming different kinds of customer objections during a complex sales cycle.

Make labor savings believable with customers

Prevent objections in the first place

Persuading the CFO

What to do customer asks for a revised report/business case

What’s the biggest objection you hear from customers, and what is your response? 

Three Qualities That Will Win a Buyer’s Business

Why does one sales team win a customer’s business, while another sales team finishes in second place? According to research announced in this blog post, New Sales Research: What Sales Winners Do Differently, three simple selling behaviors separate winning sales teams from their competition.

The findings of the study, published by RAIN Group, are based on an analysis of more than 700 B2B purchases from buyers representing $3.1 billion in annual purchases. Let’s look at the top three factors that buyers attributed to sales teams that won the buyer’s business:

  1. Educated me with new ideas or perspectives,
  2. Collaborated with me,
  3. Persuaded me we would achieve results.

Now let’s look at these same factors and see how buyers ranked second-place finishers in their ability to demonstrate these attributes:

  1. Educated me with new ideas or perspectives – 42nd place (dead last),
  2. Collaborated with me – 26th place,
  3. Persuaded me we would achieve results – 41st place.

Obviously the second-place sales teams were not trying to lose the deals on purpose. I think the likely problem is their failure to adapt to changing buyer behavior. For the second-place teams, unless they recognize what has changed (see the top three factors above), their only chance for success is if the winner is not in the deal and they are only competing against the third-and fourth-place vendors.

What I found encouraging was the behavior of sales winners. The three main verbs from their success factors (educate, collaborate, and persuade) are the building blocks of the approach that I advocate (aka, ROI-based selling). The keys are for salespeople to help prospects:

  1. Better see the magnitude of their problems,
  2. More clearly imagine how things could be better,
  3. Work with them to project measurable results, and
  4. Deliver a business case to overcome internal objections.

There are different types of tools that can help salespeople accomplish each of these four points and communicate value at different stages of the sales cycle. Regardless which tool you use, the fundamental approach remains the same: educate, collaborate, persuade. By shifting their focus to what buyers really want, I believe that second-place finishers can become sales winners.

Do you use tools that help you educate, collaborate, and persuade buyers? Do you agree these are key selling behaviors to win with buyers today? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Thoughts on Summer Slowdowns for B2B Sellers and Marketers

For some B2B sellers and marketers, the summer slump is just a myth. But no matter what the season, all of us experience a slowdown every now and again. Here are some smart tips we’ve come across on the subject of beating a sales or marketing slowdown (summertime or otherwise) in the B2B space.

“Companies [can] try a variety of creative programs to try to light a fire and get things moving. ON24 uses a three-month contest called the VAULT. Every time reps sell a deal of a certain size, or the Lead Gen team sets a meeting within a target account, they earn a code for the VAULT.  At the end of August, four codes will open a vault and earn an incredible prize: Rolex, Macbook with iPod, big screen with surround sound, etc.” Read more at http://www.yesware.com/blog/2013/07/15/will-summer-heat-roast-your-sales-teams-productivity/

“Give your salespeople spontaneous days off when they’ve earned them. Even if you do this only on very rare occasions, it’s a gesture that packs a big wallop.  If your team is really being productive let them know it.  Unexpected 4 day weekends can pay huge dividends.” Read more at http://blog.saleskatz.com/bid/273819/Avoiding-Summer-Sales-Slowdown 

“There’s actually a lot that can be accomplished during slow periods, especially when it comes to your content marketing strategy … Connect with some rockstars … if there’s someone in a related industry who’s rocking their content marketing — maybe they have a great newsletter, maybe they have great videos or podcasts — this is a great time to touch base with them and say, ‘Hey, would you mind spending 30 minutes on the phone? I would love to get your ideas and see if I can benefit from your wisdom.’ I find most people are very, very open to things like that.” Listen to the podcast (skip to 7:00 minute mark to hear the 10 tips.)

“Summer usually slow? Prospect twice as much late spring. Winter slow? Prospect three times as much as usual in late Fall. It might take two or three times as much, during a slow season, to reach the same amount of prospects but by preparing in advance you can still set appointments and close business.” Read more at http://thesalesjournal.net/sales-blog/featured-contributors/47-beating-a-seasonal-slump

“Use summer to work with beta testers – take this off time to dig deeper to find out what your customers want in your product.” Read more at http://www.business2community.com/salesmanagement/how-to-deal-with-summer-sales-slow-down-0557321#JdzZ0Av6UpezHd8I.99

Do you have a slow season? How do you avoid the slump? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Discussion with a Sales Leader: The Transformation of the SunGard Sales Force

Last week I spoke with Ken Powell, who’s been leading a sales transformation at SunGard in his role as VP of Global Sales Enablement. (He was also a speaker this week at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Boston.)

He joined SunGard just 15 months ago, but his prior experience leading a sales transformation in his previous role at ADP helped him hit the ground running. Already he’s taken many steps to improve sales effectiveness. These have included:

  • equipping the sales team with mobile devices (specifically, Windows 8 tablets, which have “exceeded” his expectations and are “more business friendly” than the iPad);
  • adopting various Sales 2.0 applications (including Xactly, OneSource, LinkedIn, and SAVO, to name just a few);
  • simplifying messaging.

As a company, SunGard is in an interesting spot right now. Formed originally through acquisitions starting in the 1980′s, its primary revenue driver is currently software licensing, although they also have a large consulting organization. Ken said one of their aims is to make the consulting aspect a competitive differentiator.

