As a sales professional, you know that there are three possible outcomes for every sales encounter with a buyer. In the best-case scenario, you end up closing the deal, or in complex sales, you get an advance to the next step. But what about the deals you forecast to close, how many of them actually do close?
According to data from CSO Insights 2012 Sales Performance Optimization survey, deals that are forecast to close, actually close approximately 50% of the time, based a sample set of data that includes responses from more than 1600 B2B sales and marketing executives across industries.
Of the forecast deals that you aren’t able to close, 28% of failed proposals can be construed as definitive “losses.” In these instances, it can be assumed that you’ve either been outsold by your competition or that your sales team was invited late in the game at the Business Case or Transaction end of the IMPACT buying cycle to make up the numbers in a deal that somebody else identified, mentored and won.
Unfortunately, the remaining 24% of losses are termed, “no-decision” losses – that is, a once-promising prospective customer falls out of contact, without responding to your proposal or next step.
For enterprise sales professionals and their sales managers, these losses remain the most frustrating, as there’s no way to know how to improve weak links in the sales process or how to forecast appropriately given the approximately one in four chance that a proposal will fall through for no apparent reason.
In my own work, I’ve seen enough of these cases to know just how frustrating no-decision losses can be. I was pretty tired of the radio-silent treatment by seemingly interested prospects myself, until I took the time to understand the buying-cycle and how to help mentors and champions succeed in the internal Positioning fight for funds and survival of the opportunity.
For me, the answer to this problem came by combining my understanding of how customers buy, (the IMPACT universal buying cycle) with an idea from Mike Bosworth and John Holland’s book “Customer Centric Selling” (which I highly recommend to all B2B sales people…this book is 10 years old, but still current). Instead of simply ending sales meetings and hoping for the best, I recommend all sales people follow up all meaningful 1:1 meetings with a “Qualification Confirmation” letter.
The letter sent to the buyer is entitled “Meeting Summary” and is structured as follows:
- Situation – My letter starts out by outlining the buyer’s current situation in order to frame the issues we’ve discussed together.
- Goals – Next, I highlight the specific elements that the buyer is trying to resolve through the use of my product.
- Complications/Issues – I pair this discussion of buyer goals with the internal “issues” and external challenges, I’ve observed and hope to address through my products/services.
- Resolution – Once the problem has been identified appropriately, I describe the end-state the buyer is seeking, expressed through my “Win-Themes”
- Confirmation/Next Steps – Finally, I close the letter by summarizing all pertinent details and outlining the next steps needed to move forward. This part of the message also includes the vital phrase, “Please confirm you are in agreement with my summary of our meeting,” and requests that buyers commit to a phone call or email reply confirmation in order to review the information outlined in the message or discuss variances.
The purpose of this message isn’t to close the deal – in fact; it’s only a minor step in an enterprise sales process. Really, it isn’t even presenting any new information, as its purpose is only to summarize the discussions I’ve already had with the buyer and to get the buyer to agree that my summary is correct, i.e.
- there is a problem,
- they want to fix it,
- the issues are identified and,
- the desired end-state is agreed
- commit to next steps, (usually engaging other decision makers)
However, what this letter does is to let me know how serious a buyer is about moving our opportunity to the next step. If, after sending my Qualification Confirmation letter, I’m met with radio silence from my prospective customer, I know that it’s over. Wouldn’t you prefer to know early in the cycle that you can’t win, rather than invest more effort with a buyer who couldn’t make it happen.
As a result, I’m able to better allocate my energy to prospects that are more likely to convert and to better forecast my future sales by eliminating these no-decision losses. In the case where a buyer does go radio-silent, I will send an email to the buyer suggesting that “when there is no response to the meeting summary letter within 10 days of the meeting, it usually means the buyer is no longer interested and I thank them for the opportunity”.
Not only does this process cut down on my overall losses, it’s also extremely helpful in enhancing my perceived position as a mentor within the buying organization, (download the Why Killer Products Why Don’t Sell whitepaper for more information on why this is so important). Delivering a neatly organized summary of discussion points to a prospect, combined with a visual confection of your conversation is also a great way to get your sales message in front of decision makers who were not at the meeting, but who could be involved in the buying process – ultimately resulting in even more deals winding up in the “Won” category pictured above.
Obviously, the system isn’t foolproof. Deals sometimes still fall apart and prospects occasionally bend the truth about their motives and their ability to make things happen. But overall, adding Qualification Confirmation to your sales process is well worth the effort and will eliminate a lot of no-decision losses, help you close more sales and improve forecasting accuracy.