I thought I had a golden opportunity lined up. I had the sponsor who was evangelizing my solution internally. I had executive buy-in with the president of the division giving his thumbs up. We had one of their major clients lined up to be the first customer using our mobile sales content platform. And just when I thought we could sign contracts and close the deal, they had the Re-Org. The president was terminated, my sponsor quit, the client got spooked, and my deal evaporated.
Such is life when you sell to enterprises. Deals will die. Sometimes you just got the pants beat off you by a nimbler competitor. Sometimes internal politics gets you. It can even come down to the client holding a grudge. I once knew a colleague who lost a deal because the decision maker was offended that the lead sales engineer had the audacity to wear a Mickey Mouse watch to a meeting. And when I think I have heard every story, I am always amazed to hear something even wilder.
The good thing however is that most deals can be ushered along successfully if managed with care and diligence. The majority of sales reps fail to even do the basics in managing a deal effectively, so without even much effort you can outshine your competition and boost your credibility in front of clients. So the question is how to take that nascent interest from one person and build it into an unstoppable force that leads to a closed deal and delivers a much needed solution to the customer? Here are some things to consider:
- How rigorously did you qualify the deal? So you got a client interested. Congrats! But do they have budget, authority, need, and timing? That is the classic BANT qualifying, but to be honest it may not always strictly apply. However, it is important to establish early that the need really exists and there is a path to getting budget, authority and timing aligned. That is the hardest part of most deals, because while your solution might fill a need, it is competing with many other priorities and budget needs. Most deals are lost from the very beginning because of the failure to qualify in a rigorous and systemic way.
- Do you trust your sponsor? Sales reps tend to latch onto the first person that shows interest and wants to do the deal. However, that person may not have the pull to make a deal happen because they are too low level, they are a bit of a “black sheep”, or the division is beholden to another group. That is why you need to go high and wide in your account, map it out based on decision and budget power, and build key contacts to help insulate you and your deal from whatever internal politics may occur. The worst thing that can happen is you are stuck with a gatekeeper or a liability.
- Does your sponsor know the buying cycle? Most senior buyers will know how to get a deal socialized and approved through the organization. However, do not be fooled by empty promises, because many will say they can get it done when in fact they have no clue. Make sure you get your sponsor to walk you through the process of who needs to approve the deal, who owns the budget, and what internal business case needs to be developed to consummate a deal. The larger the organization, the more hoops and the more layers of bureaucracy need to be traversed, so make sure you have an effective guide to help you through the jungle.
- Can you pass the procurement sniff test? Startups in particular fail to consider how a large company operates when it works with vendors. Procurement groups wield significant power and companies have invested in ensuring procurement reviews every single deal according to well-defined processes. Get to know procurement early on in the process to see if your company throws any red flags, that way you can address them well before the deal gets to the approval stage.
- Can you establish an ROI? Any deal of significant dollar value is going to have to be financially justified before it gets approved. There are the rare occasions you might slide by, but most companies require any capital investment prove its value. If you are a startup, that tends to be an iffy proposition in most cases because often these types of metric based cases studies do not exist yet, but this is where your champion can help. Do not grasp for random numbers or back of the napkin calculations, figure out how your customer looks at ROI and model your solution accordingly.
- Do you make yourself look like a risk? Big companies get skittish when working with smaller companies and startups. An Oracle or Microsoft is a known entity, so there is no mystery. But with your startup, they do not know how you operate, whether you can support their needs, and if you will even be in business next year. Do not pretend to be a big company or cover up the truth! Instead appear professional, organized, and definitive in your statements of what you can and cannot deliver.
- Are you establishing a well of credibility? You might wonder what I mean by this, but this is merely an extension of the previous point about risk. You want to show you can deliver to mitigate questions early on. That means establishing and keeping deadlines, following through on promises, and being responsive. This can be frustrating because big companies can move incredibly slow, can ignore you for weeks, and be very non-responsive. You cannot control that, but you can control how you demonstrate your level of professionalism and thoroughness. This is building the bedrock of trust.
- Do you add value in your interactions or are you pushing product? If you demonstrate that you are someone that has useful insights and content to share, then you create pull where the client wants to engage with you. If all you do is push product, set false deadlines, and generate fake urgency, then you will create push away from the client. Your job is to influence the buying cycle by creating value and legitimacy, not upend it or wrestle it to fit your timeline. Remember, you are building that bedrock of trust across multiple parties in the organization so they can go to bat for you when it counts.
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