So far in our series on how to help your prospect sell internally, we've covered three steps in the process:
- The purchase cycle – Where is the organisation in the buying process? How close is the prospect organisation to a purchase decision? What steps do they still need to go through? At what stage are you entering their process?
- The buying team – Who are the three types of people involved? What roles do they play in contributing to the purchasing process? What are their motivations and what kind of information do they need?
- Defining objectives – What action(s) do you want the various members of your prospect's buying team to take?
Now that you've built this platform of knowledge and have a clear sense of purpose (why you’re doing what you’re doing!), you can work on developing your sales strategy and tactics, which must consider three key factors
- Size and complexity
This relates not only to the size and complexity of your product or service proposition but also to that of the purchasing organisation. The greater the size and complexity of either, the more you'll be working through a series of developmental sales calls, which we discussed in our last post on defining objectives.
How much change will your product or service require from the organisation? And what is the organisation’s tolerance for change? Does the organisation and buying team perceive (widely/deeply) that they're getting a poor result from their current course of action or do they think that their existing situation is good or good enough? If its tending toward the latter then there will be limited motivation to act on a solution and bear the pain involved (time, cost, etc), no matter how compelling it may be.
What's your relationship and that of your prospect/champion with the various members of the buying team? How might you/they be able to leverage a preexisting relationship to aid your cause? And what's your relationship to where the organisation is in the purchasing cycle? The earlier you enter the process, the more strength you'll have.
Of these three elements, the organisation's tolerance for change is the most important factor in determining how quickly it will move through the purchasing cycle. That's why salespeople must be change agents; you/we are in the business of inducing people to change. For much more on the mindsets of change, the motivations of change and how to implement change, see our page on how to manage organisational change.
As we stated in our first post in this series, you always want to try and communicate directly with the purchasing authority, no matter what stage of the process you're in. But since reality often dictates otherwise, you must be prepared to work through your primary contact who becomes your champion for selling internally on their own.
Dealing with this task can be challenging. First most competitors, other than an incumbent, will be in the same situation and facing an equal disadvantage. This is one reason why it is so advantageous to get into an organisation’s purchasing cycle as early as possible, particularly if you can work with them to surface a problem, and then help them define and solve it. And second, you can actually apply many of the same principles and processes that you would use in a normal sales situation – and that's much of what we've covered in this series. So no matter what the situation, stick with this proven framework and you'll find that your chances of success will be significantly enhanced!
"Creativity is nothing more than having the ability to understand the forces impacting upon us and then being able to utilize those forces as a means or a tool for reaching our objectives. It's the ability to understand our conditions and environment and then put them to work for us." Bear Bryant
In our last blog, we posed a dilemma often faced during the sales process: If you can't communicate directly with the purchasing authority in your target organization, then how can salespeople help their prospect sell internally? While there isn't a straightforward solution, dealing with this issue is very achievable using the framework we’ll outline in this and the next three blogs. It will help any salesperson support their principal contact and champion.
As we outlined last time, the culmination of the process is having your contact implement the right sales strategy. But before you can have them do that, you have to develop your sales strategy – and that starts with allowing for the creativity that Bear Bryant cites in the above quote.
How can you help yourself be creative? Like Bryant says, you must understand the forces impacting upon you. In other words, what factors shape the client's conditions and environment? What are the various influences and personalities at play?
When it comes to the sales process, there are two core elements that shape the prospect's environment:
- Where is the target business in the purchasing cycle?
- What is the make-up of the buying team?
Today we’ll look at the first of these two influences on the prospect's environment: the PURCHASE cycle.
When making a major purchase, the vast majority of organizations (public, private, small and large) go through a process that is comprised of a series of sequential steps that inform their decisions. Although much of the content of the process is unique to each organization, the structure of the process can be distilled to some universal basics that are shared amongst all. Even with a very general understanding of where the prospect's organization is in this cycle and the forces impacting upon them, you will glean invaluable information that will support and enhance your creativity.
We've captured the essence of each step in the PURCHASE cycle below:
P roblem identification
In order for any person or entity to undergo change, they must experience a problem that causes some form of pain. In this initial period, the organization identifies such a problem and acknowledges that they need a solution; this ‘identification’ can often be informal and unconscious.
U ncover various alternatives
The organization considers whether anything can be done to alleviate their dissatisfaction (pain). If there are no feasible alternatives, they'll live with it. But if they identify that a potential solution maybe available, they will move to the next step.
