John O’Gorman and Ray Collis are directors of The ASG Group, an organization ESR Research recently recognized as being among the global leaders in selling to professional buyers. (The ASG Group subscribes to ESR’s research.) Getting a better understanding of how buyers buy is critical for building appropriate sales processes, especially when selling to organizations with structured and increasingly powerful procurement functions.
I asked John and Ray if I could interview them about this very relevant topic. Here is the interview.
Dave Stein: Why are deals getting stalled?
John O’Gorman: Knowing why deals stall is important in enabling the salesperson to spot early warning signals as well as in setting a strategy to reignite them. Our research shows that there are three key reasons why deals stall on the buying side:
- Some requirement of the organization’s buying process has not, or cannot, be met. For example the buyer may have skipped a step, struggled with the required paperwork or fallen foul of procurement.
- Some aspect of the justification or rationale for the purchase does not stack up. The bottom line is that the rationale for the purchase is not sufficiently clear, or compelling. Perhaps there is an unresolved issue relating to the numbers, risk or strategic fit.
- One or more key stakeholder has not offered the project their full support, or the project lacks a powerful sponsor.
There is one important point – deals rarely stall because the buyer cannot chose a supplier. The reasons go deeper. Maybe the deal has failed to gather momentum in terms of surmounting the above, or it has been derailed by an internal or external event (e.g. a change in corporate strategy, or a sudden marketplace downturn).
DS: Are sellers helpless to re-ignite stalled deals?
The seller who wants reignite a stalled deal must also help the buyer to:
- Build the rational economic justification for the purchase.
- Tick all the boxes in terms of his or her internal buying process. That is the steps, paperwork and approvals required.
- Address any misunderstandings, conflicts or concerns on the part of key stakeholders.
Most important of all the seller needs to work on the inherent momentum of the deal by helping the buyer to answer the ‘why?’ question. That is to demonstrate why a decision is in the best interests of the buyer, or buying organization at this time.
It’s important to remember that behind most buying decisions is a more fundamental business decision. The seller must work on the business decision behind the buying decision. That means a business case – that is a compelling reason not just to buy, but to buy now.
Re-igniting a stalled deal is slow and time consuming, so before your set about trying to revive a deal prequalify it rigorously.
DS: How can sellers find new ways to shape the buyer’s decision?
JO’G: As sellers we often see the buyer’s decision as the choice between competing suppliers. However this is a slightly myopic view. In an era of budget cuts and scarce resources the real competition is; another project, a decision to do it in-house, or to do nothing at. That means communicating a competitive advantage over other supplier is not nearly enough.
Instead of writing a proposal the seller must build a compelling business argument that goes beyond features, benefits and competitive advantages. He/she must address the 5 key levers of the decision, including:
- Costs and benefits
- Risk (including financial, technical, project, supplier risk)
- Strategic fit (how the decision stacks up against competing projects, fits with other goals or strategies, etc.)
Under each of these headings the seller must be able to communicate, even calculate, the implications for the buyer of a stalled or scrapped buying decision.
DS: So, how can sellers write proposals that get deals approved?
All too often we are focused by buyers on price, yet every sales person knows that nothing can motivate a buyer to act like an newly emergent risk, or compliance requirement. It is essential to use these to inject momentum into the sale.
Here is a test to help you measure your pitches and proposals in terms of how well they communicate a compelling reason to buy and to buy now: Take the binding off a recent proposal or tender.
- Put the pages in bundles – one for each of the 5 key levers of the decision; costs-benefits, risk and so on.
- Count the pages in each bundle and express as a percentage of the total proposal (e.g. risk = 0.5 pages, or 2% of the proposal)
- Compare the breakdown of your proposal with the expected weighting of each of the 5 factors in the buyer’s decision criteria (e.g. risk is likely to have a 20% weighting for the buyer, but we only gave it 2% of our proposal)
- Rewrite the table of contents to address those areas of the value equation which are not being dealt with fully by your proposal/pitch – they could greatly add to your overall value.
So, in conclusion, the seller is not helpless in the face of a stalled deal. The deal can be re-ignited by helping the buyer to build a compelling business case for the purchase. If he or she is to succeed the seller will also need to help the buyer to navigate the requirements of the organization’s buying process and build stakeholder support.
About Ray and John
Ray Collis and John O’Gorman are passionate about the changes in modern buying and how they impact on deal success.
John and Ray are available to speak at sales conferences and events.