The stakes in pitching for multimillion dollar accounts are huge. When you lose to a competitor, beyond the lost revenue and profit opportunity, there are additional consequences. These include a possible decrease in stock price, negative press, a declining corporate image and emboldened competitors. In these situations, what often keeps senior executives up at night are the questions, “Why didn’t we win?” and“What do we need to do differently?”
While every company has its own unique strengths and weakness, there is a often a common cause of lost sales, as revealed through an analysis of $8 billion worth of sales and account relationships for Fortune 1000 companies. The AskForensics Knowledgebase, which is comprised of data from hundreds of sales and account forensics investigations, reveals that when we cut through the misperceptions, a win or loss usually boils down to one factor – sales team actions. Sales team performance can impact the outcome of a sale more than any other factor, even more than price.
Understand prospects’ requirements.
When prospects are asked during a sales forensics investigation what caused them to choose one company over another, 47 percent representing $1.3 billion worth of proposals mention that the losing sales team mishandled the interaction by not fully understanding the prospect’s needs.
Fully understanding a prospect’s needs is only possible when you remove all of your own biases and assumptions and come to the table with an open mind instead of a pre-packaged solution. In addition, thoroughly researching the prospect company on the Web, reviewing executives’ bios on LinkedIn and corporate websites, and seeking guidance from coaches you have established in the prospect company can also provide you with key insight.
Another way to more fully understand prospect’s needs is to cross-validate findings. Uncover hidden needs by talking individually with multiple executives, but don’t stop there. Talk to people at multiple levels of an organization to get a boots-on-the-ground perspective of a prospect’s needs. You may even be able to address needs that executives were not even aware existed.
Finally, don’t just present a solution. Demonstrate that you truly understand a prospect’s needs by offering a proactive approach that fully addresses the prospect’s immediate and strategic requirements. After all, you are the expert. Think of the sale as a prospect’s investment, not as a cost.
Avoid submitting “canned” solutions and proposals.
When major, world-class organizations submit canned proposals, prospects are underwhelmed. This puts the selling organization at a distinct disadvantage. Here is what one buying executive had to say during a sales forensics investigation about a $20.5 million piece of business:
“Well, here comes the surprising thing. They completely bombed the meeting with the subcommittee. They were proposing a canned solution to the team, who had no real idea who they were. As I mentioned, some of us old folks had seen the company in action before, but not the subcommittee. But this meeting can be best characterized as seller-focused, canned, non-enthusiastic and almost top-down. The subcommittee commented that they felt they were treated with arrogance, that the presentation was so canned and focused on the selling company instead of us, and that the company just did not peak interest with them.”
Inject specific points that address what you have learned about your prospect. Include small details to show you have listened. If you are invited to do a second presentation, make updates to the presentation based on any new information you were able to gather from previous meetings. Be careful to do a full search and replace of any previous prospect company name or information. Sales forensic investigations have revealed that major deals have turned south due a presentation featuring the wrong prospect company name. As crazy as this sounds, it happens.
Show a total commitment.
Prospects devote a lot of time and resources to the evaluation and decision of major purchases. They frequently seek specialists to assist in the process. In addition to evaluating what they see in presentations, experience in meetings, and read in formal proposals, prospect executives often follow a gut instinct. Here’s what one senior executive noticed when evaluating a $1.3 million purchase:
“In essence it boiled down to an amorphous issue. We did not sense that they truly invested and committed themselves to our industry space. Their core service was clearly their strength, but overall they just couldn’t demonstrate true understanding of the space. I think they are just not quite there yet.”
You cannot control a prospect’s gut instinct, but you can take measures to create a positive impression. In the case of a new sales opportunity, prospects often base their views on what they pick up subconsciously about a sales team. Is the sales team hurried and nervous? Are there any subtle inconsistencies in what the sales team said during a meeting that does not completely match the presentation slides? Who was sent to meetings with the prospective client? Was it an entry-level sales professional or a seasoned pro? Did you include other key executives from you company, such as from finance or operations?
Physical presence and body language can also have an impact. Consider filming mock sales calls and then watching the video without sound. Overly aggressive or timid body language will be more apparent when it is viewed in isolation from the verbal conversation. Even how and when you follow-up makes a difference. A personal phone call might demonstrate a stronger commitment than an email.
In Part II, Reynolds provides four more adjustments you can make to prevent the big sales from going to someone else.
Rick Reynolds is a co-founding partner and CEO of AskForensics, which assists Fortune-ranked companies in winning and retaining multimillion dollar accounts. Follow AskForenics on Twitter: @AskForensics.