Close Deals Faster: Aligning with Customer Priorities
Do you have a customer who has said, “Let’s do it!” but they haven’t yet placed the order? While you might think that you’re a loser as a closer, you’re not. This is a priority problem. Making the commitment of placing the order isn’t a high enough priority for your customer.
Priorities define the order in which tasks get done. It’s the “Where” and “When” decision that defines the sequence of events.
Do you have any control over your customer’s priorities? Think so? When was the last time a salesperson rearranged your priorities? If they made the attempt, how did they do it? The offered you a better price or made the product feel like it was scarce and you if you didn’t act right now, you wouldn’t get what you wanted.
If the product is truly scarce, that’s a great tactic. If it’s manufactured scarcity, you’re skating on thin ice, acting out of integrity. If your customer discovers that it’s not really scarce, you blow your trust – the basis of all successful sales relationships.
If you’re selling a high-consideration product, using scarcity as a closing tactic rarely works because the products are customized and the customer knows you’ll make one just for them.
Priorities can be assessed on a number of dimensions. When determining priorities, use open-ended questions. Don’t ask questions that start with Do you, Are You, Have you, Will you, as you don’t get enough data to make a determination with just a yes or no answer.
Here are four priority areas that drive most purchase decisions.
A set budget is a solid indicator of priority. If they have a budgetary number, they’ve made some consideration of cost or investment and therefore have made the initial decision to purchase. High-consideration purchases almost always have a budgeting phase and low-consideration purchases rarely do, instead being purchased out of an expense fund or operations budget.
Ask, “What’s your budget?” Don’t ask, “Do you have a budget?” Closed ended questions don’t give you the information you need. Here’s why? Ask the question and you’ll get one of three answers:
- We don’t have one.
- I’m not going to tell you.
- It’s ________.
If they don’t have a budget, offer to help them construct one. “We’re the people who help companies like yours plan and budget so there are no surprises.” Lack of budget is always a priority issue.
When people say, “I don’t have the money” it’s fiction. People always have money to do what they want. Broke people make bail. – Joel Block
If they won’t tell you the budget, it’s because it’s either embarrassingly small or they’ve had an experience where a salesperson discovered their budget and forced them to spend all of it. In this case, they’re protecting their number. Ask, “What was last year’s budget?” They’ll usually tell you because the money is spent. Next ask, “Is this year’s budget a percentage larger or smaller?” They’ll probably tell you. “By how much?” Some will tell you and some won’t. In either case, you know that there wasn’t much thought put into the budget if it is an increment or decrement from the prior year. You’ll need to educate them on how to budget.
If the give you the budget number, never make the rookie mistake of saying, “We can work with that!” Instead ask, “Under what circumstances could that increase?” You’ll find out if there’s opportunity to expand the budget and how to do it.
Ask exploratory smart questions:
- How did you determine the budget? (Did they do research, or is it a SWAG [scientific wild ass guess])
- What does it include? (Identifies their level of analysis)
- What do you think it leaves out? (Opens conversation for a bigger budget)
- What other departments might contribute to the budget? (Other budget sources?)
- How does the budget take into account options for leases or other financing? (Is financing part of the deal)
- Under what circumstances could would that budget increase? (Other expansion opportunities)
- What’s it cost for things to remain as they are? (Identify the costs of doing nothing)
- What’s it worth for you to proceed? (Identify the value of moving forward)
With these last two questions, you’ve established a defensible budgetary range. If you can solve the problem for less than the cost of doing nothing and they can make more from proceeding than the proposed investment, you have a viable cost model. You can now calculate the cost of waiting to present to the strategist and budget approver that can create new urgency and shift priorities.
Who’s paying attention to this project? The higher up the food chain, the higher the priority. If this is a board of directors driven initiative, it’s high priority. If it’s a front-line worker, probably not so much. You need to understand who has a say in this project to make sure you don’t get surprised by a competitor who knows more about the account than you do.
The more people paying attention, the more complex the deal. In this situation, careful map the purchase process to manage the moving parts, allocate resources, and orchestrate the players.
