(This post is adapted from K&R Negotiations’ Six Ways to Shorten the Sales Cycle, a complimentary executive brief.)
Perhaps your strategy-level sales conversations have centered on how to shorten sales cycles. Many companies find themselves mired in protracted sales negotiations, driven in part by the expanding involvement of multiple people (and functions) in the decision process.
A recent article (The High Cost of Buying Complexity) cites CEB (now Gartner) research when saying that the customer’s own expectations of the buying process are exceeded by 97%, i.e., taking 97% longer than expected by those requiring the sought goods or services. This seems true whether the ultimate purchase decision is made or if the process results in no decision. In our experience, this is a result of changing priorities or organizations due to passage of time.
Sellers and sales organizations are often their own worst enemy in this process.
Factor in the Decision Process – Make It Easier for Your Customer to buy
One of the most obvious errors we see is the lack of knowledge of the customer’s decision process. This falls on the seller; however, just as often, we see that buying organizations that need the goods or services don’t have a firm grasp on how to navigate their own processes. This is where a knowledgeable seller can help. They need to ask their counterpart at least three questions in the interest of realistic expectations.
Three Questions Sellers Should Ask Buyers
“What criteria will be used to make the decision?”
We recently advised a client that projected a major deal to close in 90 days. The value proposition was compelling – the buyer would save millions of dollars per year in running their core banking system. When we asked about the process, this was the conversation:
Them: “The CIO will need to go to the board to get approval, but that is just a formality.”
Us: “How will the CIO decide whether or not to go to the Board?”
Them: “If we demonstrate we can actually do this and the savings are compelling. The business case on savings has already been discussed and we have a proof of concept running.”
Us: “Good! When is the PoC supposed to be completed?”
Them: “In one week.”
Us: “When is the meeting with the CIO to discuss the outcome of the PoC scheduled?”
Them: “The week after that.”
Us: “How often does the Board meet? When is the next meeting?”
Them: “Once monthly, however, due to a national holiday, the next monthly meeting will not take place. So, in about 6 weeks.”
Us: “And once the Board approves, will procurement issue a PO?”
Them: “No, they will issue an RFP.”
Us: “And how long will that process take?”
Them: “It has never taken more than 2 months from the RFP request.”
This team was taking an incredible risk and would likely be frustrated, along with the CIO. So, we discussed what could be done to compress this process in a collaborative way with the CIO’s organization. These included steps like:
Collaborating with the CIO’s Organization
Relentless and thorough preparation is where negotiators on the vendor side shortchange themselves. It’s a major point of focus during our negotiation training, and one of the most critical aspects of this is considering the various groups of stakeholders across the table that need to understand and buy your value argument.
The thought process for you as a negotiator is similar to that for your internal negotiations: Identify goals by individual, using their measurement systems as appropriate. Remember that the higher you go in a customer organization, the greater the span of control. As a result, getting sponsors at those levels gives you greater leverage in closing agreements. Research shows that senior executives get very involved in the decision process for major purchases. But that involvement is typically early and late in the cycle.
Asking the right questions and managing the negotiation process with key roles in mind will lessen the likelihood that your deal languishes on the buyer’s side of the table.
Download your free copy of Six Ways to Shorten the Sales Cycle.