“So I sent out the quote, and then my prospect goes radio silent. What gives?”
It’s a common question that I have gotten and one that came up recently at my last talk in Boston. A younger rep wanted know why this happens. I am sure it has happened to this particular rep a few times already as it has happened to all of us in sales: Why do hot prospects all of a sudden turn cold?
The first time this happened to me was with one of my existing customers. They called to learn more about our new product, asked about the price, and then requested a quote. I obliged without hesitating. I waited for feedback, which I did not receive, so I took matters into my own hands. First I called, then sent an email, and then continued the same cycle for several weeks.
My boss was headed out to visit remote offices, so I told him about my AWOL customer. Without looking up from his forecasting spreadsheets, he grumbled, “You were column fodder.” Sure enough, a month later I discovered the MIA customer had created a competing product.
The lesson I took from this episode? When a prospect calls you out of the blue to request a quote, you have already lost the deal.
There are ways you can fight your way out of column fodder territory. You can certainly duke it out if you deem the business worth fighting for. Or, you can try to prevent the situation; it is much easier to win when you put yourself in the driver’s seat before a deal even emerges. Let’s talk about how to avoid these situations altogether.
There are two reasons why you get a request for a quote might turn cold. The first is what I mentioned above—you are column fodder. This simply means that you are part of a scheme used to justify a person’s decision to choose a different provider. The second reason is that a prospect is fishing for information but has no project in mind. This often happens because the need is there but no urgency exists.
If we dig more into “column fodder”, we assume that it is driven by price-shopping procurement groups. There are actually a host of reasons, mostly driven by the need for companies and management to cover the bases, sometimes referred to as “CYA”. No one wants to be left hanging if a decision goes wrong. By adding a few vendors at the eleventh hour, there is some evidence of due diligence and optionality in the event something goes wrong with the chosen provider.
Normally, if you are “column fodder”, your chances of winning are slim. Someone has already set the competitive framework, laid out the rules of engagement, and built up considerable internal support. The prospect is already invested in something else. Because this route to the deal can get very complex, advise you on how to increase your winning percentage in these situations in a future post.
Sometimes however there is no actual deal in play. That is when the quote request is exploratory; the proverbial tire kicker. That is often seen as a negative because you think you just wasted your time. This is actually the best situation to be in, because you can influence the deal before anyone else and create the urgency that shifts your prospect from exploring to buying.
There are three tactical ways to stay engaged so you do not get shut out in the cold:
- First, you want to create a series of mini-commitments so that you persuade your prospect to dedicate some resource (generally time) to the problem. This includes asking open-ended questions, getting others involved in the conversation, or having them complete a predetermined exercise. Another tip is to always schedule and send calendar invites for the future conversations before the previous one has ended. This is particularly effective as it can produce follow-up calls after the quote is sent.
- Secondly, you want to build your credibility through value injections. At first, you have little-to-no credibility with your prospect, which doesn’t know your strengths or weaknesses. You change this perception by providing relevant content, proposing useful introductions, and projecting a professional brand image. As many buyers review information online before engaging, a trusted reputation in your industry realm is key.
- Third, you need to triangulate your engagement. The danger early on is relying too heavily on one contact. This gives you a one-sided, biased approach that can seem untrustworthy to customers. You need to carefully expand your outreach to other influencers and departments without alienating your primary contact. You can do this by calling high into the organization and getting passed down and by explicitly asking your contact to invite their peers and managers. Simply asking who else would need to be involved or would be affected by bringing in a new solution can help introduce you to other influencers and decision-makers.
At this point, you might ask, “how do I know if I am column fodder or not?” Whether you use BANT, ANUM, GPCTBA/C&I, or some other qualification process, you will understand how far along the prospect is in their evaluation process—if there is even a process to start with.
Do not be hesitant in your qualifications! Remember, you need to know as much about the prospect’s situation as they need to know about your product. Most people will answer willingly. Some will be guarded and hold their cards close to the vest. In any case, you always reserve the right to walk away and inform your prospect if the flow of ideas is inadequate.
The lesson here is to be very careful before you send off that quote. Work with the perspective that the prospect will not get back to you. Establish a process to empathize with the buyer’s thoughts and feelings. Be specific in your requests, confident in your abilities, and don’t make assumptions. It is critical to understand where in the buying cycle a prospect lies, otherwise you could be wasting the most important resource of all; your time.
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