Do you have a proven process for insuring that your relationships with prospects are continually moving forward in a manner that is purposeful and leads to the natural culmination of the process? In other words, are you and your prospect always on the same page, consciously and constantly moving forward to a purchase decision? Or do you, as most sellers do, approach the sales relationship process haphazardly without knowing where the relationship is going—and often not knowing where it should go?
Rather than shooting from the hip, making follow-up calls to prospects without having an idea of how or why to make the call, you can turn the sales follow-up process into an organized and logical progression that makes the sales process comfortable and valuable for both your prospect and yourself.
Unless you are engaged in a one-time close sale, you know going into the initial meeting with a prospect that your sales cycle will require you to maintain contact with them over an extended period of time before the sale is consummated, whether that be a week, a month, or a year. Since you know you will have to follow-up with additional information, more meetings, a proposal, a committee presentation, and/or a formal needs analysis, you should be fully prepared to carry the relationship forward, knowing exactly what your next move will be before you ever enter the initial meeting with the prospect.
After only a short exposure to meetings with prospects you have seen virtually all of the variances your meetings can take, from the prospect that shows a great deal of interest, to those who show no interest at all, and everything in-between. Once exposed, you have no reason not to be fully prepared to take control of the situation when exposed to that type of prospect again.
Since you will see the same basic situations over and over again with your prospects, you should know exactly what the next step in your process will be before you wrap up the initial meeting with your prospect. Instead of going back to your office and wondering what to do next, you should have already agreed with your prospect on the next step to take, whether that be another meeting, sending follow-up information, or simply putting the prospect on your long-term touch program—or removing the prospect altogether because they really are not a prospect.
Think of the sale as a staircase with a number of alternate stairways branching off of the main staircase. If you are familiar with the drawings of E.M. Escher, think of his etchings of stairways where there are myriad branches but all stairways eventually lead to the same location. That’s your sales stairway with all of the branches eventually leading to your central location-the sale. Some stairways are short and direct, others take a very circuitous route.
Your job is to have planned each route and to know exactly what you must do to guide your prospect through the stairway he or she has chosen. To do that you must have a well defined plan, knowing exactly what your moves will be well ahead of time.
The first step in your staircase is, of course, setting the initial appointment. That step naturally leads to your second step-the appointment itself. Unfortunately, that is where the staircase ends for many salespeople, not knowing what the next step for any particular prospect should be. Don’t allow yourself to ever be put in that position.
Just as the first step-setting the appointment-lead naturally to the second, your second step should lead naturally to your third step, and so on throughout the sales process. What your third step is will depend on what transpired during the initial appointment since your prospect may choose one of several staircases to climb.
For most of us, the initial appointment serves numerous purposes, one of which is qualifying the prospect. In fact, for many, the appointment isn’t with a prospect at all, but is rather with a suspect–someone we think, or maybe just hope, might be a prospect. During the initial meeting one of your primary jobs is to determine if the suspect is a prospect, and if they are, what type of prospect–short-term or longer-term. Your staircase will branch off in different directions depending on whether you determine the suspect is not a prospect at all, is a short-term prospect, or a long-term prospect.
If you determine your suspect is not a prospect, your staircase ends with this meeting. There is no need to pursue them further.
If you determine your prospect is a short-term prospect, your staircase will continue, but you’ll have to decide during the meeting which branch of the staircase to lead your prospect–are you going to set another meeting, present a proposal, send or deliver additional information, or is another move appropriate?
The key to building your staircase and your relationship is to have your prospect agree on the next move before the end of the meeting, and in order to do that you must know both what the logical next move for the particular prospect is and where that move is going to lead in the sales process. Never leave a meeting without agreeing on what will happen next and when it will happen:
- Are you going to research an issue for the prospect? If so, when will you deliver the results of your research and how will you deliver them-in person, via an email, or will you send them via the mail? Once delivered, what is the next logical step to have your prospect agree to?
- Will there be a second meeting? Set a date and time and a specific goal for the meeting before you leave the initial meeting.
- Are you going to get the prospect additional information or data? If so, agree with your prospect when and how the information will be delivered and the anticipated results of supplying the information, as well as what the next step after the information has been delivered should be.
The key to building your stairway and leading the prospect to the sale is to always have your next step built before you finish the step you are on. If you are to deliver information, know exactly what information to deliver, how you will deliver it and agree on what will happen once the information is in your prospect’s hand. If your are setting a meeting, agree on the time and date, the goals for the meeting and the next step to be taken after the meeting.
Don’t rely on chance, luck, or happenstance–plan your moves well in advance and gain your prospect’s agreement and commitment.
Planning your moves is not difficult. If you are meeting with a short-term prospect you know what the likely next moves will be, in fact, there are probably only a handful of possible moves. For some prospects the next move will be another meeting, for others additional information, for others possibly a demonstration or a proposal. Since you know what to anticipate, have a clearly defined plan of action for each eventuality.
Build the third step in your staircase the same way. During the second meeting you gain your prospect’s agreement on what should take place next and then set a specific time and date for that step along with specific goals for that step. When delivering the agreed upon research, agree with your client on the next step and again set a specific time and date and goals for the next step in the process.
By continually gaining agreement from your prospect to the next step in the process, you keep your prospect engaged, you continually monitor the prospect’s level of interest, and you prevent yourself from falling into the awkward situation of wondering how to re-engage your prospect. Never leave a meeting or finish a conversation with your prospect without knowing what will happen next, when it will happen, and what the anticipated results of the step will be.
If you find you are working with a long-term prospect, you build a staircase that, like an Escher staircase, takes a longer, less direct route to the sale, but just as with a short-term prospect, you guide the prospect along a stairway that you know leads to the purchase decision. Your steps may have longer intervals and may entail less direct interaction, but they must still be agreed upon by your prospect. These steps may include your monthly or quarterly newsletter, scheduled phone calls at a specific future date, or even calls based on specific future events such as the release of a new product or the passing of a specific threshold such as the beginning of a new quarter.
Prior to your next appointment with a prospect or suspect, create your staircase and map out a logical route to the sale for each scenario you are likely to encounter. Although you’ll have stairways branching off from your main staircase, you’ll probably have no more than a handful of branches for short-term prospects and probably no more than two or three for your long-term prospects.
Lay out on paper each logical step for each branch and then plan how you will lead your prospect to agreeing to each step along the way. Although many salespeople believe writing out scripts is fake and insincere, be aware that you will eventually create an effective-or ineffective–script that you’ll use over and over to introduce and seek agreement from your prospect to the next step to be taken. You can either leave the creation of your script to the spur of the moment as you are standing in front of your client, or you can take the time and care to do it while you can carefully think through the best way to introduce the next step and gain your client’s agreement. Either way, you’ll eventually end up with a script you’ll use over and over.
You don’t have to be like the majority of salespeople who struggle to keep in touch with their prospects and move them along the sales process. Instead of worrying about what to say, when to contact a prospect, or how to get your prospect to move along the process, simply build the next step while you’re with your prospect. Not only will it give you more confidence since you know you’re in control, you’ll close more sales and close them faster-and that’s a good move.