Ever find yourself in a situation where a prospect shared a critical bit of information with your competitor – but not you?
But don’t expect the customer to feel much remorse. The truth is that buyers rarely volunteer all the information you need or want. Because it’s not their job to help you sell.
It’s up to you to draw information out of prospects. And often, the win will go to the salesperson who does it best.
Why customers hold back
Everyone knows that sharing information is essential to putting together the right solution. So why do buyers hold out on you? There are four basic reasons:
The buyer makes faulty assumptions about what you need to know and the level of detail. Let’s look at the first reason. Often buyers give you – and your competitors for the deal – what they consider ample information for you to make a recommendation. Of course it is never enough.
Worse, when everyone is working on the same information, you risk submitting a proposal that looks just like all the others.
Guess what happens next? You’re right – the prime differentiator becomes price. And you don’t want to play that game.
The solution? Don’t accept the buyer’s assumptions on what you need to know. Go into the discussion with a firm idea of what you must learn to sell to this buyer.
You’ll get better info when you lead this discussion. What’s more, it shows the buyer that you really know your stuff. And it means you’re more likely to find an issue that your competitors know nothing about.
Here are some questions you might ask:
- How will this project contribute to critical strategic objectives? What are the current business priorities? How will this project be perceived in that context?
- What are the criteria that will be applied and under what conditions will they move forward?
- Who are you, the seller, really competing against? Is it well-known competitors, new players or the status quo?
A time-starved buyer may not have had enough time to fully think through their issues. Executives are crazy-busy these days. They’re often not experts when it comes to the issues they face. And they haven’t the time to think everything through or do a lot of research. Which means that whatever they tell you is based on a superficial analysis.
You know what happens next. You build your proposal on the needs that were expressed, only to have the buyer (or buyer’s boss) say at the end, “Well, you haven’t addressed the real problem.”
The solution: Challenge the key decision-makers to think hard early in the process. Challenging questions might include:
- “Tell me why this is a problem that needs to be solved.”
- “What will happen if you don’t?”
- “You say you need to do X to stay competitive. What exactly do you mean by ‘competitive’?”
- “How will you define success on this project?”
Your contact doesn’t have an understanding of the full picture. Even when you are well-connected in an organization, it may be that your contact is only privy to part of the information you need. And the larger the organization, the more people are likely to be involved.
Early on, you need to get a handle on who the key players are, what role they are likely to play, and where their interests lie (in terms of the problem and your solution).
Ask outright “Who has the most at stake?” and “Who has the right information?” before you get stuck too low on the food chain in the target organization. Take extra care to understand what’s important to the ultimate stakeholders and use that insight to give them good reasons to share information with you.
The buyer doesn’t want to give you the full picture.You may come across buyers who don’t want to open up, and hold back intentionally. There may be valid reasons, but more often the unspoken reality is:
- They don’t trust you (or more likely any sales organization) enough to share the information you need.
- Their policy requires three bids, or they are looking for creative ideas with no intent to hire you.
That’s when you need straight answers to tough questions – even if it hurts. Is this a legitimate opportunity? Why are they asking you to be involved? Is something keeping them from sharing the information you need to make a solid recommendation?
Don’t accept “vanilla” answers. Dig for the truth, because without it you won’t have what you need to differentiate yourself.
Adapted from an article by Jill Harrington at www.salesshift.ca
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