R esource identification
The organization considers how it can solve the problem: Can it be addressed in house or will they need to seek a solution from an external supplier?
C oncrete specifications
Almost always written, the buying team develops the criteria of what's required from a solution so that it can adequately solve their problem.
H old out the opportunity to suppliers
The organization reaches out to various suppliers seeking information about what's available in the market.
Note: This is often where many salespeople enter the process. However, as a rule, the earlier you enter the purchasing cycle the significantly greater strength you have with the prospect.
A nalyse suppliers
The various suppliers present their proposals to the organization. During this stage, it's not uncommon for the organization to determine that they need to rewrite their specifications, either because they didn't capture everything well enough the first time or because they've identified new opportunities.
S elect preferred supplier
The organization selects their preferred vendor and engages with them in a negotiation process. This is where you can expect your margin to come under the greatest pressure.
E ffect the solution
The organization implements the purchased product or service.
As we said at the outset, even though the content of this buying process will be unique to each organization, the PURCHASE acrostic acts as an informative pathway to guide salespeople. By determining where the organization is in the process, how close they are to a purchase decision and what steps they still need to go through, they afford themselves an invaluable snapshot of their environment; this enhances sales creativity, and allows them to develop and manage a more effective sales strategy.
But the purchase cycle is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding the prospect's environment. In order to manage it effectively, and therefore fully realize the potential of your creativity, salespeople must also determine who they're selling to, because we don't sell companies or organizations – we sell people. And we'll explore this topic in our next blog, when we look at the buying team.
As every effective salesperson knows, you must determine early in the sales process whether the customer or prospect you're working with has the authority to make decisions and purchase your product or service. That is, do they have economic power? If they don't, they're merely a gatekeeper (sometimes willing, sometimes reluctant) who is blocking your way to the person with the real purchasing authority.
There are no two ways about it: Without access to the purchasing authority, you face a more significant pathway to the sale. Even if your principal contact/gatekeeper wholeheartedly buys into your value proposition, it doesn't matter; until the person with economic power has the same appreciation of how your proposition will create value for them and their organisation. Until then your work is for naught.
In a perfect world, salespeople will always try to communicate directly with whoever has the purchasing authority. If your initial contact within your target business isn't the authority, you get with whoever has it. But as we know, it's not usually that simple. In fact, it's not unusual for the authority to go out of their way to shield themselves behind gatekeepers.
Whilst selling to a customer who doesn't possess purchasing authority is not ideal, it’s often the norm and there are certainly ways that you can help your prospect/contact sell internally... and thus help you make the sale.
Central to this goal is that you want to make your contact, presumably already a champion for your product or service, a de facto salesperson for you inside their own company. And you can help them become such a salesperson by guiding them through the same process that you undergo every time you work your way through a client relationship to make a sale – that is, you need to help them be able to transfer their belief in your products and services to the organisation by creating and communicating value.
If you want to effectively help your champion create value in the mind of the purchasing authority, it isn't going to happen overnight. However, when you understand it, it's actually quite a tactical process that with enough practice and application is very doable for anyone to achieve.
Through the next four blogs, we will follow up with a series that will expand on the four steps that we recommend salespeople follow to help prospects sell internally:
- Understand the purchasing cycle – Businesses of every size go through a similar process, and if you're to understand the people you're dealing with, you must understand how they purchase, what procedure they follow and where they are at anytime in that cycle.
- Understand the buying team – When you can't gain direct access to the purchasing authority, you're probably dealing with a buying team. Every one of these teams includes three types of people (or roles that they fulfill), and it's essential that you identify each member and determine what role they play.
- Define objectives – All sales calls or presentations must begin in the mind of the salesperson with a clear statement of purpose. And when it comes to more complex sales, especially when you don’t have direct access to the purchasing authority, it's essential to work with your contact to define a concrete series of objectives.
- Form a sales strategy – With your objectives defined, you will need to develop a sales strategy with your principal contact based on three factors: the size and complexity of your value proposition to the target organisation, the organisation's tolerance for change and the nature of existing relationships within the organisation.
Insights into each of these steps will be covered in our next four blogs. If you don't already subscribe to our blog, enter your email address into the field at the upper right corner of this page and you'll receive an email notification each time we post a new blog.