By Bob Apollo, Managing Director, Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners
Your company is facing an increasingly strong competitor – yet you won't find it listed in any Google search of the key players in your marketplace. But this competitor is playing a powerful and often-undefined role in almost every significant B2B buying decision. And it's the reason why a growing number of your apparently well-qualified opportunities are ending up with the prospect deciding to "do nothing".
Have you recognized the competitor yet? It's the status quo – and in today's increasingly risk-averse decision-making climate, where it may be harder than ever before to get approval for discretionary investments, your prospects might think that sticking with the status quo is the safest option open to them. You need to persuade them otherwise. And you need to make the case for change before you make the case for your solution.
Is the status quo holding you back?
Before you can expect to win their business, you need to play your part in persuading all the key stakeholders in the buying decision process that the cost and risk of doing nothing significantly outweighs the cost and risk of the investment you are asking them to make – and that your offering represents the least risky of all the options open to them – including the decision to do nothing.
Let's be clear. If you haven't done all you can to persuade the prospect of the need for change, you probably don't deserve their business. Yet I still observe experienced sales people rushing in to propose their company's product or service offerings while the prospect is still unclear or unconvinced about whether they need to let go of the status quo.
The truth about burning platforms and compelling events
Sometimes you'll get lucky, and the prospect will already have concluded that they are standing on a "burning platform" or face a truly "compelling event". But don't be surprised if, during the course of your sales process, the flames start looking a little more bearable, or if the upcoming event seems just that little less compelling.
The answer is in your hands. As Tom Pisello of Alinean points out in a recent webinar, you need to make sure that the key stakeholders in your prospect understand why they need to change, why they need to do it now and why they need to work with you to accomplish it. And until you've successfully navigated the "why change?" and "why now?" questions, you ought to be very cautious about investing a lot of sales effort in trying to answer the question, "why us?"
It's why I've been advising clients to test that their prospects recognize the case for change early in the sales process – and if a clear case does not yet exist, to work with the key stakeholders to either create one or to exclude the opportunity from any sales forecast until and unless the case has been made and agreed by the prospect.
No case for change? No deal!
Failure to make the case for change is one of the most common root causes when I conduct pipeline analysis to help prospects understand why opportunities are stuck or being lost to a decision to do nothing. But the impact is deceptive, because the effects often show up later in the sales cycle.
If you're suffering from a rash of stuck late-stage sales opportunities, I strongly recommend that you investigate whether an adequate case for change had been made and agreed to earlier on in the sales process. Don't be surprised if your sales people turn out to be suffering from a condition I have come to refer to as "premature elaboration."
Six steps to making a compelling case for change
In order to establish the strongest possible case for change, I recommend that you coach your sales people to lead their prospects through the following six-step process, and that you provide them with the sales tools and marketing messages to implement them. Don't be put off if this approach at first appears rather long winded: try it, get the "case for change" foundation built right, and you'll be surprised how fast the subsequent stages in the buying process can be driven – and how many fewer well-qualified opportunities end in "do nothing" decisions.
- Start building the foundation by sharing valuable insights with the prospect. You want to stimulate them to adopt a fresh perspective about what they need and have them believe that you can help them make smart decisions that will take their business forward.
- Next, develop those insights into specific issues that directly affect their current business situation. These could be specific problems they need to address, goals they need to achieve or opportunities they need to realize.
- Third, and most critically, help them to calculate for themselves the impact on their business of failing to address the issue – and to conclude that action needs to be taken sooner, rather than later.
- Before jumping in and proposing your product or service solution, explain why your approach is the one most likely to help them deal with the issue. Focus on how and why you do what you do, rather than the details of what you offer.
- Once you've clearly differentiated your approach from all the other options open to them, now – at last – you can show how your (carefully selected) capabilities directly address the issues you have established earlier.
- Finally, eliminate as much risk as possible from the equation by proving (with tangible, relevant evidence) how your approach and capabilities are going to help them accomplish the needed change successfully.
So, are your marketing and sales processes successfully building a compelling case for change? Are they providing clear answers to "Why change?" "Why now?" and "Why you?" Or, if not, are you really happy with all the wasted effort that will have been devoted to the rash of decisions to "do nothing" that will inevitably result?
Bob Apollo is Managing Director of Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners (www.inflexion-point.com). He works with B2B companies with high growth potential, enabling them to systematically design and implement repeatable, scalable and highly-aligned sales and marketing processes that allow them to identify, attract, engage, qualify and convert more of the right sort of prospects.
This article originally appeared on the Inflexion-Point Blog and is used here with permission.
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