In the article in this series, “Time: Is it Friend or Foe,” the quote that, “If time is not working for you, it is working against you,” was discussed. This notion is especially applicable for opportunities in the sales funnel. Unlike fine wine, sales opportunities generally do not get better with age. In fact, they can become stale quite quickly once the initial excitement wears off. Quite often a sales rep will have a “fantastic” first meeting with, “all the right people,” in attendance with even the key decision maker, “giving buying signs,” that are unmistakable. However, after that first meeting and the euphoria wears off, gray skies appear: Phone calls and emails are not returned, the follow up action plan as promised does not appear. And finally, the Admin Assistant that was supposed to send out the next meeting request has not done their job. The clock is ticking but nothing seems to be happening. Your priority and their priority simply are no longer the same.
The situation happens all the time and is quite predictable. When you left the meeting, you were still thinking about the meeting and the next steps to move the sale forward. When your prospects left the meeting, they immediately began to think about their next meeting or task. The subject and action plans so thoroughly discussed in your meeting have now been compartmentalized and taken off their main screen of attention. Unfortunately, now your “compartment” is competing with many other “compartments” for time. Additionally, as new compartments appear, yours typically get pushed further back!
It is easy to fall into the “deadline” trap thinking that the prospect will re-elevate your discussions due to some deadline. The deadline could be a government mandate, an upcoming trade show, your own offer expiration date, or some other cast-in-concrete date, or so you think. Unfortunately, deadlines are a way of life and they come and go for all of us. Experience and tough skin have shown most of us that deadlines for action are really nothing more than suggestions. Extensions appear to be a way of life for almost everything from sales offers, to taxes, to even executions! Relying on someone else’s alarm clock to restart activities is risky.
Instead, work hard to always control the situation. Take the initiative of taking the next step. There are some remarkably simple ways to do this. For example:
- When leaving a voicemail or sending an email, end it by not asking for a response that the other person needs to initiate. Instead, end it with a comment such as, “I will call you back,” or, “I will check in with you by xxx.” Always keep the next step initiative.
- As a subset of the above, volunteer to check everyone’s calendars to set up the next meeting or coordinate the next step in the process. Not only will you be maintaining control, but you will also be creating a reason to contact all participants.
- Provide a reason for each person to “open up” your container. Send them some information that may be worthwhile for them to know. It may or may not have anything to do with your sales opportunity. The goal is to have the prospect open up your container (figuratively and literally) and place it near the top of the action pile.
- Reach out to others in the prospect’s organization as discussed in the article in this series, “Be Like Sand,” to help keep your opportunity near the top of mind for as many individuals as you can.
- Try to discover immovable time obstacles that will consume all time, leaving none for you. Asking or pushing for the order may not be the right decision. For example, pushing hard for an order in late November from a retail consumer company for your product that will help them next fall may result in receiving a quick and final response of NO. Once no is said, turning a no to yes is very difficult.
Find ways, everyday, to move the ball forward. Always carry the ball, don’t hand it off. Trying to involve others, send “heartbeat” information about anything to show the prospect that you are thinking about them and, hopefully, they will bring your opportunity to the forefront. With every opportunity in the sales funnel, ask who has control of the next event and what you can do to move it forward. Optimize your time by removing stagnant opportunities from the funnel after you have determined what went wrong or what didn’t go right.
Defeat the time enemy or make time work for you and not against you.