Throughout my career as a sales rep (and later as a manager), I was always puzzled by whether a deal could close or not.
I wondered, was there a more effective way to qualify my deals?
In my search for an answer, I came across a ton of whacked-out theories and complicated probability calculations. But in the end, most of my forecasts (and those of my reps) were still based on gut feelings and wishful thinking.
That was until I worked with John McMahon.
John was (and still is) an almost legendary sales leader who consistently increased company revenues by 100% year after year wherever he went. (He even grew PTC, a software company, from $1.1M to $1.1B in just nine years).
He was phenomenal at building teams and helping sales managers to scale. But one of the things that stood out the most about John’s performance were his shockingly accurate forecasts.
What was his secret?
He always focused on the fundamentals of a deal.
“Before going into the details of any opportunity,” he said, “there are three questions you need to ask. Know their answers, and you’ll know the chance of closing a deal this quarter.”
These questions are so simple, yet incredibly powerful. After I started implementing them, my forecasts became more accurate than a Swiss-made clock.
And they are the exact questions that executives at your account will ask before approving any decsion.
They are The 3 Why’s That Open Your Eyes.
1. Why Do Anything?
Why should the client act? Is there a negative consequence if he doesn’t act?
There’s no deal without a pain.
Small purchases, like buying the latest iPhone, might be spontaneous and probably don’t have a burning need behind them.
But in large deals, there’s almost always a pain.
Uncovering your client’s pain and how you can solve it will ultimately decide whether your customer will pull the trigger and buy your product.
The key here is finding a quantifiable business impact that will happen if your client decides not to do anything. This needs to be something concrete. Your best guess won’t do here.
Collect clear metrics from your client regarding revenue, time or resources lost and identify the consequence of doing nothing.
It’s all too easy for us as human beings to interpret information and bridge gaps to complete an incomplete picture.
Hold yourself accountable on this one: Don’t assume anything.
Finally, confirm and reconfirm your findings with multiple contacts at your client (including your Champion).
Understand your client’s pain, and your deal will have a solid foundation to build upon.
2. Why Us?
What differentiators can you, your solution or your company provide that makes your offering a unique value for the customer?
So your client has recognized that there’s a pain and yes, something needs to change.
But now that they know that, there’s an ocean of competitor’s to choose from.
And many of them are cheaper than you.
So why should your client choose you?
This is where it becomes absolutely critical to develop a Unique Selling Proposition that’s relevant to your customer.
Don’t rely on your product marketing. Claims to have the best product in class will get you nowhere. And neither will boasting that your product meets 100 out of 100 requirements checked, when the prospect could live with only 60.
I’ve seen too many companies proclaim the uniqueness of their product, only to discover that what they think makes them unique doesn’t matter to their customers at all.
Even worse, many companies’ USPs are so bland, they could apply to anyone. (“We Have a Global Presence” comes to mind).
The USPs you use should be unique to your prospect.
They could be as simple as an existing frame-contract that will save time, a trusted business partner you’ve worked with, or even a cultural match when selling abroad. What matters is that they are important to your client.
Once you you identify and develop your USPs, make sure to raise their importance at every meeting with your prospect.
They key here?
Know thy competitors!
As you lay traps for your competitors, so will they. If you listen carefully, you may catch who you are competing against by the questions your prospects ask you.
Once you identify clear and measureable USPs, make sure the prospect is able to communicate them themselves. That way they have a solid answer when asked: Why should we buy from them over competitor X?
3. Why Buy Now?
Is there a compelling reason for the client to take action when you planned/forecasted it? If not, can you construct one so that the client aligns with your proposed deadline?
You’ve identified and confirmed the pain, and your client has recognized that you offer a clear competitive advantage.
But is there a hard deadline by which your client needs to solve the pain? What is the consequence of postponing the purchase?
Nowadays, decision makers have one fire after another to put out. On top of that, budgets are lower than ever. So it’s only natural that everything but the most crucial projects get postponed until later. (Call me back in four weeks. Let’s talk then… Right.)
It’s vital that you collect and develop the most compelling reasons possible why this project should not be delayed another moment. Again, it should be quantifiable, and should include a deadline that will have clear consequences if it isn’t met.
If the compelling reason is strong enough, you can even push deals though in record times.
Once, I met with a client who had to open a mail distribution center within a week, but their current sorting solution wasn’t working. If they didn’t solve this issues by opening day, they would face penalties of $1M per day. I had exactly what they needed, and they signed a $400k contract within 48 hours.
And that was within a company that never closed a deal in less than six months.
Once you’ve found the compelling reason, make sure your client confirms this. Then have your champion communicate this internally, so he or she can answer: “Why should we buy now?”
If you have the answers to these three simple questions solidly answered, you’ll build a strong case for yourself and your solution.
And, you’ll have the answers to the questions the board will ask before approving the project and budget.
The key is to always confirm your discoveries with your client, and never assume anything.
Finally, there’s one thing that top-performers apart from the rest:
They not only collect the answers to the 3 Why’s as they go along, they put it down in clear messaging that’s tailored to the client. Then they make sure that messaging gets distributed internally.
That way, by the final stages of a deal, everyone, from your client’s side and yours, is be able to repeat these answers without thinking.
It’s definitely hard work to get it all done, but it’s the most solid way of ensuring that your deals are on track to closing.