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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistThu, Feb 18, 2021 17 min read

One Sales Process Hack Your Reps Are Going To Like But You’re Going To Love

It’s Going To Shorten Your Sales Cycle By Days And Improve Your Close Rate By 10%

If I could tell you a way to cut days off your sales cycle and increase your close rate by 10%, would that get your attention? It should.

What if this improvement wouldn’t cost you any money? What if you could easily train your reps to do it? What if you could start doing it this week?

This small adjustment to your sales process is going to pay off big this year, and while it will require your reps to do just a bit more work, it’s going to help you exceed your revenue goals right away.

What is this magic sales hack? We call it co-creation.

What Is Co-Creation?

Co-creation means you work with your prospects to build their recommendations instead of surprising them with all the details. Let me try to illustrate it for you with two scenarios, one with co-creation and one using a more traditional process without co-creation.

Traditional – Your rep identifies an opportunity. They work with the prospect to understand all their issues, challenges, needs and requirements. They go away and put together a set of recommendations with pricing, examples, stories, case studies, expected outcomes and delivery dates — whatever you typically put in your proposals or pitch presentations.

You get your presentation together, schedule a time to present, invite all the important parties and share the details included in your proposal. You give them everything they need to make a decision.

You ask them what their next steps are, and they probably say something like, “Let us review all of your recommendations and we’ll get back to you.” This should all sound very familiar. Now you wait.

They might have a few questions and get back to you, but you’re really at their mercy now. You can follow up and run the risk of acting like that annoying salesperson. After all, you gave them everything. What else is there for you to do but wait for their decision?

There is a better way.

Co-Creation – This scenario starts the same way, with your rep working hard to understand all of their issues, challenges, needs and requirements. But instead of going away and working up a set of recommendations and a proposal, your rep works intimately with the prospect to craft everything to meet their needs perfectly.

They discuss configuration of your products or services. They discuss pricing and investment levels. They work on delivery dates or the team members necessary to do the work. Every detail is discussed before the final presentation. The prospect is included in the thinking and design of your recommendations, so that when you present, your work is exactly what they want.

How could they say no to exactly what they want? Why would they have additional questions when it’s exactly what they wanted? Why would they need more time to consider it when it’s exactly what they wanted? Why would they hire someone else or choose some other company’s product when you gave them exactly what they wanted and worked with them intimately to come up with that set of recommendations?

They won’t they’re going to pick you.

GettyImages-578819004Why Co-Creation Works

Before we talk about why co-creation works, let’s quickly cover why hardly anyone does it.

First, it does take some extra steps to work this out with prospects, so it requires that reps invest extra time up front. As prospects ask for adjustments, it might require the rep to go back to delivery, customer service or product development to get answers.

But the real reason I think most people don’t do this is because they don’t really care about the prospects. They don’t want to give them the ability to co-create their program. They want to unveil their solution when they do their final pitch. That is a mistake.

Here’s why co-creation works so well.

First, it differentiates your sales process from your traditional competitors. You’re taking the time to get to know your prospects intimately. You’re working with them on the details of their program. You’re listening to them and showing that you care. You’re working with them as partners.

The way people feel is critically important to winning the business. If everyone makes purchase decisions emotionally (and they do), this is how you get them emotionally engaged with your company.

Next, few people (especially in business) like surprises. They don’t feel good when they have to wait to see how much your program is going to cost. Even if you told them a range or some likely price, they’re expecting the actual price to be lower, and they’re anxious until they see your price. Anxious is not how you want them to feel.

Finally, no matter how good you are at listening, you’re going to miss a couple of points, or what they told you three weeks ago may have changed already. Your final recommendations might only hit 85% of the mark, leaving them with more work to do.

That means more conversations, more meetings, and more back-and-forth messages, leaving them more anxious and more frustrated than they need to be.

By simply co-creating every aspect of the program, when you present it, there will be only one response: “This is exactly what we want and exactly what we want to invest. It meets our needs perfectly. Thank you for helping us find the perfect solution.”

How To Install It

I mentioned in the intro that you’ll love it and your reps will like it. That’s because you are going to need to get them to take some extra steps and adjust your sales process a bit. I know reps rarely like extra work, but I also know they like shorter sales cycles and they love a higher win rate, so let’s make these small changes a means to the end.

First, after you have your initial diagnostic with your prospect and you’ve asked them every question, you can start putting together the program recommendations. To prep the prospect, let them know that you’d like to include them in the process and you might need to check in over the next few days via email, phone or perhaps a short video meeting (Zoom call). We actually use the term co-creating, and you can, too.

Pick a few items in the recommendations that you can share with them to get their feedback while the program recommendations are being built. As an example, investment is a great place to start. When you have your program investment identified, share it with prospects.

