You Think You Have A New Customer, They’re About To Sign And Then They Go Underground
Does this sound familiar? It’s happened to almost all of us. This behavior doesn’t mean you’re not getting the deal, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you or want to work with you and it doesn’t mean they changed their mind. But it does mean your sales process is allowing this to happen, and maybe even causing it.
Working on your sales strategy, tracking the metrics associated with sales, and continuously identifying weak spots and adding improvements is how you dramatically improve your company’s ability to increase top-line revenue and do it in a scalable, repeatable and predictable way.
By eliminating friction in the sales process, you’ll help execute the process more quickly and increase close rates, driving revenue generation up and to the right.
Here are a handful of easy-to-implement ideas to help you reduce the sales cycle, increase close rates and improve revenue.
Explain The Process Up Front
Remember, your goal is to make each prospect feel like you’re the safe option. People generally like to know what to expect. If you explain each step in the process up front and you explain how each step is designed to help them get to their goals of finding the right partner, they’ll fall in line, appreciate your thoughtful process and participate actively.
If they don’t want to have you run their process or object consistently along the way, you have an opportunity to remove them from the process and opt out of working with them. If they’re not going to trust you as you attempt to help them, guide them and advise them on how to make a thoughtful selection, they’re probably not going to be a good customer anyway. By eliminating potential opportunities that are going to be extra time-consuming, likely not to select you anyway and be difficult customers, you’re doing you and your business a huge favor.
Try To Eliminate References
One of the places new customer deals get bogged down is in the reference check phase. Most potential new customers want to talk with other customers. Most have this as a part of their selection process and they feel safer after speaking with people like them. They want to understand the experience, make sure it’s as advertised and see that the value was delivered. It all makes sense.
The challenge is in the execution. You have to provide the references and sometimes you have to check in with them to give a heads up. Then the prospect has to reach out, the customer has to reply and the calls have to be scheduled. The entire back-and-forth process can take weeks.
Here are two ways to shorten the cycle or even eliminate this inevitable delay in almost every sales process.
First, use video to deliver the same stories prospects would get with a personal interaction. If you send what we call a reference reel to every prospect right before they typically ask for references, you’ll be seen as proactive. Let them know that this video includes many of the people they’d be speaking with anyway, so in a matter of minutes they can find out what it’s like to work with you and learn any other key information prospects regularly ask of references. While they still have the option of checking references, this makes it easier and quicker. Plus, it’s something that can be shared across their company. In our experience, this eliminates about 50% of the reference requests and shortens the sales cycle dramatically (in most cases by about two weeks).
Another option is to consider an advocacy program. How powerful would it be for a prospect toward the end of the sales process to get an unsolicited email from an existing customer saying, “I hear you’re considering hiring Square 2 Marketing. Let me tell you, it’s the best move we ever made and you’d be crazy to consider any other agency.” Would that blow their socks off? Would that create an amazing and remarkable experience? Would that eliminate the need for references and shorten the sales cycle? I think so.
Use A Close-The-Loop Email
Another sales cycle extender is the prospect who goes underground. They are usually the most enthusiastic and closest to close, but for some unknown reason they stop responding to emails, calls and outreach of any kind. The most frustrating aspect is usually no one knows what happened, is happening or what to do about it. Typically, the move is to just wait it out.
The reality is most of the time, it’s either something you’ve done or something that’s going on in their internal selection process. Even worse, in most cases it actually has nothing to do with you or your company. They’re often just distracted by some fire or emergency that’s taken priority over getting your final signed agreement.
The close-the-loop email is amazing at moving this along. It’s a simple email that anyone can write. The email simply states that our work together must have become less of a priority or they’ve chosen to work with someone else. Either way, the courtesy of their reply is requested.
The close-the-loop email gets a 95% response rate on average. About 80% of the time, the response notes that they’re still planning on moving forward but have a new top priority or issue that needs to be discussed. It works wonders at moving the process forward productively.
Co-Create The Recommendations
This is probably the most labor-intensive of the solutions here, but it’s also the most effective. I’m sure most of you, after talking to your prospects, go away and get a set of recommendations, pricing or product/service configurations together.
You package them up and send them along in a proposal. The prospect has very little input (other than what they shared earlier in the process) and they’re likely going to be looking at pricing and deliverables for the first time. They might even be looking at expected business outcomes for the first time, too.
Not good. This runs the risk of surprising them. What’s the goal of our sales process? To get prospects to feel safe! Surprising them makes them anxious and nervous, the opposite of what we’re going for.
I’d suggest a series of touch points during the recommendations and proposal development stage. By working in a more intimate and collaborative way, you’ll gain buy-in during the creation of your recommendations, you’ll be previewing your ideas for them and you’ll get an opportunity to change something that might be a non-starter before it even gets delivered in your final set of recommendations. What they get when you present should be exactly what they want. If they sign off during the co-creation, how can they not sign officially when they get the agreement?
Look At Your Paperwork From Their Perspective
Speaking of the agreement, proposal or contract, this document needs to be simple, about them (the prospect) and drive home the point you’ve been working toward for weeks — they have to hire you.
If your prospects are not saying to themselves, “we have to hire this company,” then your sales process is not robust and remarkable enough. If your agreement has extensive terms, jargon and legalese, your prospects are going to pause. If they need legal to review, they’re going to pause. If it’s all about you, they’re going to pause. If it’s 100 pages, they’re going to pause. If they don’t understand aspects or have a lot of questions, they’re going to be nervous, and that’s the opposite of what we want them to feel.
Yes, feel. Purchase decisions are emotional. If they feel anything other than 100% confidence that you’re the right partner for them, they’re not signing. Don’t blow it at the very end because you have a document that’s too long, legal heavy or confusing.
Here’s one last tip: Don’t send this along via email without the ability to walk them through it via a conversation. You can remove a lot of concern and anxiety by walking your prospects through your proposal step by step, so when you’re done, everyone is on the same page and feeling great.
By looking at your sales process the same way you look at your marketing — as an ongoing process that needs continuous improvement, upgrades and adjustments based on data — you’ll quickly change your perspectives and the revenue results will follow.
If you want to hover up and above the entire prospect experience and look at it from the very first time a prospect hears about your company or visits your website, you’ll get a holistic view of exactly what your prospects are experiencing with your company. You’ll uncover every touch point, every communication, every interaction and, most importantly, every friction point or every point where some interaction is working against your goal of making them safe.
Once those are identified and eliminated one by one, you’ll start closing more new business for higher averages in a shorter amount of time. Your goals will be within reach and your company will grow much more quickly.
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Posted By Author Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist
Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.