Securing the early bird advantage. Tips on how to sell ahead of the sales cycle

Does this sound familiar?

You have a meeting with a potential new client who seems to be absolutely in your sweet spot.

They have current goals and challenges that your business is well placed to resolve, and your initial meeting goes swimmingly. You have an interesting exploratory chat, you talk about how you deliver value and what makes you different. They tell you about their business and its direction and where they’re looking to get to but they can’t see the route just yet.

You come away from the meeting feeling very motivated. There’s clearly a fit, and you’ve talked about specific things you can do to understand better and to find some answers for them. They seem open and genuinely interested and you say goodbye, promising to send over some more information and to talk soon.

And then, nothing. There’s no reply to the fantastic pack of information you sent over. They don’t respond to your calls.

Tumbleweed.

 So what went wrong?

 

Managing a long sales cycle

 One of the biggest challenges for businesses selling complex high value solutions is managing the long sales cycle. Because what you’re selling is so high ticket it’s often tendered, and the buying process is influenced by a whole range of people in different functions, from operations to purchasing and beyond.

In order to get a better chance of a win there are big advantages to deep engagement ahead of the sales cycle.

Ideally you want to be through the door before your prospect has defined what they want, and certainly before there’s a formal tender in progress.

However it takes a certain mindset and set of skills to sell to people who perhaps don’t see themselves as ready to buy, and to avoid the tumbleweed. Here are some thoughts to help you gain an early advantage.

The first meeting

The way that you handle early exploratory meetings is key. As always in selling, you’re after commitment – not to the sale, but to a clear next step – typically further dialogue.

Securing this next step should be the objective of that first conversation. If you’re not managing to do so, examine what limiting beliefs might be stopping you.

Have you been perhaps put off by an initial rebuff, without exploring the reason behind it? Securing clarity on what’s really going on will help you adjust your approach and try again.

If the prospect seems to go cold later it’s easy to slip into self doubt – maybe we didn’t have such a great rapport, maybe we weren’t a good fit, maybe the situation has changed, they’ve found another solution, maybe they weren’t such a good lead after all. And the risk is that without securing commitment to further dialogue there and then, you may struggle to reconnect once the energy of the meeting is behind you both.

If you find yourself downgrading the validity of a lead because you have been unable to get a response from your prospect, it’s worth reminding yourself of the qualities which made you want to pursue it when you met.

You know what a strong prospect looks like. Right fit, issues you can address, and a willingness to engage further because of motivation that you have established by exploring why they need to change.

A good lead is in the right kind of organisational position and will have confirmed that they have influence over purchase.

If your lead still ticks all these boxes then they’re still a good lead, and you just need to do something different with them. If you fail at first, try again.

Be proactive and expand your influence

There could be any number of other reasons why they’re not responding to you; sidetracked by internal projects, illness, secondment, temporary project, client trouble-shooting. If you give up you will never get a chance to explore the potential.

Remember the prospect may not consider themselves in the buying cycle yet. There’s no deadline pushing them on, so it’s up to you to drive for an outcome, and ideally an outcome that’s not totally reliant on them.

The objective in an early sales meeting is to get to the root of the pain they’re facing, and to help them articulate it.

Find out why it’s important to them, and to the business, and find out who else cares about it.

Try and get a dialogue going as quickly as possible with more of the people who are invested in the transformation your solution could deliver.

The power of timeline

One of the key things I’ve observed in long sales cycle, early stage relationships is that most sellers are used to coming late into the fray, where there’s already a requirement. And when they do come in earlier they don’t explore the timeline of the situation thoroughly enough.

Asking what’s the timeline here? what’s driving it? and how can I use that to my advantage? can put you in the driving seat. 

If you’re trying to get commitment to a next step, ask the prospect when they’d like the change implemented and work from there. Work out with them what needs to happen first.

Ask who else needs to be involved, who else could scupper it and how do we bring them on board? And if they haven’t really got a timeline in mind, then it becomes a question of what’s the cost of deferring change, both to the business or to your prospect personally.

Exploring timeline is a marvellous way of identifying a route map to help the relationship develop, of understanding how promising the opportunity is, and in triggering a purchase cycle that features your solution right from the start.

Securing an early bird advantage

Being an early bird in the process brings huge advantages.

Remember that most new business specialists are more used to dealing with people who already in the market and motivated to ask questions that they can respond to.

Most people aren’t used to proactively engineering the process from the get go. If you can become skilled at exploring timeline and resilient when dealing with little stumbles caused by organisational barriers you’ll get ahead of the game.

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