Crashing at the Finish: The Last, Winning Step Too Many Salespeople Skip
By Wayne Peterson, Black Canyon Consulting Group Inc.
Crashing at the Finish: The Last, Winning Step Too Many Salespeople Skip
She was so close. She had worked to develop the opportunity for two years. She had created a couple of key relationships, and developed them very well. She had a good understanding of the customer’s circumstances and special needs. With help, she created a strong proposal and delivered it to her primary contact. Her primary contact recommended that her proposal be chosen. So she rightly believed she was in the lead. And then she lost it. Why? She didn't ask for the opportunity to make a presentation before the final decision was made. She thought her excellent proposal was enough.
You really cannot expect the proposal itself to finish the sales process. This is frustrating for salespeople to hear when so much effort is required to build a strong comprehensive proposal. But it is a true statement. There is no good substitute for a presentation to the work group that is going to make the final buying decision.
A “Post Proposal Presentation” meeting (a P3) is something I coach salespeople to request for any high-value opportunity or relationship they are pursuing. Lots of salespeople prefer to avoid them. I hear a variety of excuses offered as explanations:
- “I don't know what to say.” This is a pretty strong signal that the salesperson has not figured out the customer’s motivation and their selection criteria. That’s a topic for another time. But it could signal that the salesperson is taking specifications both at face value and as definitive. Only rarely will a set of specifications or published buying criteria tell even most of the story about how the decision will be made and the winner chosen.There is a pattern or a sequence of buying decisions that I still see play out consistently. In a B2B buying decision that’s significant for the buying organization, there’s an initial screening. Then three decisions are made from among those contenders remaining: First, the decision to “buy” the salesperson as “this is someone with whom we could comfortably and effectively do business.” Then, the decision to “buy” the company as in “This is a company with whom we can confidently do business.” Finally, there is the decision that the product or service being offered is the “best fit” with the specific needs of the body organization. Only in that last decision are specifications especially important.
- “I'm not good in front of groups. And I hate public speaking.” This signals a great development opportunity. Presentation and speaking skills are now non-optional for successful salespeople. Period. Excellent communication skills and real poise in front of people are incredibly powerful. And I’m far from the only one to recognize it. In a commencement address at Columbia Business School Warren Buffett described taking a Dale Carnegie course in Public Speaking early in his career. The billionaire went on to say it was one of the best business investments he’d ever made. Putting his money where his mouth was, Buffett offered $100,000 in seed money to any of the graduates in return for 10% of future earnings. For those willing to demonstrate public speaking skills or to invest in public speaking training, he upped the offer to $150,000. Nothing is more powerful for a salesperson than the ability to connect effectively with an individual, small group, or a larger audience. Nothing. For salespeople, communication is the killer app.
- “It's all in the proposal.” This signals the belief that the proposal itself can actually sell. Three things are wrong with that assumption. First, if it were true there would be no real role for a professional salesperson. Second, nearly all purchasing decisions are made emotionally, and within seconds or minutes. I have yet to see a written proposal that could engage me emotionally that fast. Third, it signals a misunderstanding of the role of strong proposal.
- “I have already said it all to all of them.” This tells me the salesperson is suffering from deal fatigue. That happens when a salesperson has poured herself into a particular opportunity for months or years, and cannot bring fresh eyes to the deal. When a salesperson reaches that point it is incredibly difficult for her to hold onto perspective. Admitting to herself that she’s just plain tired of working on this opportunity is difficult. So expect to hear it expressed in other ways.
Over the past 10 years, important buying decisions have moved up inside most organizations. The research and the vetting of potential suppliers and potential choices often get delegated to a technical buyer. Sometimes that technical buyer is the primary end-user, or the person who will have the most consistent interaction with the supplier. As the research and the vetting process go on, the technical buyer is often providing written, summary updates to everyone who will be involved in the buying decision. I have seen lots of instances where everyone involved in that decision met to discuss and consider it only once, and only after the proposals were in hand.
When asked, anyone within a buying workgroup will describe himself or herself as a decision-maker. In some cases, that is true because everyone in the group may have the power to say no. However, only one person usually has the power to say the final yes. And that person, the one who could make the final commitment, may be withholding judgment and deferring a serious review of the potential options until she walks into that meeting. I have seen that behavior and that pattern play out repeatedly.
Failing to ask for the opportunity to make a final presentation is equivalent to running a marathon with no intention to put on a final sprint at the finish.
Expecting the proposal itself to finish the process is really the same thing as delegating the completion of the sales process to the technical buyer, expecting him to sell you, your company, and your offer to the decision-maker in your absence. When I describe it that way it should begin to look silly to you. Even if the technical buyer is sold and believes that you, your company, and your proposal are the best, there's no reason to believe that technical buyer will be especially effective convincing and gaining agreement from the rest of the workgroup and from the final decision-maker. As a salesperson, that's your job not his. Recognize the need to ask for an opportunity to make a final presentation after the proposal has been delivered. It cannot be seen as optional. Getting over the reluctance to prepare and deliver a P3 is an essential first step. But doing anything can sometimes be worse than doing nothing. So step two is learning to build and deliver a great pitch.
Great final presentations have three things in common:
“Pitches” and “deals” get unfairly connected with unsavory aspects of amoral sales behavior. That’s unfortunate, because both terms are useful shorthand terms. A great pitch meeting (a post-proposal presentation) can be a wonderful thing both for the well- equipped salesperson and for the customer. Salespeople who skip or shy away from them (for any reason) give up a powerful opportunity to forge a strong relationship, and to distinguish themselves from their competitors who may do little more than show up and say: “You’ve got our proposal. Any questions?”
What do you think?
Part of my practice is coaching salespeople and sales managers, and building strong sales processes. If your company could benefit, let’s talk. If this article was valuable or useful, please comment or hit the ‘like' button. That tells me to keep at it. And please share the article through your own social media platforms. Start or join a conversation. Ask questions. Comment. Make a snide remark. I appreciate them all.