Crisis-proof your sales by taking control of the process

RFP’s are the bane of every salesperson’s existence. While they dangle the carrot of a large chunk of revenue, they require weeks of expensive staff time to respond to, often require travel by top personnel and usually end in weeks of waiting.  And the result, too frequently, is that the candidate selected was a foregone conclusion.

This type of customer-driven sales process drains resources and confidence and can result in companies being unable to respond when legitimate sales leads arise.  To make matters worse, it can instill a crisis mentality in a sales organization in which blind activity substitutes for planned, proactive action. The answer is to crisis-proof your sales by controlling the process.

Understand the risk of giving prospects control

Clearly there will always be parts of the process that lay beyond a sales organization’s control.  But that doesn’t mean the sales team should hoist a white flag and surrender to the whims and wishes of every prospect.  It is not in the team’s long-term interests to do so.  It may make a prospect feel like a great negotiator to have whittled down the price or extracted a pound of flesh from your company, but is this the sort of long-term client you want?  Winning a client by these means establishes a very unbalanced relationship in which the client wields all of the power.

When companies look at what you offer as a commodity, it’s just a matter of time before another company reduces its price or sweetens the deal more than yours.  And once on the path of competing on price, there is no going back. The precedent is set and the organization has to live by it.

Lest there be any naïve salespeople out there who believe that an account will be loyal because they value the relationship that’s developed, think again.  It doesn’t happen anymore.  There’s too much competition, transparency in pricing and pressure to get the best value for this to hold true in today's market.

In fact, there is research that suggests that the "relationship" salesperson is the least effective in today's market.  It is the challenger sales rep who is the most likely to win a company’s business.  The challenger sales rep does not take a passive, reactive role in the sales process.  Instead, he or she is not afraid to challenge the prospect's assumptions about what is needed or how to evaluate the value of a product or service.  This may seem counter-intuitive in a down economy, but when challenger selling is done with authority and respect, it works.

Taking control gracefully

To challenge tactfully and with authority requires significant preparation. Credible, defensible information needs to be gathered such as:

  • Background on the prospect (nuts and bolts information as well as critical business issues that the company is grappling with such as increased competition)
  • The prospect’s industry (regulations, globalization, etc.)

This information will illustrate the company’s understanding of the prospect and the environment in which it works.  At the same time, information needs to be gathered on the demonstrated value that your product or service has brought to companies that are similar to the prospect.

By quantifying the value in measurable terms such as ROI, a credible, objective value proposition can be developed.  This data provides the foundation for a respectful, challenging discussion with the prospect.  And it is this data that enables the sales organization to crisis-proof its process.  Backed by hard data, the value of the product or service is not vulnerable to price negotiation.  Further this type of data elevates the discussion from the mid-level manager to the C suite executive who has budget authority.

Finally, the team must show the discipline to only pursue those prospects who are your best prospects based upon an evaluation of your current accounts.  This will ensure that you don’t waste precious resources or time on low-value, low probability prospects.  When the entire sales team commits to strategy selling, the process becomes crisis-proof and the results, impressive.

"This article was originally published in SOLD magazine, a monthly digital sales magazine for sales professionals."