I recently was halfway around the world, meeting a new business partner, and found myself in the midst of a seller’s nightmare: I had to do an in-person prospecting call on one of the world’s largest banks, with an unfamiliar business partner, with no idea of the reason behind the cold call, or the people who would be there.
When I was picked up from the airport I was told of this meeting, and there was no one available to discuss anything with me until we were at the client site. Nightmare.
As we entered the building, I quickly asked the history of the prospect relationship, the expected outcome, and the level of the folks we were meeting with. The news wasn’t good: this was the first prospecting call and they weren’t sure who would be attending, but they hoped I could help them open the account by using my Buying Facilitation model to encourage a working relationship.
Great. Just great. Unprepared. No data. No strategic planning. The prospect would see an unknown vendor, coming for an unknown reason, dragging along a very tired – and unknown – foreigner. They’d most likely know nothing about my work, models, or books. They wouldn’t know how to differentiate me from the competition, or how to choose me.
What would success even look like? And other than what I’d read and heard about this Middle Eastern country I didn’t even understand the cultural norms of vendor/client communication, not to mention if my being a woman would be a negative.
THE NEED FOR FACE MEETINGS
When Dale Carnegie introduced the need for face meetings, face time was vital due to the difficulty in getting broad exposure for products. Now, we can take it for granted that the next seller who stands in front of our prospect – if we can even get an appointment! – will be just as charming, caring, well-dressed, smart, and professional. And if a personal relationship is the only criteria for a prospect choosing a vendor, then the seller has a truly long slog here, to find only those buyers with buying patterns and personalities that match the seller’s selling patterns and personality.
I don’t believe in using my body as a prospecting tool. I believe that if it’s important to a seller to have a face meeting, they should first become part of the prospect’s decision team and have already decided collaboratively, with the prospect, how they plan on working together and how best to use a face meeting. Then, a face meeting cements the relationship and brings together the rest of the decision team, even on the first meeting. Otherwise, the only prospects who will agree to a face meeting are those already in the market, and interviewing untold others. Not to mention that when several things seem the same, the only differentiator is price.
But I didn’t have much choice in this instance, and there was no agreement, action plan, or stated outcome that a prospecting call using Buying Facilitation would have ensured.
I realized that I would be out of control during this call, even if my training would solve their business problem: there was no prior decision on who should attend the meeting and an untold number of people from the decision team wouldn’t be present (and would need to be managed afterwards somehow); and if they were willing to see us on a cold call, they were certainly seeing others.
CASE STUDY OF A FACE-TO-FACE PROSPECTING CALL
Given that my choices were limited, our meeting proved interesting. I believe I made a difference in our ultimate outcome, but I’m not sure that a face meeting was any more successful than if I had used Facilitative Questions on the phone.
I’ll describe the face visit conversation, and then offer a mock Buying Facilitation conversation as to a phone call I might have had prior to the meeting.
At the prospect’s site, a large man with a gentle persona, followed by a smaller, local, man, came out to bring us to a small office in which sat a very professionally attired woman. The large man sat down in a tiny chair, and the smaller man went behind a very large desk. As they introduced themselves, I barely had time to peruse the 2 business cards handed to me – the men gave me cards, but not the woman.
I addressed my first Facilitative Question to the man behind the desk: “How are you currently adding new sales skills to the ones you’re already offering your
staff?” I realized that I had addressed the question to the wrong man, as I noticed everyone looked to the large man in the small chair for an answer. I quickly glanced down at the business cards and noticed this man was the big big boss. He began telling a charming story of how he was just in the country for a few weeks, and newly brought in to head up this division and bring in new thinking. He said he was delighted that I asked that question.
OK. I was on the right track but there was a major problem: the local man at the big desk had been at the bank for a long time, and was the sales manager for 5 years. If he had been doing a good job, the new man wouldn’t have been brought in! Not to mention that the smaller man most likely had a team of loyal followers (in countries outside the US, folks stay at their jobs for decades) who would have some strong feelings about a new man, from another country, coming in with big ideas that would certainly change their status quo.
