Winning a B2B sale requires not only a lot of skill but also a substantial commitment of time. Sales cycles are long, multiple players are involved in the decision process, and the competition is keen.
Recently we came across an interesting post by Steve Martin in the Harvard Business Review that reported on a study about when customers make their final decision on who the winner is going to be. Let’s take a look at the findings and then review what they mean for sales reps.
Martin interviewed a 1,000 customers as part of a win-loss analysis study. He found – “Approximately 30% of the time, the winner of the sales cycle was determined before the official selection process started. Another 45% of the time, customers had already made up their minds about whom they were going to buy from about halfway through the process.”
This means that 75% of the time, customers make their final decision halfway through the selection process.
If these results are even half true, it’s a telling story. This means many sales people may be doing the right thing but at the wrong time. So, what are some of the best practices for addressing such a scenario? Let’s explore three:
- Develop an in-depth understanding of the buying process early on. Too many sales reps have too limited an understanding of the buying process. It is important to know who is involved and what role they will play. Plus, you need to understand the decision criteria and how you stack up versus the competition. The smart money gets in early and influences the decision criteria in a way that brings value to the customer and puts them in a better competitive position.
- Make the call. The results of the study indicate that it is important to know whether you are really a viable competitor for the opportunity. It takes too much time, effort, and money to simply play it out to the end all the time. Sometimes it is better to make the call and make the investment of those resources in another account.
- Lay the groundwork for next time. If you do decide to walk away make sure all the bridges are still standing. Make sure the customer knows why you are not going to continue to pursue the opportunity. This is also a great time to correct any misperception about your company and remind folks of your strengths so the groundwork is laid for the future.
As a final note it was also interesting that in the study – “In almost every case, the decision wasn’t even close between the top two choices.” If that is the case, there must be signals along the way whether you are number one or number two.
In some markets these findings are critically important. For example, if you have a large number of potential accounts and a small sales force, this one bit of information could be a game changer as to your overall sales strategy.
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