Ask smart questions to determine who’s involved:
- Who’s driving this initiative? (Identifies the project lead, but not necessarily the ultimate decision maker)
- Who has this as part of their management objectives? (Identifies KPI drivers)
- Who wants this to succeed? (Identifies potential allies)
- Who wants things to remain as they are now? (Identifies potential resistance)
- Who decides what needs to be done? (Identifies the strategist)
- Who decides how to pay for it? (Identifies the commitment maker)
- Who determines acceptable ROI? (Identifies financial overseer)
- Who determines how it gets done? (Identifies the tactical deployer)
- Who ultimately is responsible for the success of this project? (Identifies the top responsible party)
- Whose job depends on this? (Identifies end users and potentially critical parties)
- What is the process your team uses to purchase something like this? (Identify their process, if they have one)
- Who has the ultimate approval or refusal? (Identify the ultimate decision maker)
- Who is involved in the approval cycle? (Maps the approval team)
- What’s the approval path look like? (Maps the buying process, which becomes your sales process)
- Who has approved a purchase like this in the past? (Identify past decision power)
- How will they be involved this time? (What is their impact this time, there may be politics involved)
- How did they make the decision last time? (Uncover decision making process)
This set of smart questions lets you map the players in the deal, those you need to engage with and identify their motivators when you’re involved with complex, high-consideration purchases.
Identify resources allocated and what’s been done so far. The more resources, the higher the priority and the less likely the project will be cancelled. Ask smart questions like these:
- What resources have you allocated to this project? (Resources mean prior expenditures and commitments made)
- Who has been assigned to be part of the team? What are their roles and responsibilities. (The more members, the higher the priority)
- What have you already accomplished on this project? (Where are we in the project timeline)
When you understand and align with allocated resources allocated, maximizing the existing investment, you create more value and a cohesive customer connection.
[The next segment was previously published and I’m including it here for completeness of the topic.]
A deadline is the best priority indicator. It’s fundamental to every deal.
No deadline, no deal.
There are two types of deadlines: internal and external.
Internal deadlines get set by the strategist, the person keeping score with KPIs. There’s a high probability of hitting that deadline or someone’s dead – or their career takes a hit. When the deadline looms or there’s an emergency, companies pay extra to expedite a solution. For example, overnight delivery costs 20-30 times greater when compared to first class mail service. Faster costs more.
Understanding internal deadlines lets you judge priority and decide how to allocate sales resources.
External deadlines we put on the customer. “If you order before the end of the month, I can knock off an additional 10 percent.” You always give away margin when using an external deadline. An external deadline attempts to alter the customer priorities by trading budget for urgency. For high-consideration offerings, this rarely works to the seller’s advantage, instead tipping your hand to show the buyer how low you’ll go. And when they’re ready to place the order, they’ll want the same deal, and will probably hold out until you give it to them.
Don’t offer discounts in exchange for an earlier order. It screws up margins, teaches customers to expect discounts, and rarely brings in the deal sooner.
Exceptions to the no discounts rule:
1) You hold excess inventory (products, labor, empty calendar dates, perishable offerings) and need to move product now. When the overstock is gone, so is the deal.
2) You have a price increase and offer to sell at the existing price now.
Smart Deadline Questions
Uncover deadlines with these smart questions:
- When does this need to be in place? (Installation deadline)
- When do you want to start? (Availability deadline)
- When do your people need to be trained? (Team readiness deadline)
- What has to happen before you can begin? (Gating factor to the deadline)
The response to the last question uncovers if there are things you can do to accelerate the deal. Perhaps you can clear the way with your products or services.
“You said that before you can start, you must ______. I’ve got good news! We can do that as part of the project.”
Notice that the question NOT to ask is, “When will you make the decision?” The answer to this is much more accurately determined from the other deadline questions. Besides, they’ve already decided, they haven’t yet made the commitment. (What’s the difference? Read about it here.)
Now that you understand their priorities, you can focus on top issues and learn about what creates value for them.
On another note, Let’s have a conversation about speaking at your next event, growing your business through strategic planning, marketing plans, executive coaching, and customer acquisition systems. Find a mutually agreeable time at MarksSchedule.com or contact me.
Or you might like to listen to other topics like this on the SellingDisruptionShow.com, the weekly podcast for professionals whose job depends on disruptive sales and marketing.