At any stage in your Sales Process, you need to be able to answer the question, “Am I winning or losing the sale?” It is too late to discover as the sale is Closing that your prospect prefers the competition, not you.
Many buyers today are very careful about how they interact with sales people in competitive buying situations. They work hard not to disclose their leanings or preferences. Their aim is to keep all sellers engaged in the buying process right up until the end in order to generate lower prices, concessions, and give-aways.
Yet, buyers often have a preferred supplier in mind when they start a competitive buying process, or will decide on one part way through. Not surprisingly, they usually end up buying from this preferred company even though they may still claim that all suppliers have an equal chance at winning.
As a sales person, you are paid to win, and clearly, it is to your advantage (but not necessarily to the buyer’s) to disengage from the process the moment you determine the prospect strongly prefers the competition or strongly dislikes your solution. You cannot afford to waste the time, money, and effort to stay engaged in a buying process you cannot or will not win.
So, given the above, how can you determine if you are winning or losing? Here are three ideas that will help you answer this key question and improve your closing ratio, perhaps dramatically:
A simple question like, “How am I doing?” or, “What do my chances look like?” asked of different individuals in the buyer’s organization at different times, can bring forth some very useful information. Even if the buying organization wants to keep you in the dark, you may still be able to find out what your chances look like.
Ironically, many sales professionals are nervous or even afraid to find out how they are doing in a competitive sale. They don’t want to hear that they may be losing, especially if prospects are hard to find. Or, they simply assume that if they persevere they will be able to win.
You have a ‘right to know’ how things are going because you are spending your company’s money and resources - i.e. your time and possibly that of others, use of assets, the incurring of expenses, etc. Some large and complex sales can cost many thousands of dollars to pursue. This fact demands you have a reasonable expectation of a return on the investment you are making.
Usually, the worst that can happen by asking how you are doing is that you will not get a useful answer. Some buyers may prohibit you from talking to their people and I refer them to the above paragraph. You don’t have to sit in the dark, nor should you want or expect to. This is an irresponsible position for you to take with respect to your employer. In any case, it is unlikely that you will reduce your chances of winning the sale simply because you asked how you were doing.
2. Keep Qualifying
At the beginning of your Sales Process you ‘Qualify’ a sales opportunity in six or more key areas to determine if it is a good deal for you to win and whether or not you can win it. This ‘opportunity assessment’ is important and can be quite involved for some deals. This should not be the end of your efforts in qualifying the potential for a sale, however.
It is vital that you continue to Qualify the opportunity as the sale progresses and you learn more factual information about the customer and their requirements. Often, you may learn that your initial qualifying information was incomplete or even wrong. This is especially true of the customer’s Need. As you learn more about it, you may find your solution has some problems you did not see at the start, and the competition's may be a better fit. What initially seemed like a good chance for a sale may actually become something you cannot win. As soon as you determine this fact to be true, you need to withdraw from the sale for the reasons outlined above.
Conversely, confirming your initial qualifying data will help to bolster your confidence and make it easier to remain strong during the presentation, closing and negotiating phases.
3. Look for Positive Buying Signs or Signals
In some sales where information may be difficult to get by the above means, you need another way to determine how you are doing. This is where Buying Signs or Signals come in. These are the less direct or less obvious indicators that can tell you if you are doing well in the sale or not.
Positive Buying Signs or Signals are the simple actions, words, or deeds that indicate the prospect (hopefully, a decision-maker) is favoring you, or considering what it would be like to buy or own your product or service.
Here are a few common Buying Signs / Signals:
1. Asks specific questions about: - application, functionality or other uses, pricing, acquisition, ROI, availability, timing, implementation, etc. and reacts favorably to your responses, either spontaneously or through trial closes. (Don’t know what a trial close is? It isn’t necessarily what you think it is.)
2. Acts as your coach or champion.
3. Initiates communication with you.
4. Volunteers or willingly shares competitive information.
5. Rearranges their or other schedules for your visit(s).
There are many more, some related to industry or customer / market buying habits, body language or cultural practice. Spend some time to create you own list.
While none of these signals is a guarantee of sales success, they can be reassuring positive indicators, especially if you continue to see several of them during the progress of a sale and from different individuals.
Should you be worried if you do not see any Buying Signals when you are interacting with your potential customer, especially late in the sales process? In a word, Yes!
If you get no positive indication at all, it is possible, and maybe probable, that you are not winning the sale. The customer may be staying engaged with you just to foster competition, and may have no intention of buying from you.
Use these three tactics to improve your winning ratio and get out of sales you can’t or won’t win.