A recent conversation with my nephew reminded me how a little guidance can go a long way when tackling something for the first time.
I was telling my nephew, a newly licensed driver, about my first experience piloting my ’68 Buick into the big city. The big city in this case is Boston, a labyrinthine tangle of one-way streets masquerading as a modern metropolis. Throw in aggressive drivers with a pathological penchant for double parking and you’re courting disaster the second your front bumper crosses into the city limits.
As I nosed my Buick into the city for the first time all those years ago, everything fell apart…fast. Nothing looked familiar. It seemed like the entire city was on my rear bumper, and…darn, that was my turn.
I needed a guide.
I was thinking of that fateful first foray into Boston yesterday as I was plotting the next step in dealing with a prospect. The prospect is highly qualified – they have sales improvement as a stated priority for the year ahead and see the value in working with us. However, they’ve never bought anything like this before, and because of their inexperience with the buying process, things are slowing to a crawl.
They need a guide.
Sales can go south because otherwise good salespeople assume prospects know how to buy. But buyers don’t want to take a wrong turn down a one-way street. So they stall, drive around the block, and think it over…and then over again. You may think, “They will eventually get to me,” but time kills sales and before you know it you’re watching their taillights on the horizon.
When dealing with inexperienced buyers, there’s great uncertainty and indecision, creating stops and starts in the sales process. You can help accelerate the deal by guiding the prospect through the buying process. Be prescriptive and follow this three step approach:
Map out the process
With the prospect, create a step-by-step timeline for the buying process and a plan for what implementation or delivery might look like. Share the plan with your prospect so you’re both on the same page. Take time to walk them through the plan in detail, solicit feedback, refine, and gain a shared commitment to following this process. Working with the prospect like this to spell out who does what, and when it all happens, raises the comfort level of an inexperienced buyer.
Leave every meeting with a specific and scheduled next step
Having a timeline is a great first step, but you have to execute and keep the deal moving. Take the lead, plan, and know where you want to take each interaction. Before every meeting have a specific next step in mind. As the meeting comes to an end, schedule a time for that next step on the spot. Only the unprepared waste valuable time chasing prospects by email and phone.
Be patient and persistent
Uncertainty festers if you press too hard or attempt to close too soon. It’s a delicate balance between keeping things moving forward and moving too fast. In situations like this, realize that the deal is never going to move as fast as you want it to move, so don’t force things. The goal is steady and consistent progress.
This does not give you license to be passive. Progress means applying appropriate pressure to keep the deal moving forward. Too many deals move laterally, falling into a circular pattern of having the same conversation over and over again, killing momentum, and risking slow death. Stay with your plan; this is what you mutually agreed to with the prospect. Set expectations for each conversation and move patiently towards commitment.
Lastly, a word of caution: don’t assume that your issue is buyer inexperience. It might be you, your approach, your products or services, your price, or a whole host of other things. Make sure you have properly qualified the prospect, and that you have clearly articulated the value of your offering. Confirm that the indecision isn’t happening due to indifference.
Once assured that the indecision you are facing is due to the inexperience of the buyer, don’t be afraid to provide direction and be prescriptive in the sales process. Be the guide your prospect needs.
Keep these principles in mind and, with the right approach, delivered well, you will be closing more deals in less time.