Leading the sales process can, quite simply, transform your sales performance.
By taking control and leading the sale at your own pace, you will significantly improve your sales forecasting accuracy and the certainty with which you hit your sales targets and earn your sales commissions.
You will be able to take control of your own destiny and will be viewed by peers as a leader who makes things happen. Furthermore, you will be able to control the pace of the buyer’s decision-making process in each and every sale.
So, how does a sales person successfully lead the sales process?
To take charge and lead the sales process, it is essential that you:
- Create a compelling event in the future to get action now.
- Plan the sale backwards to lead the sale forwards.
- Be proactive in your leadership of the sales process.
- Develop a champion in both companies to really make things happen.
Now let’s take a look at each of these crucial elements in turn.
Create a compelling event in the future to get action now
A compelling event in the future provides the buyer with a hard deadline, by which time they must realise the benefits of your solution. This creates urgency in the mind of the buyer and encourages them to act immediately.
By creating a compelling event, you will create a clear, irrefutable and time-bound common objective that you and the buyer must work towards to achieve a win-win situation (i.e. a win for the buyer in terms of benefits, and a win for yourself in terms of closing the sale on time).
The compelling event should be a major external pressure which poses a distinct challenge to the organisation you are selling into. It is important to exploit external pressures because they are not within the buyer’s sphere of control. If you pick the right external pressure this will have a major impact because the buyer will not be able to simply ignore it or make it go away.
A compelling event might, for example, be the end of the financial year for either a commercial or public sector. Alternatively, it could be a major sporting event, such as the 2012 Olympics for a London-based firm that organises travel and accommodation for overseas tourists. For gift and food retailers in the western world, it may be a popular holiday season, such as Christmas or Easter.
Plan the sale backwards to lead the sale forwards
In his landmark selling book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Sales People”, Stephen R. Covey states, “Begin with the end in mind”.
Indeed, it is essential that sales people plan the key stages (or milestones) of the sales process backwards from the compelling event or date which they have created in the buyer’s mind.
If you have created a compelling enough event, you will have earned the right to lead the sales process and will be able to start planning the major milestones required o deliver your solution on time.
You will be able to agree with the buyer how much time should be allocated to each milestone and you will be able to work with the buyer backwards from the compelling event to develop a clear plan for delivering the solution.
By planning the sales backwards from that compelling event you created, you and the buyer will realise that the signature of the contract is something that really has to happen soon if the solution’s going to be delivered on time.
Be proactive in your leadership of the sales process
Master sales people are always proactive in their leadership of the sales process.
In doing so, they make their own luck; they realise their own desires without being too pushy or aggressive; they act rather than wish; they motivate key people to act, rather than demanding action.
Proactive sales people lead the sales process without complaining and ensure that they are responsible for their sales plans – regardless of who has been assigned to deliver the key tasks leading up to the sale. They determine what needs to happen when, and from whom, before taking the initiative and selling to everybody they can rely on to deliver each milestone in their sales development plan.
To be proactive it is important to maintain a positive attitude and mindset. This naturally motivates those around you to do the same. Use positive but assertive language. For example, you should be asking your clients “How can we get this done by 20th August?” rather than “Can we get this done by 20th August?”
There may seem like little difference here, but the difference in outcome is often huge. Notice that the first question was open, yet the second was closed. It is essential that you proactively use open questions and take people’s advice if you want to control the sales process.
It is also important to revisit and test your sales plan every day. Attempt to foresee any potential problems or crises and act on them before it becomes too late.
Develop a champion in both companies to really make things happen
When selling any kind of business solution, you need senior people in both the buying organisation and your own organisation to make your deal one of their top priorities.
You need to develop supporters of your cause (i.e. champions) who have real authority to get things done in both organisations. These champions are crucial to you leading the sales process as they can have the authority to remove obstacles and sales objections and can speed up resources to get things done for you more quickly.
In the buying organisation, you need key people to act in terms of allocating budget, placing orders, accepting solutions, testing solutions, and paying the bills.
In your own organisation, you need key people to contribute their expertise towards pricing or specialist information to be included in sales proposals, to provide demonstrations, to plan and configure your solution, to install and deliver your solution, and to send out the bills.
Although this often seems daunting for sales people, it is essential to getting deals closed in time, to hit your sales targets and to meet your sales goals, regardless of the size of organisation you’re selling into and regardless of the average size of your sales.
The problem is, however, that senior executives are extremely busy. Even if you have created a clear, compelling event in the mind of your client, he or she may become easily distracted by other issues or events which take up their time.
It is therefore important to communicate your project to these key people in the context of their world, not your own. You need to drive the momentum and motivate key people in both the buying and selling organisation to act at the right time in order to close your deals on time. Again, this can be done through creating compelling events in the future which will motivate these people to align with your cause.
But remember, senior people often have big egos and tend to appreciate recognition for their contribution to your success. Consequently, it will do you no harm to attach some glory to their track-record and achievements when communicating with them. Just don’t go overboard or you may come across as being fake!
Master sales people are able to influence the priorities of their buyers AND the priorities of their own organisation to close sales in line with their forecasts. They are able to accelerate or hold up the sales process at every stage to make sure the key people in both organisations are perfectly aligned.
They present the sales process as a means to delivering benefits to both the buyer and their own organisation as quickly as possible. They even present the sales process as a roadmap for delivering multiple, ongoing benefits for their buyer over a predetermined timescale. This enables them to determine and accurately forecast which products and services their clients will buy and when.
Like a great midfielder playmaker in soccer, a quarterback in American football, or a scrum-half in a world-class rugby team, great sales professionals control the game.
Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director of Sterling Chase