You have spent a considerable amount of time and effort heavily involved with customer discovery activities. Your minimum viable product was well-received. You made the changes suggested by the initial users. Finally, your initial wave of customers embraced your offering and provided positive feedback and recommendations. But now, sales have virtually stopped – what’s the reason?
The above scenario is not uncommon. “All the boxes” seemed to have been checked, but now nothing is happening. Digging deeper, you realize that you had a previous relationship your initial wave of customers; you knew them, and they knew you. You probably started talking to them long before you had something to sell. They followed you while you were on your journey. Think of them as your “Rolodex” customers; people who will take your calls, listen intently, and trust you based on your previous relationship. Unquestionably, this is a great way to start. However, what was effective for these “friends and family” customers may not be indicative of “anonymous” customers - those that you do not know and, more importantly, don’t know you. As anxious as you are to increase your revenue, it is critical that you step back and examine all the aspects of the entire prospect-to-satisfied customer sales process. The actual sales rep/prospect activities are well “downstream” to many other activities that are probably the root cause of the lack of sales problem. Below is a listing of the various stages, presented as questions, that require an objective and honest review. Do not be surprised if you discover that you never considered some of the issues listed. It is not uncommon that your focus on your vision kept you from looking at the path directly ahead of you and you stumbled.
Have you adequately defined your buyers? Have you characterized them? Do you truly understand their single compelling reason to buy from you now? How have you reached out to them? Is your awareness campaign based on “to whom it may concern” or have you determined how to personalize your approach to them? Are you hunting with a rifle or blindly shooting with a shotgun at anything that you think might be a target?
It is commonly understood that you only have a few seconds to attract a prospect’s attention? Is your message clear and does it resonate? All of us are barraged with requests for our time. We all tend to quickly discard requests before we take the time to fully understand the delivered message. Think about how you review your emails first thing in the morning: Most people quickly discard emails that do not quickly resonate with them or are from known and trusted sources.
Do prospects quickly understand that you are addressing a problem that they agree needs to be resolved? Do they feel a sense of urgency to resolve the issue now? Do they understand your value proposition and it stacks up to alternative uses of their time and capital? Can your primary prospect contact repeat your message to others – will they champion your offering within their organization? Does your offering fall into the category of “nice to have” or does it pass that hurdle and become a “must have, now”?
Today, virtually every employee has become risk-averse. Whether consciously or unconsciously, individuals focus on not losing before they focus on winning. Do you represent a “safe” choice? Have you given your prospects reason to have confidence in you? Do you have references that your prospects can relate to and contact? Have you developed a risk-sharing approach with your prospects? Most of all, have you established credibility with your prospects?
Some of the German premium automobile companies offer the same model with pricing varying from $75,000 to $195,000 based on options. Even with interactive Internet tools, the task of pricing one of these cars is well beyond the capability or patience of many prospects. Are you easy to do business with or are your offerings too complex? Can your internal customer contact explain your offering adequately to others in the organization quickly and with clarity? Are your proposals concise with minimal “fine print” or do they more closely mimic an end user software license agreement?
Was your initial success based on bringing a few, trusted prospect friends along with you on your journey? Can you extend the time, personal involvement, patience, and customization that you spent with those customers to a larger number of new prospects? What have you done to convince your prospects that you have the size and repeatable processes to deliver the quality that they expect, within their required time frame?
Once a prospect shows interest and reaches out to you, how long does it take you to respond? Is your response tailored to their inquiry or is it a generic response? Everyone wants to feel special. Do you make the prospect feel special? Is your response timely – as viewed by the prospect? Do you make them feel that you are interested in them and enthusiastically looking forward to the next step? Are you truly ready for the next steps with standard materials and answers to the obvious requests that the prospects are likely to make or are you constantly “reinventing the wheel” with custom responses?
Quite often your offering requires the prospect to initiate other actions either before or during the process of implementing your offering. Have you identified these issues? Even if they are “beyond your control,” do you offer suggestions as to how to address the issues? Does your prospect feel that you are “in the boat” with them, helping them to resolve any issues or are you passively standing by, waiting for them to take care of these issues?
Virtually every dollar in every budget has been allocated for a specific purpose and usually has an internal champion. Rarely are prospects sitting idly by with funds and resources “sitting on the bench” waiting for you or some unforeseen alternative to crop up. Instead, selecting and implementing your offering must fall in line with other existing priorities. Ideally, your offering must be so compelling that prospects will rearrange their budgets and activities to accommodate you. Do you understand that your priorities and timing do not necessarily align with those of your prospects? Have you set internal targets accordingly?
Your offering may have significant new features, functionality, or capabilities that make you the obvious choice if the prospect doesn’t have an existing solution. Do they view what they have as “good enough” for now? Is the cost of conversion worth the time and effort in their opinion? What can you do to help them make the conversion decision? Even if your offering will save the prospect money in the long-run, have you considered their cost of conversion? Can you do anything to reduce their costs?
Do your term and conditions and contract language “protect you” against every conceivable event that could possibly occur? Will the document trigger the heavy involvement of finance personnel and legal counsel? These reviews that will likely begin a lengthy mark-up negotiation process that is outside the control of your business contact. Keep in mind that if, after the sale, either party has to refer to the fine print details of the agreement, the relationship is broken and, probably cannot be fixed. Do you build your relationship based on trust or contract language?
Unfortunately, when company sales fall short of expectations, the first activity commonly focuses on the sales rep and not any of the previously listed issues. The very nature of individuals that select a sales career are motivated to be successful. If not successful, more often than not, it is a function of what the company has NOT done to help them be successful. Have they been adequately trained on the offering, the competition, addressing objections and impediments, and the market and likely prospect characteristics? Are guidelines regarding pricing, delivery, customization, and other offering particulars clearly spelled out? The entrepreneur or CEO who, in the past, has been able to address these issues on the spot, must realize that others, lower in the organization, do not have the same insight or authority. Are sales reps truly empowered or are they merely messengers that have to rely on others to make basic sales related decisions?
Think of the twelve categories listed above as valves in the sales pipeline. All must be open to let the sales opportunities flow through. Any single closed valve will stop the flow entirely. A partially closed valve will restrict the flow.
In most cases, entrepreneurs and smaller companies focus almost entirely on the development of their offering. They only examine the factors listed above after the initial wave of friendly customers subsides, and the sales flow stops. Addressing these issues in parallel with the finalization of the offering is a far more efficient approach. If not, while the sales slowdown problem analysis is going on, the bills keep coming in, competition continues, and any market lead evaporates. Address the listed issues beforehand and change the future before it occurs.