The problem was much, much bigger than needing new sales skills. All of the brilliance I offered would be moot if they couldn’t manage the internal politics that this problem created. And, obviously, I couldn’t manage the internal politics for them: while their Identified Problem was something I could solve with my product, until they could manage their internal politics, they weren’t going to take any action.
The internal problem
Once I recognized the elephant in the room, I decided to ask a tactical Facilitative Question to help my prospects begin to make sense of their main issue:
“Since you (the man at the desk) have been around for some time and have a loyal team behind you, how can you bring in new thinking (which he obviously had failed to do) that might represent change, and have the team remain loyal?”
The man behind the desk nodded:
“No problem. No problem. We can handle this. We are very excited to have someone new join us with new ideas. We look forward to change and hearing how you could help us.”
The boss quietly said:
“That is why I’m here: to bring in new thinking, and manage implementations. I’m sure that we can all get on board here and there shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve done this sort of thing in other banks, and we’ve been successful. I have met the folks here and they are great. It will be fine.”
OK. Now I had a larger problem. They were either really going to be fine, they were doing denial, or just giving me, the outsider, the company view. I had no way of knowing. I turned to the woman (turns out she was the training manager) seated, quietly, next to me and said to her:
“I’m so glad that everyone is getting on so well, and I’m sure that it will work out fine. I’m wondering what you would need from a vendor to ensure an easy implementation?”
She briefly opened her eyes wide, and quickly returned to her very very composed, professional behavior.
“Thanks for bringing that up and caring. I’m sure that there won’t be a problem, like the gentlemen said (smart woman). In case there is, maybe you could explain to us what you have done in the past when bringing in new material? And possibly give us a run-down on what you have that might be interesting to us to help us differentiate ourselves from our competitors, as I saw on your website (Ah. The woman had done her homework.)? If what you have has value for us, maybe you and I could have further conversations about the content. Along the way, if any internal issues come up – which I don’t think there will be – we can discuss them at the time.”
Good. I just got onto the decision team.
“Great. It seems to me there are several issues here. One: how will you all decide on the specific type of new thinking you would be willing to bring in; Two: how you’ll know that one specific set of skills would work better than another since you wouldn’t have a way to understand the outcome before you start; Three: how you could ensure, before you start, that a new skill set would work comfortably with that your folks are already using; Four: how will you know when it’s time to address implementation issues; Five: how would you know we would be the type of partner who could help you manage all of these issues?”
The boss nodded vigorously and smiled. He asked me to write down the points I’d just made, email them to him, and contact him in two weeks to move the conversation forward. Sounded great – until I called him at the appropriate time, and he told me that he had handed everything over to the training manager. I had to ask permission to speak with her as no one had given me her number. I have left a message for her and have gotten no response yet.
I believe my ‘relationship’ with them all is as good as their memory. Did they like me? Appreciate me and my questions? Yes. Did that move the sale along? Not convinced – they still have too many internal issues to manage. And now I have to find ways to maintain the relationship and conversation, while living half-way around the world.
Because there was so much going on in the room, I’m not convinced they understood the difference between Buying Facilitation and a more conventional selling model. I have started a conversation, and we have developed some rapport. I believe they trust me a bit, and might consider a pilot – but I’m also sure they will pilot other programs as well.
Since I teach that it’s not necessary to make a face-to-face visit until the internal decision team has agreed to change and has a model for the specifics of how to bring in a new idea/product/vendor, I was curious if what happened in this interaction could have been managed better on the phone. I think so.
MOCK CONVERSATION OF TYPICAL BUYING FACILITATION SEQUENCE
I’ve never had a face meeting prior to signing a contract with a major corporation, and yet on a second or third conference call, I’ve met with the entire decision team and made collaborative decisions involving a great deal of buy-in and change. I will create a similar conversation here, much like I’ve done (literally) thousands of times before. Note the difference with the absence of the political issues, and how far I can get using these Facilitative Questions on the phone:
SDM: How are you currently offering new selling skills to your sales people?
