Many sales organizations get caught up in the details of educating or convincing their prospect to buy. Some sellers might even ask “What do we need to do to earn your business?” and worry about what they can do to facilitate the buying process. “What do you see as next steps?” is another common question that salespeople ask. These sellers lose sight of the fact that it’s the prospect that needs to do something for a sale to happen.
Clearly, the prospect needs to agree to basic things like when they will make a decision (although few salespeople ask the prospect this). Also, less obvious prospect commitments and actions can be a very strong indicator of their intentions. Examples might include signing a bilateral NDA, giving the salesperson specifics or detailed drawings, introducing the salesperson and involving other key executives, or simply approving the seller as a vendor in case they decide to buy.
“Actions speak louder than words but not nearly as often.” – Mark Twain
We’ve worked with many companies where a half-day tour of the selling company’s facilities led to a 70% closing rate. Of course, they didn’t invite just anyone in for a tour. They did a little qualification first. The key is the salespeople learned that traditional selling/educating were not nearly effective as asking a qualified prospect to visit their facility. The prospect had to make some effort to visit the facility. As one of my clients said recently “They have to have some skin in the game.”
There are countless examples of other actions the prospect takes that indicate they are more likely to buy from you. The key is to identify what the prospect actions are in your industry and hold your sales team accountable for obtaining them. These actions should be easy to measure.
Learning to accurately forecast sales is a sophisticated process, critical for firms that must allocate manpower or resources to satisfy investors or manage capacity for future customers. So, you can imagine our frustration when we work with a new client whose sales force has been arbitrarily assigning “percentages” to each account in their pipeline and then wondering why the team misses their own forecast.
“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” – John Locke
We recommend that executives monitor these specific actions taken by the prospect to develop reliable metrics to predict sales. If you are in a long or complex sales cycle, wasting precious resources on prospects that never take any action and never buy can have immense consequences. Learn a lesson from Twain and Locke: Stop relying on what the prospects say and start relying on what the prospects do.