Does this sound familiar? “We’ll need to talk internally, and then we’ll get back to you.”
Let me guess, you hear this right after you’ve finished your software demo and are trying to schedule another call. Am I right?
Keeping deals flowing through the pipeline is critical for you to hit quota and for your company to realize its revenue goals. However, preventing deals from stalling out and prospects from disappearing isn’t easy.
Too often, the prospect takes control of the sales process, and all communication ends up being on their terms, making it easier for them to procrastinate or opt-out of the deal completely.
To prevent this from happening, you need to know how to keep control of YOUR sales cycle and how to determine when it’s time to walk away.
Here are my Top 5 Tips for keeping control of your sales cycle so that you can separate the players from the posers more quickly.
1. Share with your prospect how YOUR sales process works and get buy-in from them.
You are fully aware of how your sales cycle is going to play out so why are you keeping it a secret from your prospects? During the first discovery call with your prospect, you should outline what will happen if you and the potential client agree there is a reason to continue meeting. This framework of expectations needs to include continuing to determine if your product/service is a fit as well as resolving any issues the prospect may have.
This conversation should include the following statement:
“Ms. Prospect, after I demo the product for you and your team, I usually find that you all will want to discuss your thoughts about our solution without me in the room, which is completely understandable. I just ask that we put a firm follow-up call on the calendar during that demonstration call so I can get feedback after your team meets regarding whether our solution will be a fix for the issues you’re facing. Does that sound fair?”
If you know this stage in the sales cycle is when you struggle to maintain control, then address it head-on, early in the process, before any sales tension begins.
2. Teach prospects that you’re going to hold them accountable.
You can’t hold someone accountable for walking their talk if you are not walking yours!
Holding your prospect accountable for doing what they’ve agreed to do starts with you. Are you showing up to meetings on time? Are you sending information you agreed to send when you said you’d send it? Are you getting answers for them in a timely manner? You need to create a culture of accountability by being accountable first.
3. Give prospects homework and a deadline.
Never get off a call with a prospect without assigning homework. This is how you can start to build a culture of accountability with your prospect. On nearly every sales call I conduct, there is a question to which the prospect doesn’t have an answer on the spot. That answer should be their homework for the next call.
Examples of routine questions they might need to answer are:
They don’t know if this will require legal review… homework.
They aren’t sure if it will require a security review from their IT team….homework.
They don’t know if it fits in their 2023 budget….homework!
When you send the appointment reminder email (hint) the day before the meeting, you can remind them to come to the meeting with their homework completed.
Here’s another way I hold prospects accountable:
Let’s say I have a 3pm scheduled call with you on Zoom. I get on at 2:59 and by 3:04 you’re not on. I send you a quick email with the subject line: “Still a good time?” In this email, I let you know that I’m on Zoom (I share the link for convenience) for our scheduled call and that I’ll stay on for 4 more minutes. If 4 minutes come and go and you are still not on, I will reply to that same email explaining that I’ve ended the call and I’m looking to reschedule. My time is just as important as yours, and I’m going to hold you accountable for showing up for meetings you’ve agreed to attend.
4. Establish consequences for a prospect’s bad behavior.
As I discussed earlier, it’s easier to have tough conversations early in the sales cycle.
Things do happen, and I always want you to give the prospect the benefit of the doubt. This is why having a conversation about how we should handle things before an issue arises is ideal.
Here’s an example from my personal life. People who aren’t on time push my “bad girl” button. So, I try to set people in my life up for success and not failure by saying the following:
“Hey- I’m looking forward to drinks on Thursday. I know we’ve picked a time right during rush hour so I’m going to leave a little early to make sure I’m there on time. Time’s kind of my thing so if you find you’re running behind, please send me a text to let me know what your new ETA will be. If you’re going to be really late, I’ll probably ask that we reschedule.”
You can easily have the same type of conversation with a potential client. Here’s how something like this might sound as it relates to setting an up-front contract with your prospect:
“Julie, I know that as we go through this process, you might, at some point, decide that our solution isn’t going to be a fit for your needs. If that turns out to be the case, I’d really appreciate it if you would be proactive in communicating that, so it doesn’t get awkward. I don’t want to be continuously trying to connect to figure out why you’re not replying to my emails or returning my calls anymore. Does that sound fair?”
I have this conversation so that if Julie does ghost me at some point, I can remind her of our agreement by saying, “I know we’d discussed early on that if, at any point, this wasn’t a fit, you’d tell me. Is that where we are?”
5. Have a formal and written walk-away point.
Sometimes you’ve done everything correctly as it relates to accountability and still, it’s not going the way you’d hoped. This is where a formal walk-away point is necessary. Let me share mine with you:
- The ghosting has begun. I’ve sent 2 emails and left 1 VM over the course of 1.5 weeks. I decided to put my walk-away plan into action.
- Activate a walk-away plan.
- I send another email with an “out” built in. It sounds like this:
Subject line: Time to connect?
I’ve been hoping to follow up on our last conversation where we agreed that you were going to speak with Finance about next year’s budget. Then, you’d make a decision to move forward now or we’d connect again in January.
Did that conversation take place?
- I also send a LinkedIn message that same day with a similar note.
- Next, wait a day and leave a VM with a similar message letting her know if I don’t hear from her in a couple of days, I’ll try again.
- Then, call 2 days later (walking my talk) and leave a VM.
- If another 2 days pass, send the “Dear Julie” email. It goes like this:
Subject: Change of heart?
Have you changed your mind about formalizing your outbound prospecting process to ensure you are able to hit your revenue targets this year?
- I send another email with an “out” built in. It sounds like this:
Your walk-away point needs to be written and formal so that your decision to walk away isn’t emotional or personal. It’s just how you do business!
Sales is a rejection-filled sport with plenty of opportunities for disappointment, so I want you to have the best chance every time you step up to the plate to put the ball in play. Making sure that you are in control of YOUR sales cycles throughout the ENTIRE sales process will give you a better chance of not only separating the players from the posers but also closing deals more quickly!