The staged approach is designed to increase the qualification level as well as ensure rejection if a fit is not possible.
Hanging onto a prospect where the end result is a likely withdrawal or rejection makes little sense. Holding onto a prospect which uses up resources but isn’t moving forward is also a waste of resources.
There is no one-size-fits-all staged process. The order of the stages may be different depending on the nature of the product or service and the cost expended in each stage. Thus, instead of a face-to-face interview, an online demonstration given to a large audience might be a better and more efficient way of qualifying prospects.
At each stage, the process should specify the ideal information which should be collected from the prospect before committing to an activity. The sales process should identify the objectives the firm wishes to achieve at each stage. At the same time, the prospect should be asked what they expect to achieve at each stage. If there is a mismatch between the expectations of the prospect and that of the vendor, this should be resolved before the activity is undertaken.
It may be that stages can be skipped if the right input is received or, sometimes, a prior stage may have to be repeated if the outcome was unsatisfactory to either party.
For example: The demonstration
- Why is the demonstration being given?
- What objections need to be resolved during the demonstration? How will that be done?
- Who should attend the demonstration from the prospect and from the vendor? Why?
- What information needs to be collected from the prospect before the demonstration to ensure the right features and functions are shown?
- What is the prospect trying to establish from the demonstration?
- How does the demonstration help the customer move the purchase decision forward?
- What else needs to be demonstrated to establish credibility, fit, robustness, design or quality?
- What information should be collected from the prospect during the demonstration?
- What outcome are you seeking from the demonstration and how will you achieve that?
- How will you use the demonstration to establish a competitive advantage?
- What risks is the prospect dealing with and how can the demonstration be used to uncover and resolve those?
- Where will you be vulnerable during the demonstration? How will you deal with these when they arise?
- What information do you need to proceed to the next stage?
- What can you do during this activity to provide a reason for the prospect to move forward to the next stage?
You could also establish, for each stage, the signals which you are seeking to establish commitment to the process and to qualify the prospect. At the same time, you should also establish which signals indicate that the prospect is not committed or has some other agenda. For example, the prospect may be favouring another solution but needs more evidence to reject yours.
It is normally the case that the longer a prospect stays in the sales process; the less likely they are to buy. In many cases, this shows that they were not sales ready going into the process. Perhaps the wrong person from the prospect was involved, someone with little influence and no budget but keen to see the organisation take on the solution. If there are too many levels of decision making, the decision can get sidelined by other more important activities.
Sometimes momentum is lost through external factors over which the prospect and vendor have no control, such as a natural disaster or a family crisis. Rather than reject the prospect, they need to be moved to a holding point where regular contact is continued through newsletters and so on until the prospect is ready to move forward. There will be losses in the process which are neither rejections nor withdrawals, just a lack of progress leading to a lack of contact from the prospect. In these cases, these should be followed up on a regular basis to see if the contact can be reactivated.
Always remember that even where a sale does not eventuate, you want to establish in the prospects mind what you are good at, what problems you solve and that you are a vendor worth working with. What you really want is a referral. Just because someone doesn’t buy does not mean they won’t refer you to others. Part of your objective during this process is to establish the referral possibility.
In my next article, I will be looking at performance management.
Tom McKaskill is a successful global serial entrepreneur, educator and author who is a world acknowledged authority on exit strategies and the former Richard Pratt Professor of Entrepreneurship, Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia. A series of free eBooks for entrepreneurs and angel and VC investors can be found at his site here.