Boss: We haven’t been. I’m just here a few weeks, and I was brought in to help us differentiate ourselves from the competition. I’m actually seeking new material to trial now as part of my purview.
SDM: That sounds exciting. What fun! What has stopped your group from achieving this until now?
Boss: The past manager was very good at keeping the status quo and managing the office politics. My job is to find new thinking and bring it in. Do you have something new for us?
SDM: Well, I’ve got a new sales model, but let’s discuss that in a few moments as I think there are other issues we’d need to manage first. I suspect you’ll have to manage some internal, personal issues with the old manager and his team with whatever material you choose. How would you need to work with a new vendor to ensure that you, the decision team, and the vendor, would all work well together while implementing a trial?
Boss: We’d all have to get on board here, make some team agreements, and monitor the implementation from the beginning. I would bring in the training manager to help with this as I believe her to be very committed to success. I’d also have to understand that your material, over the more conventional material, would bring me the new skills that I’m seeking while not creating too much confusion for our sales folks who have been using SPIN for a long time.
SDM: So as we move forward, we’d have to ensure that there is buy in from the decision team, and be aware of any danger signs. We could work that out between us. Before I give you data about my Buying Facilitation Method®, can you tell me what would new skills give you that you don’t have already?
Boss: We’re having great difficulty differentiating ourselves in this market: our products appear similar to our competitors, and clients don’t know how to buy us. We’ve tried educating them, but that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in our numbers.
SDM: My model, Buying Facilitation, helps buyers know how to choose you over the competition. It’s a collaborative decision making model, rather than a product placement or problem solving model – it gives sellers the tools to teaches buyers how to buy, rather than approaching it through the product sale. How would you know, before we were to do a pilot, that you and the rest of the team would be willing to consider a model this unusual?
Boss: I’d have to understand it better, and the team would have to agree to consider it. How can we get a hold of material that would help us learn more about it?
SDM: In addition to sending you some reading material, I’m actually coming to that part of the world in a few weeks. I would love to stop in and meet with all of you. What would be the best use of our time together once I’m there? And, given all of the political issues you’re facing in your new assignment, who should be at the meeting, what would you need to see from me, and what sort of an outcome would we be seeking? I think it would be best to plan all of this before I get there.
In my estimation, had I been able to use Facilitative Questions on the phone prior to our face meeting as I did in the mock conversation above, I could have helped the Boss recognize the internal issues (politics, relationship issues, and management issues, etc.) that needed to be managed outside of the purview of the Identified Problem and accelerate his decision cycle accordingly. I would have become his decision partner and eschewed the uncomfortable relationship issues that came up during our meeting. By the time it was relevant to discuss and pitch my product, he and the team would have been in a position to make a purchasing decision – or not, and I would have known that prior to making a face visit. [Note: Buy the book that breaks down the decision segment from the product sale segment: Buying Facilitation: the new way to sell that expands and influences decisions, at http://www.buyingfacilitation.com]
Use face-to-face meetings to cement the decisions the entire decision team needs to make with you; use the phone to help the early decisions get made and the decision teams coalesce and start taking the action they need to take anyway. It’s the internal, unique, and idiosyncratic systems end of the buying decision that’s been hidden from us for so long, but is now able to be managed with the Buying Facilitation Method®.
The time it takes buyers to come up with their own answers is the length of the sales cycle, whether it’s a decision to buy an insurance policy or a company-wide implementation. By leading the buyer through the entire range of necessary decisions, you can reduce the length of the sales cycle by 75% and you can do much of this on the phone. By sticking to Dale Carnegie’s belief that sales calls need to be face-to-face, you’re 1. helping delay the sales cycle, 2. not getting to partner with the decision team in a truly supportive way until farther into the sales cycle than necessary, 3. wasting unnecessary time on prospects who won’t buy, 4. keeping yourself solidly in a price, product, and service competition, and 5. waiting in the dark as the decision team figures out the decisions they need to make that you could have sequentially walked them through much more quickly.
Use the phone as a smart business tool. Save the face visits for when it will actually support a closed sale with a ready prospect. Do you want to sell? or have someone buy?
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