LinkedIn  Twitter  YouTube  Facebook

Engaging Prospects, Growing Clients: Get the Express Pass to Strategic Initiatives

Immediately after meeting a prospect (please refer to the previous two installments of this column), we get down to business. But why do we ever lose a sale if we have the best offering and are competitive on price?

We reached out to thousands of salespeople and studied top performers to answer this question. What we found was the best salespeople do something very different than the status quo: Instead of diving into product-related benefits, they discover how their leadership and company can fit in with the prospect's larger business agenda. And consequently, they win.

Realizing a positive ROI almost always requires a new client to improve more departments and initiatives than what we're anxious to propose. Howard Stevens, CEO of the HR Chally Group, shared this advice with me: "If there is one thing, after everything we've learned over literally decades of researching salespeople, it's that most salespeople don't start the process from a strategic enough point of view."

Our own team found 82 percent of businesspeople (our prospects) need to understand how they contribute to the success of their organization, or else they don't engage whole-heartedly.

In our work, we have distilled some best practices around learning organizational needs, creating a strategy we call "get the express pass." It is a formal discovery of five key needs in any organization, be it a family or a Fortune 500 company.

So what do we mean by get the express pass? Well, you've probably been to a theme park and waited in long, hot lines…only to see a group with an express pass walk right in to the front of the line.

"Why do they get to do that?" ask all of the other frustrated people in line. Answer: because they found the right information from the right people, came early, and invested in the pass.

We've all experienced something similar when we've lost a sale. We wait in the RFP or returned call line with a host of other vendors outside. And someone with the inside scoop from an executive about some hot, strategic initiative slips past the line and gets the business. It's like they have an express pass of their own.

It's time for us to get this express pass, and preempt the competition before they even knock on the prospect's door. Doing so requires discovering strategic needs, initiatives, and metrics.

In our discovery meeting, we'll use Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a memory aid. This is powerful because an organization is a group of individuals with self-actualization, esteem, belonging, security, and physical needs. If we can find overlap in needs, we can get the sale.

For example, consider self-actualization. Does a company really have a need for self-actualization? Yes. For any firm, self-actualization is the grand purpose, the real mission discussed with clients. If we can help lead a significant impact on that mission, our proposal will align with decision makers.

Maslow's next need is esteem—for an organization, earnings. If we can help raise revenue, improve reputation, eliminate expense, or advance reputation, we create earnings and reputation. Big plans in these areas are always among the most relevant.

Next: belonging. Does an organization really have belonging needs? Absolutely! People need to feel like they fit or others are willing to follow. Cultures drive or hamper productivity. Dollars related to people issues, employee expenses, and leadership almost always contribute to the largest item in the expense section of an income statement. If we don't understand prospects' people and leadership needs, we can't really help lead anything.

Now, consider the fact security for any organization is cash flow—business risks, margin, and other major outlays. Consider the use of capital gets more attention behind closed doors than our product ever will. Just listen for our prospect's moves this year that will require very large checks to be written or received.

Finally, the physical resources of an organization involve its most strategic assets, the resources the company will focus on to compete this year. Hopefully, this is your product. But this could also mean initiatives involving real estate, software code, inventory, unique agreements—critical assets—or maintaining these. Executives watch initiatives affecting these assets like hawks.

Now, initiatives on the bottom two layers: impact tap capital budgets. These are entirely separate budgets from the expense budgets we usually target or vice versa. New money! We like that, right?

Initiatives involving mission, earnings, people, cash flow, and key assets have the biggest impact on the financials and are measured carefully. If we don't improve the prospect's view of the problems in this hierarchy and even recast the opportunities to shape things up, we won't get the express pass.

In our workshops we provide instruction on discovering key initiatives in these key areas, as well as learning the related metrics prospects watch closely. Then we demonstrate how to translate the metrics into dollars, so prospects can come up with their own rough ROI instead of watching us wield our secret spreadsheet.

Getting the express pass is a strategy requiring persistence and discovering the hierarchy of needs of an organization. This prepares us to leave the realm of order-taker and speak like the business advisor we are.

Mark Cook is the author of "Sales Blazers" and the accompanying "Leading Client Growth." He also leads sales performance services at O.C. Tanner. E-mail him at mark.cook@salesblazers.com or visit www.salesblazers.com.