“We just got the pricing back on your project, and it’s looking like $100,000. Does that sound like something you’d be comfortable with? Is that what you budgeted? Would the board approve that?”

If the answer is yes, move ahead. But if the answer is no, or the prospect isn’t sure, you have to work harder to understand where you need to be financially.

“We were expecting this to be more like $70,000 at the most.”

Now you know. Go back and revise your program to come in at or under their expectations (if you can, of course).

“Our initial estimates are it’s going to take about six months to get this work done. Does that fit your expectations around a timeline?”

“That might work, but four months would definitely be better.”

If possible, rework the program to get it done within their timeline. Perhaps the four-month timeline cost a little more. Discuss those options with the prospect in advance.

Some of these questions can be handled via a short email, while others might require a more detailed discussion. But before you know it, you would have shared many of the potential challenges, received their feedback, configured your program to meet their needs and proven your ability to be excellent listeners and a flexible prospect-focused company.

When you finally present, their only possible response to your recommendations would be: “This is exactly what we expected and exactly what we need. Thank you for working with us to come up with something so personalized.”

That is exactly what you’re going for with this simple sales process add-on.

Download My Sales Process Mapping FrameworkHow To Track It

What gets measured, gets done. You want to be able to track this. The best way is by tracking sales cycle days and the improvement in sales cycle days and close rates. Since you have data from before co-creation and after co-creation, it should be easy.

For example, today your sales cycle takes 45 days and your close rate is 40% on proposals submitted. One month after you installed co-creation, your sales cycle is now 40 days and your close rate is 45%. Houston, we have a winner.

I would also track this data by rep, because some reps will dive right in and embrace this immediately, changing their process to use co-creation. You’ll have reps who do it some of the time or take longer to embrace it fully. Unfortunately, you’ll also have reps who ignore this and don’t make any changes at all.

You’ll want to show improvement by rep, so you can highlight the successes and point out the reps who are resisting the changes. The reps who are using co-creation and seeing success will motivate the other reps to get on board without you having to say anything. Once reps see other reps gaining success, they’ll want some of that success, too.

How To Train Reps To Do It

Let’s not ignore the training aspects of co-creation. You will need to do some rep training here, even for your best reps. But to set expectations across the rep team, formal training and rollout of these changes is important.

First, build these co-creation sessions into your process. We recommend at least three check-in sessions or conversations with prospects. Do one on investment, one on the recommendations (specifically about who is doing what part) and one on business outcomes. This also allows you to confirm expectations around dates, delivery and alignment of budget/investment with expected outcomes.

It’s important to help the reps know that these conversations can be done in one session, in a series of emails or in a series of short conversations. These sessions need to be executed before the final recommendations are ready. It has to feel like you’re getting their feedback and that feedback is informing the final recommendations.

All of these conversations or sessions should be documented in the CRM.

These conversations will most likely be with your primary contact, not all the decision-makers. This is important. You don’t need everyone who is going to be at the final presentation to participate in these sessions, just your main contact.

When you get to the recommendation meeting, your primary contact will reinforce that you’ve been creating this presentation together in anticipation of this meeting. If they don’t mention that, I would encourage your rep to mention this, so that everyone knows you’ve worked together on these recommendations.

You always run the risk that your contact didn’t accurately reflect the needs of the overall organization, but that’s not on you or your rep, that would be on your contact. While that is a risk, I think it’s a low risk.

Closing The Business Quickly After Co-Creation

Upon completion of the presentation, your next question should be, “How did we do? Give us some feedback on how close we got to nailing your goals and objectives for this project, and when you would like to get started.”  

If you did a good job co-creating your recommendations, you should be head and shoulders above your competition. Their answer should be, “You clearly differentiated yourself with the detail, specificity and alignment between what we wanted and what you’re prepared to deliver. Let’s get started immediately."

I’d also consider doing a series of role-play conversations with the reps. They act as the prospect and you act as the rep, so you can model what the co-creation conversations sound like. Then ask them to switch roles, so you act as the prospect while they ask you co-creation questions and manage the co-creation sessions.

This practice will make the live sessions more natural and get them acclimated faster to having these new conversations. Ask every rep involved in an active sales cycle to check in with you before they have the co-creation session and then after each session to get feedback, talk about challenges and get more comfortable with this new step in your process.

The last step is simply to check that the co-creation happened before recommendations and final presentations were shown to your prospects.

Eventually, co-creation will become second nature (it might take a couple of months, depending on your sales team). When you’re sure everyone is executing appropriately, you should see improvement in two key metrics, sales cycle days and close rates.

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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.