When I was dating, I hated getting dumped. Even when I knew deep down that the girl was right in wanting to split, I wanted to save the relationship because I hated the rejection. I was also lousy at being the “dumper”, which meant I was involved in several fruitless relationships that went on for far too long.
A lot of sales relationships are similar.
The trouble starts with the first conversation. If the client voices obstacles — even significant ones — the tendency is to defer them as long as possible in the hope that, as the relationship grows, the client’s obstacles will disappear.
People kid themselves with the delusional ego-driven belief: “Once they really get to know me (and find out how truly wonderful I am), these issues will just fade away!”
Most sales processes leave “overcoming objections” as the penultimate step — further entrenching the principle of leaving the difficult stuff until as late as possible.
This is wrong. To build a viable client relationship in today’s environment takes more energy and expertise than ever before. This is because:
There are more people involved in the decision-making process than ever before — exacerbated by the recent global financial crisis;
There are more stakeholders for the decision-makers to satisfy than ever before; and
There is more information available to the decision-makers than ever before — which, ironically, often makes decision-making harder.
Because it takes so much effort, the attention should be on identifying the obstacles early, so you can make a realistic assessment of your chances of success. You may still decide to take the risk — or to go ahead as part of some broader strategy — but at least you are doing it with your eyes open.
The reality nowadays is that most sales relationships are entered into by the salesman, if not with his eyes closed, at least with rose-coloured glasses on. You are supposed to qualify new clients, but the temptation to add another to your pipeline means that hope overrides realistic analysis.
Think about how much time you spent on proposals that came to nothing: the ones where, if you looked back and were honest, you would admit that you did not have much of a chance in the first place. Imagine if you could take just part of that time and put it towards prospecting?
What you should be doing is introducing topics in the early part of the relationship that unearth any potential obstacles further down the track. You may ask the following:
What changes are involved;
How will staff respond;
What problems were faced previously when they had tried to install a new system as complex as this; and
How much (staff) time they are willing to commit to the implementation and ongoing training?
This will have one of two outcomes: You don’t get the sale — which you probably wouldn’t have gotten anyway; it just would have taken a lot longer. Or, you win the sale — using less time because you advanced the process.
Either way, you impress the client with your integrity and initiative. By doing the unexpected, you create a positive and memorable experience for the client. Even though you may not win the project on hand, you will certainly be one of the first to be approached the next time.
This is just another application of the “fail fast” principle. Many smart businessmen are forgoing long-term planning because they believe that markets change so fast nowadays that long-term marketing planning is becoming irrelevant in some industries.
Some markets move so fast that by the time that market data is analysed and provided, the market has changed. So, these suppliers work on a “fail fast” principle: experiment constantly, take new offers to market, keep the ones that work and dump those that don’t. The secret to this formula is to identify early those that aren’t working.
So, if it makes so much sense, why do salesmen hang on to customers long after they should have parted ways, chasing after deals they know they have less chance of winning?
Is it just to present a larger client portfolio for yourself and to have something to talk about during the sales meeting on Monday? Well, partly, yes. But the real reason is a lack of confidence in your pipeline. The fear is that you will not be able to replace the clients you lose.
If this applies to you, be honest with yourself and put aside time to fill your pipeline. Losing a few deals will force you to do something about it.
So, get dumped early. It is good for the relationship, and it will be good for your overall sales results.