Seeing Through the “Window of Discontent”

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Most of our clients come from B2B markets, with complex sales environments and are selling a discretionary product or service – in other words the prospect’s business could survive, even if not very well, without their offering.

Many of them complain about more people being involved in the decision making process, of a growing number of deals are ending in “no decision” – and of receiving RFPs which have another vendor’s fingerprints all over it.

And it’s not uncommon to hear them complain that sales cycles are lengthening – so some have decided to focus their prospecting efforts on organisations which are already in an active buying cycle. It a short-termist strategy, in more ways than one.

Here’s the problem: most B2B buying processes follow a fairly predictable pattern –

– At first, the prospect is untroubled and unaware they may have an issue
– Then something happens – we call them trigger events – to cause the prospect to become aware and concerned
– Someone then usually proceeds to informally investigate the problem and their options
– They may then decide to formally evaluate potential solutions, usually forming some sort of project team
– Having evaluated the available options they may move to shortlist potential vendors, ask for proposals and select their preferred solution
– They may then proceed to negotiate contracts
– And eventually become a customer

Of course, the prospect can choose to abandon the process at any stage.

Most sales cycles are perceived to start at the investigating or evaluating stages, but the most critical opportunity for vendor influence is actually during what we call the “window of discontent” – the period between being unaware and having made a decision to investigate the problem.

Vendors who can observe – or, even better, cause – the trigger event have a much better chance of seizing the initiative, shaping the agenda and creating clear and lasting competitive advantage – and creating momentum in the deal that can have the effect of establishing urgency and shortening the buying cycle.

The “window of discontent” can be triggered by internal or external events – for example, changes in key legislation, mergers and acquisitions, or competitive actions that reshape the market landscape.

We coach our clients to identify key trigger events at both the market and company level, and to carefully focus their marketing efforts so as to align the prospect’s likely challenges and concerns with the vendor’s most useful and relevant capabilities.

The results have been impressive. By applying these principles, and focusing on the “window of discontent”, one such vendor managed to increase the number of qualified meetings their demand generation activities were creating by a factor of 5 – and the figure is still rising.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Since 2002 I have been teaching the three buying modes – below – and the specific ‘Trigger Events’ – also below – that cause buyers to move from one buying mode to the other.

    Below is a sampling of those teachings…

    ‘Trigger Events’ typically fall into one of three categories:

    1. Bad Experience: The buyer has a bad experience with a product/service, with people, or with a provider. For instance, there may have been a product/service change that creates dissatisfaction.

    2. Change/Transition: The buyer has a change or transition in people, places, or priorities. For instance, there may have been a change in the buyer at an account.

    3. Awareness: The buyer becomes aware of the need to change for legal, risk-avoidance, or economic reasons. For instance: The person may have a new understanding that buying from someone like you is less risky than continuing to buy the existing solution.

    Now you know the three major types of Trigger Events you need to know how they play a role in your prospecting/cold calling activity.

    When you contact a prospect/customer use the opportunity to understand which of the following three buying modes the buyer is in:

    Status Quo: The buyer is completely happy with what he or she currently has. There has not been a Trigger Event in the recent past, but there may be one on the horizon. You may think this person is a waste of time and may want to move on to the next person on your list. Actually, if this person has money, authority, and influence, this is a great long-term opportunity. A strategy for this type of call is to start the relationship building process. I would also suggest that you check back in on a monthly basis to see if a Trigger Event has recently happened.

    Searching For Alternatives: This person is unhappy with what he or she has, has spoken to several suppliers, and probably already has a favorite. A Trigger Event took place a while ago, and they’ve already taken action on it. You may think that this is a short-term opportunity … because the buyer is actively talking to a number of potential suppliers. This is in fact probably a medium term opportunity … because it is highly likely this buyer already has a first choice! Selling to buyers under these conditions typically results in a lower close ratio and a longer sales cycle – exactly the problem that you are experiencing. A strategy for this type of call is to position yourself as the buyer’s number-two choice — so you get called first if the buyer’s current favorite falters. You should check back every other week to see where you stand.

    Window of Dissatisfaction: A Trigger Event has recently taken place and this buyer knows that what they are currently using is no longer sufficient, but has not done anything about it yet. Because they tell you to call back in two months, four months, or six months you make a note to do that and move on to the next person on your list. Wrong answer! This is actually a short term opportunity, because the buyer is not talking to your competition — yet. When you call back a few months later, even if you call a few weeks early thinking it will give you and edge, it’s very likely they will already be talking to your competition. The strategy for this type of call is to identify the business opportunity and pursue it immediately — with as much happening on this initial call as possible and future contact taking place in the very near future. You must find a way to push a little bit and learn more about the Trigger Event, then try to set a near-term course of action.

    I hope that adds value to this post.

    Craig Elias
    Creator of Trigger Event Selling – http://www.TriggerEventSelling.com

  2. Good post, Craig – there’s one further nuance that I’d add to this, and I’ll be exploring it in detail in a future article. It’s the vendor’s ability to create the trigger event – or at least to raise the potential buyer’s awareness of the issue.

    This is particularly true when the trigger event falls into the “potential to do better” category, and the best examples of these are usually where the prospect becomes aware that they are falling behind – or run the risk of falling behind – their competitors in some way.

    This might, of course, be because that competitor has reacted to an external trigger event faster, but it may also be down to the competitor spotting an opportunity for differentiation.

    Vendors are unlikely to invigorate these latent prospects by pitching products or features – the best way, in our experience, to raise prospect awareness to the necessary level is by consciously and systematically taking a thought leadership position.

    When I’ve surveyed recent buyers to establish how the successful vendor managed to create a trigger event, the answers are remarkably consistent:

    1. The vendor spoke my language, and
    2. The vendor approached me in a way where I felt that I could learn something from continuing the dialogue

    Whilst there is no “one size fits all” formula, talking to recent buyers about what happened to initiate their own buying process usually uncovers a great deal of insight into what vendors need to be talking about in order to establish thought leadership in the market, and act as a magnet for new prospects.

    One final observation – thought leadership is dynamic, not static, so vendors need to be continually probing to understand what the most relevant current issues (and therefore trigger events) are in any given market – in order that they can continue to educate.

    Bob Apollo | Inflexion-Point
    Building Scalable Businesses

  3. Bob;

    Good point.

    The challenge becomes that when you try to use an awareness strategy and create a ‘Trigger Event’ the buyer typically buys from their ‘Emotional Favorite’ aka ‘go to’ person.

    As long as you are already the buyers Emotional Favorite or are on your way to becoming their Emotional Favorite this strategy works.

    If you don’t have a strong relationship, when you generate demand by creating the ‘Trigger Event’, the buyer is highly likely fulfil this demand by “borrowing” your idea and giving it to their ‘Emotional Favorite’.

    I look forward to your post on creating the ‘Trigger Event’.

    Craig

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