I recently came across an extensive thread in a LinkedIn sales group related to the number of phone calls one should make to follow up and close the deal. The responses were quite telling of a large segment of sales reps that seemed to generally recommend an unlimited number of follow-up calls and emails once a proposal has already been delivered to the client, all in the name of tenacity. While I can certainly agree that tenacity is a good quality in a sales rep, let me recommend a more strategic approach to shorten sales cycles, improve forecasting, and improve your client relationships.
Solution selling is about positioning yourself as a strategic business partner and advisor to your clients. One of the first steps in accomplishing this is to lay a foundation built on mutual respect between yourself and the client. Good business relationships should always be characterized by a mutual give-and-take among all parties involved. Just because one party may be selling a solution while another party is on the buying end, this relationship need not come unbalanced. In fact, by cultivating a business relationship built on mutual respect, a sales rep can avoid situations that require multiple unanswered follow-up closing calls, reduce sales cycle uncertainty, and present themselves as a valued consultant on an equal playing field as the client.
How can we achieve this seat at the table with our clients? A tactic I have used successfully since my time as a National Account Manager at Oracle, is the approach of using firm future commitments with clients in strategic B2B sales cycles (note I would not necessarily recommend this approach in a commodity sale). At its core, the concept is very simple. As a sales rep, I will do something for you if you, if and only if, you as the client agree to do something for me. I might agree to send you a case study if you are willing to set up a call with me in a couple days to discuss the implications of the case study to your business. I will send you a proposal if you agree to tell me yes or no and tell me why you don’t think there is a fit, but please don’t tell me maybe, and let’s set up a meeting or call to discuss the proposal in a couple days. Hopefully you get the idea. If I am providing the client with something of value, I fully expect to receive something in return for every step of the sales cycle. This may seem uncomfortable for many sales reps, but it will improve your numbers and clients will actually appreciate you for it. This tactic also has the added benefit of qualifying your deals and flushing out objections. If for instance a prospect or client will not agree to the next step you propose, now is the time to find out why. We have all heard of the 80/20 rule, and the quicker you can get to an actual no, the quicker you can move on to spend time on the 20% of clients that will yield 80% of your business.
One method I have been able to use effectively to get firm future commitments from clients is the use of a Joint Execution Plan (JEP). Once an initial meeting takes place indicating preliminary interest from a decision maker, I might set up a subsequent discovery call including other members of my selling ecosystem for a deeper dive into business challenges the client is facing. I would then create a document with “Joint Execution Plan” in the title and send it to the client for a signature before moving forward in the sales cycle. The JEP would include numbered steps for every stage of the sales cycle, tentative dates for their completion, and the initials of all members required for each step. If the client signs off on the JEP, this indicates that proper mutual expectations have been set and the sales cycle can continue. If the client does not sign off, now is a great time to find out why. Should the dates be adjusted? Are we missing a step? Is your prospect really the only person involved in the decision making process? Is the prospect simply shopping me to get a competitive quote? The answers to these questions are best discovered at the beginning of a sales cycle. By tightly managing my deals in this fashion, I seldom face any big surprises at the end of the sales cycle when asking for the deal and I certainly do not have to hound prospects to no end without any acknowledgement from the prospect. I have also been able to achieve a forecasting accuracy of around 85% when using this approach. While this method may not be for everyone, setting a goal to create a climate of mutual respect and expectations with your prospects and clients can only help drive success for yourself and your clients. Try it out! I’d love to hear how it works for you.