One of the hardest things to do is to figure out when your prospect will purchase. Recently I was coaching a new ValueSelling client who was discouraged that he had missed his quarterly forecast. He was feeling a lot of pressure from management because he misjudged the timeline on closing an order, and his revenue wasn’t going to realize for another three to six months.
His products and solutions, which improve efficiencies and patient safety in hospitals, hinge on educating his prospects how innovation can be applied to problems that plague healthcare institutions. His qualified prospect, an executive decision maker, determined that the solution had enough value and positive impact to justify the significant investment.
What the prospect didn’t share, or rather, what my client didn’t uncover, was that he needed to institute infrastructure changes to prepare for the new equipment and processes. These changes would take up to 90 days to implement and the expense would be covered under the budget of the current quarter. He would not be ready to approve a purchase order for the equipment and installation until the end of the next quarter, which corresponds to a new budget year.
How was this salesperson blindsided? What happened? The problem, a lack of collaboration, is one that can be avoided.
One key to maintaining control over your sales cycle and increasing forecast credibility is to make sure you and your prospects are collaborating together toward an agreed upon outcome. In the ValueSelling Framework®, we call this creating a Mutual Plan. A Mutual Plan is a set of activities, a timeline and a sales tool all wrapped into written correspondence between you and your prospect. Key components include:
Plan: There are compensation plans, territory plans, account plans and opportunity plans. Each of them have a place in sales. A “plan” in ValueSelling terminology is an agreed upon process between the buyer and seller that results in the buyer resolving a business issue and set of problems with the seller’s solution. The plan is where you, as a superstar salesperson, can reverse engineer the prospect’s buying process and uncover all of the steps the company and individual will need to be convinced that your solution will do what you promised.
Mutual: By definition, mutual means joint, shared, common, collaborative and reciprocal. The plan is not mutual if the salesperson is the only person who creates it and knows about it. To engage the prospect in both creating and executing the ValueSelling plan, ask specific questions to involve the prospect. For example:
- When do they need their problems to be solved?
- What needs to be in place in advance of the installation or training?
- How long do those steps take?
- What resources might be involved?
In Writing: Yes, the plan needs to be delivered in writing, whether in the form of an email, an attached document, a letter, or a presentation. (Side note: if you’re not sure of the best way to communicate a written plan to your prospect, just ask!) The plan includes the timeline, activities and assigned accountability you and your prospect have developed together. There shouldn’t be any new information in the written plan. Instead, the written plan is a summary of the conversations that have taken place.
A good plan can differentiate you from your competition and put you back in charge of the sales cycle. Many sales people don’t take the time to formalize the business relationship. While they might send follow up emails about next steps, the spotlight remains on the salesperson’s need to get an executed contract. The focus of the ValueSelling Mutual Plan is on your prospect, their needs, and the resolution of their issues and problems.
My advice: Engage your prospect today in creating a joint plan. Work together. Collaboration, as a rule, breaks down resistance through involvement and ownership. Put the plan in writing and then adjust your forecast accordingly. It’s not a problem if your prospect delays a purchase. It’s a problem if you don’t know about the delay, and overcommit on a forecast.