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How To Close Every Year End Deal

It’s that time of year again. If your sales team is shifting into gear to close out the year, this article may help you optimize your outcome.

I’ll introduce two very valuable tools for managing the closing process more effectively, the Mutual Activity Plan and the Close Plan.

The Mutual Activity Plan (MAP) is a document developed with the prospect to identify the activities required to reach a decision. These activities might include meetings with other stakeholders, conducting evaluations, talking with references, proposal reviews and more. It’s organized with due dates and action owners as if it’s a project plan – because it is a project plan. Further, it’s a “map” to a destination point; placing the order.

The value of the MAP is getting the buying sponsor on board with you with a timeline. Moreover, if they fail to meet an action item, they have broken an agreement of sorts, providing you with the platform to ask, “why?”, or better, ask for something in return. If they fail to meet a commitment, I suggest asking for something in return that will help improve your chances of closing on time, such as meeting with the final decision maker, or reviewing the prospect’s internal justification document to add suggestions for example.

Here’s a simple example of a MAP:

Activity                                                                           Owner                  Due Date

Discovery meeting with all stakeholders         Smith                    11-25-15

Demo for entire team                                                Smith/Jones        12-1-15

Review with Legal                             Smith/Jones        12-7-15

Engage Purchasing                            Smith/Jones        12-14-15

Place order                                                                    Jones                   12-20-15

Given the complexity of your sale, the MAP may be short and to the point, or it may be several pages long. The longer it is, the more important it is to establish it as a tool to manage the process to a predictable outcome.

Recently, one of the sales leaders in a client site of mine reviewed the previous quarter closing results for one of his struggling sales people and found that every opportunity that closed had a MAP, whereas, the opportunities that slipped into the next quarter did not have a MAP in place. The lesson for the sales rep: it’s difficult for the prospect to meet expectations if they don’t know what they are.

The Close Plan is the MAP plus the internal activities the customer should not see, or should not be bothered with, but need to be managed to closure. These might include examples such as a credit check on the customer, approvals for special options, new product capabilities that are required, discount approval and more.

I typically see more complex close plans required for professional services or other applications where there are multiple contingencies to address, several internal approvals required, and heavily customized solutions. However, sometimes they are more complex because of the nature of the selling company’s culture or bureaucracy. Regardless, the more internal obstacles you have in the way of closing an opportunity, the more important it is to have a close plan in place to keep every required activity front and center.

Finally, having a plan in writing is good, but it also needs to be managed to success. Use the MAP or Close Plan as a review tool to help the sales person make progress on their plan. Check off items as they are achieved and identify activities with high risk to brainstorm on alternatives and contingencies.

I feel compelled to wish you luck closing out your quarter, but we both know that it comes down to great leadership and disciplined sales professionals.

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Control The Buying Process: Gives and Gets

As we roll into the holiday season, its time to think about giving… and getting.

Research by CEB indicates top performing sales people exert more control over the buying process than their colleagues. In this article I’ll share two powerful tools for exerting more control over the buying process which can result in higher win rates and shorter sales cycles.

One of the key premises for control is a healthy balance of give and get. If your buyer values you and/or your solution, they should be demonstrating this by collaborating with you when the process hits a snag. If the balance is heavily lopsided in their favor, you are most likely not their first choice.

Gives and Gets

The discipline to routinely ask for something in return is a powerful control tool when it comes to improving sales results. Consider some of the common requests potential buyers make of you:

  • Can we arrange a demo?
  • Can we install your solution on site for 30 days to evaluate it?
  • Can you provide budgetary pricing?
  • Can we see your five year roadmap?
  • Can we talk to your subject matter experts?
  • Can we talk to a reference?
  • … and more!

Each of these requests presents an opportunity to ask for something in return. I recommend asking for information or activities that will shorten the time to decision. Some examples:

  • Access to other stakeholders, especially those with the power to say yes to a decision.
  • Insight into key metrics that could shed light on the value proposition for making a change.
  • Insight into key competitors and their differentiators that might be important to address.
  • Collaboration on the internal justification document.
  • Confirmation of the current business issues demanding attention in the buyer’s C suite. (This gives you the opportunity to tie your solution to a strategic initiative.)

Keep track of the Gives and Gets outcomes to provide you with a view of the health of your relationship with your buyer. Wins usually have a balanced Give/Get ratio, losses and no decision outcomes are usually biased toward the buyer’s demands with little representation of the seller’s requests. A one sided relationship usually indicates that you are not the first choice, and you are probably being used as column fodder against another preference.

