Selling is a very time consuming set of activities at the best of times. Now with so much choice and complexity, sales cycles are taking even longer –like twenty percent longer– especially with multiple stakeholders in larger businesses.
So it only makes sense that we want to be sure as salespeople that a real deal is in the offing, that it is properly budgeted for, and we are in good position to win it.
Salespeople can often bend over backwards to please prospective clients, running around getting all sorts of things ready, and putting together comprehensive proposals to impress and persuade these prospective clients.
Yet, how many meetings have we been to when the prospective client is just milking us for our information with no intention of using us? How many times have we all put proposals together up against a current incumbent only to be used as a price lever? How many times have our proposals been used to advise internal teams of how to do the job we were aiming to get?
This type of behaviour seems to be on the increase and I am proposing that we, as professional salespeople, need to be a little more discerning with our investment of time and effort in preparing information for prospective clients. I am proposing that even before we send a proposal we need to ask specific questions to flush out the tire kickers, IP thieves, and indecisive time wasters. We do need to ask about the legitimacy of the project, when it is expected to start and so on. We need to ask about budget and we need to ask who else and how many other competing parties are involved.
There is no harm in asking. But watch for the behaviours of those you ask and see how they react.
We have one such incident recently from a company who had contacted us four times before in the last few years, wanting us to pull together information on a training programme for their sales team. We did this dutifully, only to have these deals fall through at the last minute every time. There was always some excuse or other and we never got clear answers. So this time, when their request for information for a training programme came in, I told my team we were not falling for this again.
So one of my team members explained to the new sales manager that we were happy to take a brief; however, we had been in this situation before and so, before doing any work on a proposal, we wanted to know about the legitimacy of this project, budget, and so on.
The sales manager came back to my team members with this: “I chose not to discuss your request with my manager as I thought what you were asking for was ridiculous. If you can’t see this as an opportunity now, then we will go elsewhere.”
This is not a reasonable response to our request. Reasonable clients would have been respectful of our questions. Before we received this response, I had said to my team that my instincts were telling me something was not right here and we needed to guard against something bad potentially happening. I really felt we were going to be used in some way. So that is why we asked those questions right up front. We had to test what this prospective client would do.
They responded in the manner we thought they would and this approach flushed out their true nature. It made our decision making easy.
However, I was not finished. I did not like the way this person had spoken to my team member. He was rude and disrespectful so I sent him a note. Please, feel free to use a version of this letter if you feel the need to respond to similar types of situations you may come across.
Dear ‘Sales Manager’,
‘Barrett team member’ has informed me of your desire to go elsewhere and that you thought our request to ask for a budget and confirmation that the project was live and ready to go was ridiculous. That is your view.
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However, we educate salespeople to know how to assess client opportunities and make informed decisions as to whether pursue them or not. There are a lot of tire kickers out there looking to take valuable IP and waste salespeople’s time which is finite and valuable.
Sales managers want their salespeople investing time in real deals they have a good chance of winning. Asking about budget and viability of a sales opportunity is an essential part of evaluating any sales opportunity. Here is an article we posted recently about such time wasting. It received a very good response which tells us that salespeople are concerned about wasting their time.
After four false starts with your company over the recent times, I do not want my team wasting their time on potentially non-viable deals. I trained and coached ‘Barrett team member’ to ask those questions and to assess the viability of the situation and I am proud that she did. She does this as a matter of course with every prospect. We often receive positive feedback from clients in how we handle our dealings with them as they want their salespeople to do the same. We always endeavour to model best practice and always work towards a fair exchange of value with our clients.
Given your response to ‘Barrett team member’, we now know where we stand with you.
All the very best with your new role.
Remember everybody lives by selling something.