There were four people on the other side of a blind web meeting. As the call unfolded, I knew I had a confused buyer on my hands.
While I rarely run into a confused buyer, my clients experience it on a daily basis. The reason I don’t witness it often is that I typically engage the VP of Sales as my first contact. It’s rare to find one that is confused about what he or she is trying to achieve and the problems that are contributing to their challenge. On the other hand, most of my client companies sell to IT or some other technical organization where their first point of contact is usually at an implementer level and unaware of the business challenges or objectives for the organization.
I was put in contact with this task team charged with finding a sales methodology for their organization. When I asked them to describe the sales challenges they would like to overcome with this initiative, it was like one of the current presidential political debates. No one could answer the question directly, but they all had something to say. Most commonly it was a complaint from their individual perspective about some other organization: marketing material is bad, internal approval process is horrendous, our customers are competing with us, and the like. When I tested for challenges like selling across the product line, facing new competition, getting to more powerful stakeholders and the like, there weren’t any takers. (And believe me, I did my homework on this organization!)
Not having clarity on the problem definition would seem bad enough, but then one of the team members dropped a bomb on my lap that my customers also run into every day. He asked if they could spend half a day with me to dig into the depths of our offering. On the surface, a request to engage in a deeper evaluation can sound like there’s genuine interest in a solution, but in reality, it’s the death spiral of the snake and prey about to begin.
Lacking a cohesive agreement on the problem definition, each stakeholder is likely to prefer a different solution based on their individual perspective, resulting in a chaotic buying process. Further, the invisible problem statement also makes it impossible to develop the value proposition to weigh against other uses for the money, leading to a drawn out process, or more likely, a no decision. When I brought the lack of a cohesive problem definition to their attention, one of the stakeholders recognized the implication and suggested a step to develop the problem definition.
My strategy is to encourage the development of the problem definition by including the ultimate decision maker and myself in the process. If they can’t or won’t, I will consciously limit my exposure to a potentially huge time sink.
For those of you selling to infrastructure or operations organizations, I suggest a checkpoint before you begin the evaluation process. Try to answer these two questions:
- Can you clearly articulate the problem definition and would the buying team agree?
- Would the decision maker agree?
If the answer is “no” to either of these questions, be cautious about engaging in an evaluation process unless you have time and money to burn. This unproductive buying behavior is rampant and is the biggest contributor to the common 40% to 60% no decision results most professional sales organizations tolerate.
Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.