Why Your Prospect Must Jump Into the Action
Picture this scenario. You produce and submit a killer proposal that perfectly matches your prospect’s need or problem. Then, when you go to follow-up, you find out the prospect decided to stick with status quo. Or worse, go with your competitor. Sound familiar?
Many students of my MERGE process do in-depth prospect homework to pre-qualify. They often unearth key business issues even the prospect didn’t know existed. They craft an airtight value proposition and pin down a meeting with the right decision maker. They even experience a meaningful conversation on the gap between reality and results desired.
As Bob Miller and Stephen Heiman share in their bestselling book Conceptual Selling®—
End in Mind
When we discuss the topic of Action Commitments in my workshops, we usually begin with the purpose of the call—where you want to be at the end of the call? It’s my experience that salespeople do not go to meetings with a list of well-defined next steps.
“Unless your customers are willing and able to commit to mutually beneficial actions, you are or soon will be back at square one, no more effectively positioned in the sale than you were at the beginning.”
Instead, most salespeople simply ask: “Based on what we discussed today, what should our next step be?” Then, they go silent and wait for the response. The prospect pauses and says something like, “this is very interesting, why don’t I take some time and digest this, call me back in two weeks.”
Here’s the rub.
The prospect does nothing to move this process forward. So, nailing down that next meeting becomes far more difficult than necessary.
Mutually Owned Process
Worse yet, the salesperson commits to doing more work, and then asks the prospect for a follow-up meeting. Again, our salesperson has failed to advance the buying process even an inch. He or she has focused too much on what they’re selling verses what the prospect wants to buy. Preferably, our intrepid salesperson should focus on the prospect’s investment in a mutually owned process which delivers a feeling of satisfaction to all parties.
Most salespeople feel the sales process is their responsibility and theirs alone. And they think that if prospects don’t want to commit, maybe they will in future meetings. This is one reason why your sales cycle stretches far out into the future.
One belief we teach in Miller Heiman’s Conceptual Selling® workshops is don’t waste the precious resource of time: If you leave a meeting and you don’t know what the prospect is going to do next to continue the buying process, you might as well be aimlessly chumming for leads.
Students of the Conceptual Selling® methodology improve their closing rates and shorten their sales cycle by simply getting the prospect involved. I can tell you from years of selling with both the Strategic Selling® and Conceptual Selling® methodologies, my sales cycles have shortened because I only put prospects in the sales funnel who will mutually commit to move the sell/buy process along.
Before any sales call, set your “Best Actions” or outcome. Ask yourself, what’s the ideal next step to involve the prospect in the action?
If it’s a new call, and you don’t expect to write the business, be realistic about where you are in the sell/buy process. As a backup, why not create a “Minimum Action” for the prospect to commit to.
Recently, after a second meeting with a prospect at which we identified an issue and a possible solution, I wanted my prospect to invite other decision makers to the next meeting. So I asked, “Can we look at dates next week when we can get your CFO and COO brought up to date on our possible solution?” He paused and said, “With everyone taking vacations that may be difficult to do; we may want to just continue and get them involved later.”
He made no commitment to move forward. At best, we’d meet again and again without the involvement others. So I used my minimum action, “I understand, however, It’s important to involve them now before we finalize the solution . . .can we set up a 30-minute conference call with them next Wednesday or Thursday?”
If I didn’t get at least the minimum commitment, I’d wonder if he was a prospect at all. If he still says no to the minimum action, I’d ask the what’s up question: “Mr. Prospect, there’s obviously an issue here that I don’t understand – something that’s making you hesitate to move forward. Is it worthwhile our discussing this, or are you not interested in working with us?”
The key is to make your action specific, measurable and tied to a time line. You may think this is a lot to ask for, but my experience tells me prospect are not serious unless they mutually commit. You need to know what action will take place, by whom and when.
Getting this commitment doesn’t mean holding your prospect’s feet to the fire. It does means, however, that you take a judiciously flexible approach to the whole idea of partnering with your prospect.
After thousands of prospect calls, I’ve learned that without a prospect commitment out of the gate, you unwittingly extend the sell/buy process by at least three months.
Take the advice from Bob Miller who says, “You don’t set commitment parameters in a vacuum, when you go in to a call you have to remember where you are in the sales cycle, who you have on your team, and the authority level of the person that you’re going to meet with. You try to set your Best Action Commitment within that framework. What’s the greatest commitment I can get from this person at this time to move the selling process forward? The answer has to be logical, realistic, and nonthreatening.”
When I meet with people without the authority to commit, it’s all right. I just determine what they can do to move the process alone. The action item might be to get me in front of other decision makers, or help carry my message to a higher level.
Ask For It
Getting an action commitment from your prospect will transform your sell/buy process into one of discipline and efficiency. Remember, this isn’t all or nothing. Get commitment where you are in the buying process. Ask the commitment question anytime during the call; there’s no magic in waiting.
We all would agree that each call made to a prospect is a costly investment. Why not create reciprocal investment on the first and every call? In that way, you build your prospect-to-client/customer relationship on a foundation of confidence and partnership. Happy calling!
See you on the upside,