Thursday, June 12, 2008

Driving Mechanisms and Critical Events

This subject has come up a lot lately. It’s interesting how many people in sales don’t understand this very simple concept. If there isn’t a change agent going on in the business, change will not happen. If this change is not tied to a drop dead date, it will not happen in a predictable timeframe. When you say it out loud is sounds intuitive. When I talk with clients and they are lamenting about long sales cycles, unpredictable forecasts and why their sales people can’t close business, my first thought goes to these two concepts. Let me explain further….

Almost every professional sales person has now figured out that they have to solve a business problem to stand a chance of closing the deal. They understand that uncovering and validating the pain is important, if not critical. The top echelon even goes as far as to have the prospect validate the value of the pain in their own words. They get the solution to belong to the prospect by having them articulate the need and the value to themselves of meeting that need. Mike Bosworth in “Solution Selling, Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets (McGraw-Hill 1994) defines a prospect as a buyer who has admitted a problem. So you understand the buying process, you are dealing with the decision maker, they have a budget allocated, you have not only uncovered the business pain, you have gotten the buyer to admit to it and put a value on it. Deal closed, right!

Why is the deal still in the pipeline three months from now? How do you overcome objections when there aren’t any? The checks in the mail.

The reason is there are no driving mechanisms and/or critical events to cause the decision to be implemented. Your prospect, the CFO or the VP of Purchasing has never processed the paper because there are other pressing issues or no issues at all. In James Clavell book “Shogun” (Cornet Books 1975), Lord Toranaga constantly reinforces to Blackthorne that no decision should be made until it has to be made. The driving mechanism might be a face-off with his arch-rival, but there is no attack; therefore no critical event. The same is with sales. There must be a driving mechanism such as a reorganization, critical financial crisis, or new business process. Something which causes the potential buyer to consider alternatives to what they are doing today. This is what got you to the presentation and the proposal, but it won’t close the deal. Too many times we get this far and assume the deal will now close.

This is where understanding the critical event becomes extremely important. If I am going to forecast this sale, I had better understand when and why it’s going to close. If my solution is part of a process required to achieve a goal, I need to work backward from the launch or introduction date of the new process to create my critical event. “If we cannot start implementation by next week, we cannot make the launch date of May 17th.” “If your new plant is scheduled to go into production on July 1st, then we need to….now”

If they want to improve your AR process or their sales process, but haven’t actually committed to when they must accomplish it, then I can’t forecast the close date on my deal. If they want things to be better, but don’t have a time line for making them better, then I can’t predict when they will buy, if ever.

Even when the pain is real and the cost of the solution is less than the problem, without something driving the buyer to implement the solution, there is no deal. This is why opportunities linger in the pipeline for months and then fad away…..

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