Win high value complex sales in the face of superior competition. How the right sales strategy and a sales coach can make all the difference.
The term ‘complex sale’ is much bandied about these days and is probably interpreted in many different ways. The idea proposed by Socrates that all wisdom begins with a definition of terms dictates that I start this article with a definition of complex sales.
Business opportunities that fulfil two or more of the following criteria represent situations where a complex sales method and deal review coaching can make a significant difference:
- If the singular term, ‘decision maker’ has no useful meaning because many people inside, and potentially outside, the customer’s organisation have both interest in and influence over the buying decision.
- If the customer’s goals or objectives relating to a sale are likely to shift before the buying process can be concluded because of the time the process will take or the potential for other priorities to take precedence.
- If a high level of resources, in terms of people and effort, must be committed to contend for the business and there is a high level of uncertainty about the outcome.
- If there are credible competing solutions championed by effective advocates. This might include internal solutions as well as those from commercial competitors.
- If the solution being considered has a significant cost in proportion to the customer’s size, where failure of the solution is likely to besmirch the careers of those involved in the decision and damage the profits of their the business.
- If the complexity of the solution being offered is such that it is difficult to be certain whether the customer will realise the intended benefits.
An early opportunity for a coach to make a difference is in posing the right qualification questions. Doing things right is a waste of time if no purchase takes place or if the sale can’t be won or if winning wouldn't be worthwhile.
Many buying intentions never result in a purchase. Sometimes competitors or incumbent suppliers are too well entrenched to be ousted, making a sale unwinnable.
Some complex sales that are won, turn into a poisonous challis were the customer cannot be satisfied. Since sellers cannot afford to acquire a bad reputation, all of the profit and more can be spent trying to rectify a bad situation.
Salespeople need to be optimistic and resilient by nature. These are necessary qualities for people who must deal with a lot of rejection. So when a salesperson finds an opportunity that more or less fits qualification criteria, it may be added to the pipeline without much diligence. While this may not be a bad thing for normal business, for large deals it can lead to much wasted effort.
A deal qualification review can turn a spotlight on the qualification criteria, benefiting the individual and the sellers organisation by minimising wasted resources.
There is a risk that the process will be perceived by a salesperson as criticism. When a manager asks searching questions that expose unknown information, it is tempting to make stuff up to cover for lack of foresight or rigour. An independent coach makes no judgements and facilitates a candid discussion of the facts.
Early elimination of opportunities that won't happen, can't be won, or wouldn't be worthwhile, frees people to invest effort in more realistic opportunities. This alone can increase conversion by a significant percentage. For example, moving from winning three in ten to four in ten is a 25% increase. Moving from six in ten to seven in ten is a 15% increase.
If the funnel is empty the recovered time can be spent more profitably prospecting for new customers rather than pursuing those where there is little chance of success.
Identifying and Accessing the Important Stakeholders
Surprisingly often, large scale campaigns are driven through just one or two contacts when there are clearly many more influential people involved in the decision. It’s true that there are all sorts of barriers, both real and imaginary, that make this aspect of complex sales, challenging. Where the ‘don't go around me’ spectre puts in an appearance, a sales coach can help overcome it by drawing attention to the important stakeholder categories and helping to identify the influential people in each category.
The coach helps people adhere to higher standards and prompts thinking about prioritisation and access tactics. He or she draws attention to opportunities for the salesperson to recruit supporters, develop the right relationships, and cultivate champions.
Dealing with Competition
Properly qualified high value deals are usually contested by worthy competitors. Other suppliers that have a viable solution and access to the decision nakers, are bound to be vying for the business. Military conflict analogies abound.
A coach with an appreciation of enterprise sales strategy can help sellers seize and retain the initiative or overcome the efforts of a superior competitor.
Knowing How to Move Complex Sales Forward
“In preparing for battle, I have found that plans are useless” said Eisenhower. Then he continued, “but planning is indispensable”.
When the stakes are high for all involved, the quality of forethought, planning, and preparation carries the day.
When only one contender can come away with the contract, success most often goes to those who invest more thought, do more planning, and spend more time in preparation.
An experienced coach can give salespeople the edge by helping them to formulate a definite plan and by facilitating preparation to carry it out.
The Manager's Quandary
Being primarily responsible for results, sales managers must first deal with the operational issues constraining business. Those who carry a personal target or account responsibilities must constantly juggle additional priorities.
Coaching takes time and is inevitably squeezed into second place or pushed well down the ‘To Do’ list. Yet coaching pays dividends.
Using average fees for professional coaching as a cost benchmark, getting a 500% return on the time investment isn’t difficult.
See the calculations towards the end of this article.
The sales people who coached effectively, sell significantly more than those who don't. For key opportunities, lack of attention to coaching can be catastrophic.
The resources invested in a failed campaign cannot be recovered.
Article by Clive Miller
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