View article as originally published on Forbes.com
Whether you’re a small business owner selling consulting services or the head of a sales team at a large supplier, you’ve likely noticed your clients’ buying process has grown longer, more complex, more secretive and more frustrating—for both them and you—over the last few years. Spoiler alert: All signs point to this trend continuing for the foreseeable future.
One option for handling this ever-more-complex buying environment is simply to keep doing what you’ve been doing and hope your right-fit opportunities don’t get derailed.
Or, you can make some modifications on your end that give you greater control and predictability and boost your close rate.
If you’re game for the latter of those options, here are five simple steps to start.
1. Build and maintain a proprietary list of sales derailments.
It’s vital to create and actively maintain a list of what derails your firm’s sales opportunities, specifically. Chances are, it’s a relatively short list. And when a problem does crop up, it’s usually one of the same handful of issues you run into 80% of the time.
Nonetheless, this specific list of sales spoilers should be documented in writing (not kept in your head). Rank them in order of prevalence, with hard metrics on the number of times each particular issue has occurred, how it was handled and what the end result was.
As with most problems, it’s easier to avoid letting toothpaste out of the tube in the first place. With your list of derailments in hand, you can better develop proactive, creative approaches to get out in front of the most common issues before they happen.
These proactive approaches might involve redesigning the process of how clients buy from you, better aligning messaging to key stages of the buying journey, retraining your sales team, strengthening your results data, making enhancements to your products or services or, even better, qualifying prospects from the get-go to avoid inevitable dead ends.
2. Don’t let “starry eyes” create “happy ears.”
Did you know that decision-makers outside of the procurement, supply chain and IT departments are rarely, if ever, formally trained on how to purchase products or services from outside vendors or service providers? This lack of training, combined with the pressure to get something done, can result in decision-makers overestimating how far along they really are in the buying journey.
In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, 65% of B2B customers “spent as much time as they’d expected to need for the entire purchase just getting ready to speak with a sales rep.”
Here’s what this means for you in practical terms. You cannot allow the enthusiasm and “starry eyes” of your prospects—who are no doubt excited to finally solve a critical problem in their organization—turn into “happy ears” for you, where you only hear what you want to hear.
Instead, it’s imperative that you stay vigilant, cautious and eagle-eyed, looking for any red flags of impending derailments. In fact, the more enthusiastic your prospect gets, the more cautious you want to be.
3. Embrace more people involved in the buying process, not less.
This may sound counterintuitive. However, instead of hoping a new deal gets closed with as few people as possible in your client’s company noticing, it’s often smarter to embrace more people being involved in the buying process early on.
This is especially true with any initiative that will impact multiple areas of an organization. Because the sooner you uncover detractors, objections and other potential derailments, the more room on the playing field you have to address them.
To involve people in a way you can still have some control over, partner with your prospect to host things like internal executive briefings, key stakeholder roundtables, success showcases or Q&A sessions with subject matter experts from your company. These formats will allow you to frame the conversation, ensure the right information is shared at the right time and, most of all, avoid late-stage derailments.
4. Treat your primary points of contact as sales trainees.
No matter how hard you work to ensure all the right decision makers are involved in the buying process, there will be internal stakeholders you won’t get to speak to and they hold influence over the buying decision.
According to Gartner, buyers spend only about 17% of their buying journey talking to the potential service providers or vendors. The other 83% of the time, conversations are happening without you.
So, like it or not, your primary points of contact within your prospect’s organization are now your de facto sales team members. It helps if you truly appreciate that they are playing this critical role, and that you arm them with the right insights and materials just like you would a new sales trainee.
Share with them the biggest questions and concerns that typically come up inside of organizations when making this type of investment. And walk through how your team typically responds.
Prep them with simple, straightforward talking points, business case data, social proof, anecdotes, comparison charts and key messages they can easily recall and reference. And make sure you create a relationship dynamic where they’re not avoiding reaching out to you with questions because they’re afraid you’ll start pushing about a decision being made.
5. Trust your internal warning system.
Lastly, remember that despite all the advanced data, analytics and strategies available today, the best sales tool in the world is still your gut feeling. Your primitive, subconscious mind picks up more information than you’re aware of, and your instincts are usually right. Trust your instincts because it’s your built-in, early-warning system when a potential derailment is coming.
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