Surviving the mid sale crisis

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In this article, we explore the skills and strategies, which help to win major sales we examine the issues arising in the evaluation of options phase of the Buying Cycle.

This is one of the most misunderstood stages of the sale where all too often sellers simply submit a proposal and hope for the best. Yet this should be one of the most active parts of the sale since the buyer is evaluating the options available and short-listing those suppliers, which seem to offer the best fit, in terms of meeting their needs and selection criteria.

All too often the penalty for inaction is that the sale ends here. Short-listing decisions are taken by groups so lets examine what’s happening at this stage. First its important to recognise that the short-listing decision is often taken by a group of people. Each person can potentially have different perceptions of the importance of various needs and use different selection criteria to judge each individual supplier. Even worse the seller may not be able to gain access to all the members of this group, especially the most
important and influential senior people. So the opportunities to establish the decision makers views on what is important, let alone influence them, may be severely restricted.

At worst the seller may be left with the option of trying to influence these senior decision makers through the other contacts they have made. Using these internal sponsors has a number of obvious drawbacks:

• How are the internal sponsors people perceived by the senior
decision makers?
They may not be highly regarded; even worse there could be a negative reaction to any proposition they put forward.

• Are the internal sponsors able to put forward a persuasive case to support your proposition?
Sadly all too often we have found that supporters are not capable of doing a competent job of selling internally, and indeed may actually damage your case.

• Are the internal sponsors really on your side?
We tend to assume that because customers seem to be warm towards us that they are supporters. In reality most customers are nice to all potential suppliers, so warm signals should not be taken as clear signs of support.

• Is it in the internal sponsors interests to be seen as openly supporting a particular supplier?


Even if they are convinced we are the best option, it may not be wise to openly support us for a whole range of internal political issues. Using our internal contacts to sell for us is a high-risk strategy unless we take time and care to supply them with the information and help to prepare a case they can present with confidence, even then we have little control over how well it will be done. Proposals need to be persuasive documents. The one direct route we have to influence all the decision makers is through the proposal we have
submitted, if it is persuasive and if they read it. From the work we have been doing in this area over 50% of sales people come to the conclusion their proposals would not persuade them to buy if they were in the customers shoes. Even worse 75% admit they find some sections of their own proposals so boring that even they skip the pages! Producing a persuasive proposal and working on strategies to ensure key people will read it is an essential part of being successful at this stage. Sadly this is probably the most neglected aspect of selling today.

Influencing the customer’s decision criteria is crucial to success. In making the decision to short-list suppliers the decision makers will use some form of decision criteria, which may simply be a list of personal preferences or a carefully thought through, shared and agreed list, or in some cases a sophisticated programme using weighting to try to ensure selections are made scientifically and fairly. Whatever the system used the seller needs to know what the criteria are and how well his solution stacks up against them. More importantly, there is a need to actively seek to strengthen the match if you want to beat the competition.

As the diagram above shows seller activity should focus on influencing
decision criteria mid cycle since this is the stage when competitor activity will be at its highest, as they all jostle for position. If you have been the incumbent supplier until now you may have had the opportunity to work on the customer’s decision criteria early in the sales cycle, and this will certainly help to give competitive advantage. The appearance of competitors does not necessarily indicate that you are losing position; it simply shows that the sale is progressing and the customer is exploring all the options before making a crucial decision.

However, it is not a time to be complacent and an incumbent supplier should be actively reinforcing their position by highlighting the importance of the key criteria they can meet.

For all salespeople there are some key messages when it comes to influencing decision criteria:

• Start as early as possible to build needs where you are strong and
convert these into crucial decision criteria.

• Check decision criteria with all the decision makers you meet to establish the degree to which they are held in common. Where there are discrepancies point these out to your sponsor and use the opportunity to clarify the position in your favour.

• Reinforce the criteria you can meet to reduce the chances of competitors changing them in their favour.

• Look for ways of changing your solution to match criteria you can’t meet, through partnering for example.

• Try to change criteria you can’t meet – it’s difficult but not impossible if some thought is put into planning how to change them. Remember its not over until the contract is in your pocket so keep working on reinforcing your position to the very end. Nothing stays the same for long in most major sales and a new person joining the decision team may bring with them different ideas about what’s important.

In sales presentations what you say is as important as how you
say it The final hurdle to clear in getting onto the short-list is often the sales presentation where you get the opportunity to influence all the key decision makers face-to-face. There is usually one opportunity and time is invariably tight, so the need to make a persuasive presentation, which hits the hot buttons of all those present is crucial. Again, from what we have seen, the huge investment in presentation skills training is often wasted because the focus has been on developing the presenters speaking skills and little thought has been given to helping them constructing a compelling presentation. In a later article in this series we will examine this subject in greater depth.

Surviving the cull which will take place at the end of the evaluation of
options stage is vital if you are to have any chance of winning the business, far from being a time to submit a proposal and sit back to await the customers judgement, its a time for maximum effort and attention to detail in making sure everything possible has been done to influence the customer in your favour.

Complacency can unseat even the strongest front-runners.

This article was written by Huthwaite International.

Huthwaite International is a leading behavioural change consultancy specialising in the area of sales pe
rformance improvement. It has established a strong reputation for the delivery of tailored solutions based on its proven research-based methodology. Measurable and sustainable, Huthwaite solutions seek to improve behavioural skill at all customer touch points throughout their client companies. With a worldwide client base, Huthwaite has vast experience in all industry sectors around the globe



Published On: 25th Nov 2005

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