A Series of Formal Agreements

As you navigate your way through the buying/selling process, take notice of the number of informal agreements you establish along the way. For example, which stakeholders you can access, how long the evaluation will take, the decision criteria, when a decision will be made, and so forth. Each of these agreements presents an opportunity to exercise more control by formalizing the agreement in writing. I’ve seen top performers build a list of agreements into something I call the mutual action plan, however, it doesn’t have to be a signed document; it can be a simple email recap with a request to acknowledge the agreement.

The act of formalizing the agreement is valuable in itself for exerting control; however, the most powerful use of the concept comes about when your buyer breaks an agreement. This is when you have the right to ask for something in return! Think of this as a level two Give and Get.

For example, let’s assume you have documented the terms of an evaluation. But now the buyer comes to you and says, “I know we asked for 30 days to evaluate your solution, but we ran into some other distractions that got in our way. Can we extend the evaluation another 30 days to make sure we have ample time to conduct a proper evaluation?“

If you have established a more formal agreement, you should be entitled to ask for something in return. Once again, ask for something that will help you shorten your sales cycle, like access to other important stakeholders, or validation of metrics that can support the need for change.

Conversely, if you failed to document the agreement, you have less ground to stand on to ask for something in return. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask, and it doesn’t mean they won’t grant a return request, but the odds go up for granting your requests when a more formal agreement is in place.

Summary

To shorten sales cycles, reduce the number of no decisions, and set expectations for the dynamics of your relationship, consider using Gives and Gets as well as Formal Agreements to exert more control. Lastly, tracking the positive acceptance or negative denials for Give/Get requests may provide you with advance insight about the outcome of the process.

If you want to change your discipline in this area, consider mounting a poster above your computer to remind you to look for Give/Get opportunities and Formalize AgreementsHere’s an example you can modify to fit your needs.

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“I’m Sorry, We Don’t Have The Budget”

This is my favorite objection… Ever!

Actually, I’d like you to think of of it as an invitation, not an objection. So it’s my favorite buying invitation, ever! I’ll explain…

Every seller has heard “lack of budget” as an excuse on multiple occasions. When I conduct workshops on being a more agile seller I gather the most frustrating sales challenges from the audience. Lack of Budget is usually in the top five.

Let’s start by translating what it really means. When a contact says, “we don’t have a budget for this”, they’re really saying, “I don’t have the authority to change the budget.” This means someone else has the authority to execute a reshuffle of the budget.

Now comes the interesting part: The agile seller uses lack of budget as an invitation to meet the real budget authority and sell larger deals.

A while back, I had a LinkedIn message exchange with a former colleague of mine, Steve Flannery. Our quick exchange reminded me of a time when Steve tackled this challenge in spades. I recall reviewing his “year in advance” forecast with him during a Q1 Ops review several years ago. During the review Steve revealed his largest customer, Unisys, would not be spending any money on our solution in the coming year. They were dropping from spending over a million dollars a year to zero – nada, zilch. When I asked why, he described a situation where Unisys was consolidating from five product lines down to one and laying off personnel, leaving them saturated with our software solution. He ended his story with the words, “so they slashed the budget”.

I suggested it was an invitation to meet with the person who slashed the budget.

Steve set up a meeting with the General Manager of this particular Unisys division. When Steve met with the GM, he found the situation was even worse that he previously understood. As a result of waves of personnel layoffs, their best remaining people were shopping their resumes and were likely to jump ship. That meant the GM wouldn’t have enough of the right people to get their only remaining product line to market.

This opened up an opportunity for our services, and Steve ended up closing a $75M contract to insure the one remaining product line succeeded.

Here’s what I learned from Steve’s experience:

  1. If there’s a big problem lower in the organization, it’s probably more painful higher up.
  2. Budget is an amorphous solid. If you forgot your high school chemistry, an amorphous solid is one that can change shape, usually by adding some heat.
  3. The Agile Seller uses lack of budget as a reason to meet with the person who can reshape a budget.
  4. An effective problem diagnosis can create a larger opportunity with the person who has the authority to move money around.

Let’s exit Steve’s example, and talk about the everyday, ordinary selling campaign. Can a seller still use lack of budget as way to get to a decision maker and overcome the obstacle? The answer is yes, if…

If… the seller does an agile job diagnosing the problem set and uncovers the impact of not taking action. When done effectively, the contact will usually respond positively to a request to collaborate together to get the purchase funded, including taking the message to more powerful budget holders.

So the next time your hear “no budget”, translate it in your head as an invitation. It’s an invitation to diagnose effectively, meet other stakeholders and create a larger opportunity.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.