To that end, Ken has already done quite a bit of work with his team to refine the message his teams send to the market. Whether his salespeople are face-to-face with customers or interacting online, Ken has made it clear that they must connect the capabilities of SunGard solutions and capabilities to business outcomes. Given this initiative, it didn’t surprise me to learn that one of the next steps for Ken and his team is to incorporate value-based selling tools (and TCO tools in particular) into the selling process. In his words, proof of value is “a natural course of a conversation that professional salespeople need to have today when they’re interacting with customers, because it’s an expectation.”

Since I’m in the business of creating ROI tools, Ken asked what I tell clients about overcoming the fairly typical objection from customers about “fictitious numbers.” As we all know, numbers can be arranged in ways that will support almost any kind of story (as Mark Twain said “There are three types of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics.”) As a result, many customers look at numbers supplied by salespeople with a very skeptical eye.

I said that, in my mind, a major benefit of using a value calculator (or other tools) as part of the sales process is transparency. Whenever we train salespeople on how to leverage ROI tools, we advocate what we call a “peel-the-onion” approach. Salespeople should rely on the default calculations of an ROI tool to generate an initial report. But the next step shouldn’t be to simply throw the report over the fence and let the customer evaluate it alone. A much more effective route is to say, “We have this tool to evaluate your business case and decide whether or not this solution makes sense for you. Let’s sit down to discuss the numbers together.” After that, you answer questions and adjust numbers accordingly as you go.

With a peel-the-onion strategy, the customer sees the numbers evolve and thus becomes invested in the final calculation. For example, you might change the default analysis from three years to five years on the spot. Or, if the customer pushes back on a point, you have options. If the customer says, “Ok, I’ve seen your case study and how you’ve done this with other customers, but I personally don’t think you’ll ever get a two percent reduction in labor for us.” At that point you can ask the customer what he or she feels is realistic. If it’s one percent, you plug in the numbers for a one percent reduction in labor and show them what that scenario looks like.

The point is to start the conversation with numbers. Numbers will get the customer engaged. Only then can you talk about features and functions and how you’ll be able to support those numbers with your capabilities.

Great sales leaders must make hundreds of choices that will influence whether or not their sales teams succeed. This is particularly true for sales leaders that undertake a sales transformation, which by definition involves countless changes that all tie back to a unifying business strategy. It’s an interesting journey for any sales leader and I look forward to seeing what evolves at SunGard.

Do you have a sales process that supports a business case? What do you say when customers show skepticism about numbers? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Don’t Overcome Prospect Objections, Prevent Them

Every sales rep dreads hearing prospect objections. From “Your price is too high,” to “Call me again in three months when I get my budget back,” it can sometimes seem like all prospects and prospects want to do is find reasons not to buy from you.

This is a frustrating situation for reps, especially when they feel — as the best do — that their product or solution could actually help the prospect and improve his or her business. So what’s the disconnect? If your offering can actually make life easier for this prospect, why is she spending so much time finding reasons to reject it?

I believe this dynamic happens when salespeople jump to a demo of their solution at the wrong time in the sales cycle. Most sales reps want to start the sales process by showing a demo and talking about product features. From there, they try to convince the prospect that their solution is the best.

In my view, salespeople need to start instead by identifying a problem the prospect has, and then defining how that problem is impacting their business including how much it is costing their company. Conceptually, this is a very simple thing to do. First, define what the problem is. Then, quantify how much the problem is costing the prospect. For example, the problem could be lost cross-sell opportunities, which could  represent $100,000 a month in lost opportunity. In other words, you’re making a business case to justify the prospect’s investment in your solution (which, obviously, will help the prospect solve the problem and increase their sales by $100,000 a month).

Why is it important to center the sales conversation on the business case instead of your solution’s features? Because a focus on features distracts prospects from their problems and pain points. When you start with the demo and features, you’ll get responses like, “Can we make this button blue instead of red?” This isn’t the kind of question that’s going to advance the sale, because there’s no focus on value. The value is not whether the button should be blue or red; the value is how your product can solve a real business problem for your prospect and result in real economic impact.

When prospects watch a demo, they’re on the lookout for why your product or solution won’t work. Even if your product could actually help them, they’re not ready to hear that yet. That’s because you haven’t walked them through the problem or pain point, which means they have no emotional nor financial attachment to solving that problem. However, if you start by identifying the problem and quantifying it, you’ve set yourself up to say, “What if we could solve that and save you half a million dollars? Is this worth spending more time to discuss?” If you’ve taken the time to lay this groundwork before showing the demo, they’ll have a different reaction when they see the demo. They’ll be thinking, “How can this solution help alleviate my pain?” rather than, “Why should I not purchase this solution?” It is a transformation in the mindset of the prospect.

Once the prospect is invested emotionally and economically, then you’re essentially preempting objections. When we work with clients to create ROI calculators, we frequently talk about the importance of getting the prospect to “own the numbers.” Put another way, the prospect has to understand how much the problem is costing his or her business. This is why an ROI calculator is an invaluable tool when it comes to building a strong business case. By the time you’re discussing how much your solution will cost, you’re in no danger of getting stuck in a debate about whether your particular features or benefits are “worth” a certain amount. Instead, the conversation is about how much the investment in your solution will offset the prospect’s problem.

In short, the best way to overcome prospect objections is to prevent them in the first place.

Have you ever used a business case to prevent prospect objections? How well did it work? Share your thoughts in the comments section.