The old saw states that the best sales people are rejected about 80% of the time, and that we should get over it. I think the best sales people are actually rejected much less than 80% of the time, because they don’t place themselves in positions to be rejected easily. The same dynamic applies to consultants.
Sales success—whether you call it sales or relationship building or consultative selling or anything else—is nothing more than a series of small “yeses.” I’ve seldom walked into a prospect’s office and walked out with a consulting contract. If that’s what you do regularly, then don’t bother reading further, because you don’t need any help.
But if your experience is similar to mine, then consider these steps in the business acquisitions process (always assuming that you’re interacting with a genuine economic buyer):
- Achieve credibility. Convince the buyer that you are worth investing time in. Tune up your vocabulary. Increase your smarts in that industry. Look up the company’s stock price. Find out something about the buyer’s proclivities.
- Create need. Contrary to most conventional wisdom, need is not necessarily based on the buyer feeling the proverbial “pain.” Need can be based on improvement, innovation, experimentation, creativity, etc. An organization at the top of the competitive heap still has a myriad of needs.
- Surround the buyer with options. Never allow yourself to be seen as a one trick pony. Don’t pigeonhole your talents. Open up a discussion about the varied ways the buyer’s need may be met.
- Listen closely for signals. Some options will represent more advantage than others to the buyer. Note that this takes place well before anyone has even mentioned the word “fee.” Determine what really makes a difference irrespective of investment. (“Would you like to spend $100,000 on a car?” is one question, but “What is a Mercedes worth to you” is quite another.)
- Jointly determine with the buyer what the value of the outcomes would be worth, quantitatively and qualitatively. Help the buyer commit to the worth of the results, not the options to achieve the results.
- Recap and summarize. Achieve conceptual agreement. I’m asked how you can tell you have this. It’s simple: The buyer enthusiastically agrees with your summary, and offers refinements and clarifications to your paraphrasing. A nod of the head is insufficient, especially if the buyer is looking at the clock.
- Offer to summarize everything in writing, offer the details of your options, and the timing and investment required. Tell the buyer that you’d like to call after a decent time for review. When would be the best time, exactly?
- Follow-up as promised. If there are still sticking points, then fine tune. Never reduce the fee for any option unless you also reduce the value. Otherwise, you’re nothing but a used car seller.The key to resolving objections is to create positioning which precludes their being raised. Create a sequence of small “yeses” and agreements that result in a momentum culminating is a signed proposal. Does it always work? No. But it works a lot more than just 20% of the time. I submit many fewer proposals than most consultants, because I strive to do so only after the above conditions are met. But I close over 80% of them.