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When To Walk Away From A Prospect

For those of you that experienced it, you would probably agree the financial meltdown of 2008-2010 was not a fun time for most in the profession of sales. 

During the meltdown, one of my former colleagues, Tom Brigiotta, Senior Vice President of Sales for Imprivata Inc., reached out to me with a conundrum. He said even though the financial meltdown was in full swing, they were experiencing more leads than ever before, but not surprising, their conversion ratio was progressively worsening. He wondered if I could help them navigate the situation.

After talking to several people on his sales team, we rationalized the uptick in MQL’s (marketing qualified leads) as a combination of their recent investment in better marketing automation and lots of people who now had excess time on their hands. It appeared the economic slowdown left many IT people with more time to research solutions but less budget to spend. Translation: They were getting flooded with tire kickers.

As I’ve reflected on in past articles (No Decision Takes Twice As Long As Wins), a prospect that doesn’t buy actually robs you twice. First because you spent time with them and end up with nothing to show for it, but worse, they rob you of the time you could have spent with a prospect that was better prepared to buy.

No matter how well your organization defines qualification, most sellers tend to view “interest” as the dominant qualification question. Unfortunately, in tough times, every interested prospect seems like a rare commodity so there’s a heightened tendency hang on for dear life to the detriment of the seller. Imprivata was no exception, which meant they were spending too much time with interested contacts who couldn’t buy. As a result we decided to take the opposite tack and implement a disqualification process.

We broke down the disqualification process into these questions:

  • Can the contact articulate the problems they were trying to solve? (Or in the absence thereof, agree that a suggested set of problems were relevant and important to address.)
  • Could the contact articulate the cost of not solving the problems? (Or conversely, the value of solving the problems.)
  • Could the contact articulate the business issues that currently had the attention of their senior executives? (The goal is to align the purchase with the current focus of the senior decision maker, otherwise the chance for a no decision outcome increases, especially in a tight market.)

In the event that a contact could not positively answer one of more of the questions above, we posed one second level question to determine if any more time should be spent on the dialog:

  • Can they bring someone into the discussion who could answer these questions?

If the contact refused to bring another person into the conversation and could not represent any answers to the first three questions, they were to be put back into the marketing lead automation system and the sales person was to move on to the next lead. The goal was to filter out the tire kickers and find prospects who were better prepared to buy in the tough economic conditions.

The result was astounding. Imprivata closed 20% more transactions that year than they did prior to the economic melt down, and their average contract size improved by 19%. My analysis led me to conclude the increase in contract size was due to the contact’s ability to more effectively articulate the value proposition in their internal justification. Even though most sales leaders were biting their nails at that time, Tom told me this experience was the most fun he’s had as a sales leader. 

Currently we find ourselves in a different place economically. But even though the market is much healthier, it’s possible to find yourself with the same problem. Too many leads that seem to be interested, but not enough that will pull the purchase trigger. If that sounds familiar to you, then make note of the questions above and apply a disqualification process to your MQL list. I’m sure you’ll find yourself with a more manageable list of prospects that are ready to buy effectively.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. 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.

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There Are Two Types Of Value Propositions

Have you ever heard the story about the six blind men and the elephant? The one touching the trunk thinks its a banana tree trunk, the one touching the ears thinks its a large hand fan, the one touching the legs thinks its a pillar, the one touching the stomach imagines it to be a wall and the one touching the tail said it was a snake. Value propositions depend on your viewpoint, and the best one is the one that aligns with the customer’s situation.

A few years ago, I was conducting a series of opportunity reviews for Cisco. One of the highest profile opportunities they wanted my help on was Hertz, the rental car organization. The opportunity size was significant, but internal visibility had become a negative. The forecast item had slipped from month to month for several months and senior sales leadership was pressuring the entire chain of command for closure. Needless to say, the sales team was very interested in getting this engagement off of the table.

After covering the background and the history of activities with Hertz, I peeled back the onion with questions about the value proposition. The person in charge of the account was very confident in his reply, “We have documented a significant reduction in their cost of ownership with our solution”, he explained. He went on to detail numbers that were quite impressive. When he finished, I asked, “is this your value proposition or theirs?”

The quizzical look on his face answered my question.

I put my pen down and dug in. I suggested he pretend he was the CEO of Hertz. “As the CEO of Hertz,” I continued, “tell me what the single biggest issue is that you were banging your fist on the table about during your most recent executive staff meeting.” I was trying to create a scenario that he could envision. He looked at me and nodded his head, “That’s easy, its market share.” He continued, “They want to be number one in their industry, but are stuck in the number two position.” I asked him how he developed this perspective, and he explained that he had read about it in multiple articles and verified it through conversations with different stakeholders in the Hertz organization.

I was quiet while I let his observation sink in.

I could see the revelation roll over his face. Then he shook his head and concluded, “Cost savings is our value proposition, not theirs.”  

I continued, “So what’s the risk to your sales cycle if we’re pushing one value proposition, but the decision maker is on the lookout for another?” The account manager nodded his head and replied, “it’s probably going to get pushed out until the business issue I cited is relevant, or the primary issue has been resolved.”

I followed the train of thought, “Now tell me, how does your solution help them with improving market share?” He curled his lower lip under his teeth and proceeded to rationalize the connection to their interest in providing a better Internet shopping experience, directly connecting to problems with their current network architecture.

The two different value propositions both have their place in the sales process. The selling organization should use their value proposition, in this case – reducing total cost of ownership, to establish credibility and generate interest, but they should use the buyer’s value proposition – increasing market share – to harness their motivation to change. This seller was using the selling value proposition for both. Unfortunately, if they don’t happen to align, it can result in no decisions or delayed decisions, as was the case here.

In my previous post on buyer behaviors, I revealed the six questions decision makers will want answered before they sign off on large purchase requisitions. Two of the questions, “Why change?” and “Why now?” are intended to tease out the relationship of the purchase to the current business issues demanding the decision maker’s attention. If the seller or the buying sponsor miss this connection, the decision maker tends to put the decision on hold, while they look for other recommendations to address the current business issues at hand.

The Cisco team went back to Hertz with a revised proposal highlighting market share as the key driver for the purchase. They were happy to report they closed the order later that month.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. 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.