Behold...the rewarding sales process
I've been giving a lot of thought recently to the sales process and just what it takes to garner interest from a new prospective client and turn this initial interest in to a sale.
Unsurprisingly, selling is still as complicated as ever and demands a focused, determined and intelligent approach to gain the interest of your desired audience and an understanding of the sector your prospective client works in.
It's what goes on in-between these stages that takes stamina and a vision of the end result.
Take the effort required to gain interest from a cold lead. Let's take it as a given that the lead is in your sweet-spot, both in terms of market sector and company fit. What do you do to stand out from the crowd?
A large proportion would say that its all about the services of the company you work for. Whilst that has a part to play, the challenge still remains; differentiation from the rest of your market and competition.
A proven approach is to identify a particular pain point within your prospects market sector which you know will resonate when you make contact. That's easier said than done, as it takes effort to gain these kind of insights, but its worth the trouble. What it demonstrates is that you understand the prospects issues and are not simply pushing your services, which at this stage, they are not interested in. If you can find common ground to strike dialogue and you know in your mind that you have a solution to their problems, you stand a far greater chance of gaining an audience with your chosen prospect in order to develop a business relationship.
The front end cold call requires thought and in my opinion, is still a key part of the development process. Having cut through is essential, otherwise you become another company trying to sell services because you're the "best in the business". Think about it; would you be interested if someone approached you with a generic pitch?
Once you've arranged the meeting, you then need to prepare to ensure that you fully understand their business and can maximise the appointment time by uncovering challenges the prospective client may be facing. This is the "Discovery Phase" and should be focused purely on your prospect and their current situation. You do not need to overwhelm them with all of your services at this stage - it's boring and not relevant.
Assuming you uncover challenges which you and your company can help solve (not every prospect meeting will turn in to an opportunity), propose that you'd like to meet again once you've given the information gathered some thought.
The key, depending on the scale of the opportunity, is to propose engaging with more of the stakeholders impacted by the challenges identified. This helps drive the solution forward, whilst at the same time gaining further access to a greater number of key stakeholders - essentially key contacts that can create major obstacles to the sale if they aren't engaged with early on in the process. Inclusion is key.
You should also at least consider:
Whether this is a "real" opportunity and worth pursuing
The potential timelines involved and how this is likely to be prioritised (generally driven by the size of the prize to your prospect, as well as the cost of change and disruption depending on the scope of your potential offering) and;
What you believe you can do to help at this stage
Setting up a "Stakeholder Engagement Meeting" is a great way to present your findings to date and build upon the challenges you've identified, which highlights that solving these problems for your prospect will achieve significant benefits and make them look great with their peers.
Design and delivery stage
This is when all of your hard work should pay off, as you will have gained a wealth of information on the challenges your client faces, the impact on the various stakeholders and how you can help them overcome these challenges and deliver greater business performance. Working with your key colleagues within your business, will help you deliver a clear proposal highlighting the challenges you understand your client is facing, how you can overcome them and the immediate benefits they will receive. This will differentiate you and place you in a different category compared with every other company "selling their services".
Whilst this sales cycle isn't a quick win, what it does do is move you out of the bidding war that often takes place (not to say that you won't experience that at times) and moves you in to the category of solutions expert, rather than a product sales person. This approach can be applied no matter what you are selling, as everything has a benefit; it's uncovering the challenges and aligning the benefits your solution brings which takes time, but delivers rewards.
I could go on, but the purpose of this summary is to highlight just how much effort and energy is required to become a true "solutions sales person" (solution is an overused term granted) compared with product and standard sales approaches.
I stand by this approach as it works.
However, real life doesn't always play out the way you planned it, but this will at least, increase your chances of success.
25+ years' experience in print and multi-channel sales within the print industry - from business forms, transactional mailing and fulfilment to full colour digital and electronic marketing communications - has given me a well-rounded skill set across multiple sectors including financial, pharmaceutical, retail, hotel and leisure, healthcare,...