I often get brought in by companies to look at why individual deals are not closing. One of the methods that I use to decode what is happening, so I can help to find a solution, is by looking at the sale through the lens of the buying cycle, proposed by Neil Rackham.
In the cycle we can see the stages the customer goes through during the purchase:
- Changes over time
- Recognition of needs
- Evaluation of options
- Resolution of concerns
What I often see is that the sales person has worked with the customer on recognising the customer’s needs (phase 2). The salesperson then proposes their solution in the ‘Evaluation of Options’ (phase 3). The sales person comes back to the office and tells their sales manager, “That’s in the bag and I’m going to call on Friday to hear if we’ve won. I’m pretty sure we have won the deal, the meeting went really well….” In other words the sales person is jumping from phase 3 to phase 5. This is natural because often their ‘sales process’ actually tells them to do that!
So Friday comes and goes. Next Friday comes and goes and the sales person sounds increasingly desperate and frustrated as time goes on. The customer stops answering the phone….you know the story. What’s really happening here is that when the buyer has looked at the different options, they enter a period of ‘Concerns’. Previously unknown concerns surface as they scrutinize the risks around making the purchase decision and managing the change around implementing the solution. Once the concerns have been satisfied, the customer makes the decision and places the order.
The implications of not recognizing when your customers are in the ‘Concerns’ phase are:
- The customer gets annoyed with the sales person’s pushiness – reducing trust
- The senior management team and the operational side of the business become annoyed with the sales person and indirectly the sales manager for incorrectly forecasting orders which impacts negatively on production
- The customer sees a great opportunity for a discount as the seller becomes more desperate and margins become eroded and profits are lost
- The customer chooses the ‘do nothing’ option as they see too much risk in changing from the status quo and the deal is lost
- The competition moves in if they recognize what the customer is going through. By helping the customer through this phase, influencing the customer and building trust, they steal the deal from under your nose.
Conclusion: It doesn’t have to be this way. In our sales training courses we show salespeople how to recognise the ‘Concerns’ phase of the buying cycle, and then how to help the customer through it. This involves staying close to the customer and showing how your other customers have mitigated their concerns and risks. Sales people can add value by predicting what concerns they could have, in advance, and how the concerns could be avoided. Sales people need to put contingencies in place to ensure there is a safety net, in case the concerns become a reality. Remember that the ‘Concerns’ phase is a place where you can build trust, build credibility and add real value as a sales person. Its also the place where deals can easily be stolen by the competition! So look out for the ‘Concern’s’ phase next time.