Our deals keep stalling! Over and over there are consistent and pervasive issues that are causing customers to lose interest, and eventually move on with their lives. Is this you?
With almost every-single-company I speak with, it's a consistent struggle: A prospect starts out engaged and excited, and slowly over time momentum slows to a stall. Those prospects either communicate that the process has been back-burnered, or in many cases, those prospects stop communicating altogether.
The process of diagnosis starts with a walk through of a typical prospect engagement cycle. This week alone, I’ve walked three organizations through this (plus countless other times), and I’ve quickly found a consistency to what is happening.
Here’s the common process (for a technology purchase, but you'll see it probably applies to most products). I've also included what the customer is likely thinking, and below these steps are some suggestions on what to do about it.
The Typical Prospect Engagement Process
Step one: Customer comes in as an inbound lead or responds with interest to outreach.
Customer mindset: I am either actively or passively buying. (Actively = I’m involved or leading a project to resolve an issue. Passive = I’m tracking an issue that needs resolution, and am doing some homework to be prepared.) In doing some research, the solution they have may have some possibility of being an option for us. My interest in learning more is about a 7 out of 10.
Step two: You, as the seller, reach out and schedule a call.
Customer mindset: Since I reached out, I’ve started to find and schedule meetings with other options as well. The call is tomorrow. Interest is now around a 5 out of 10.
Step three: The discovery call takes place.
Customer mindset: I’m wanting to try to predict how this solution may address our issues. They’re asking a bunch of “discovery” questions, and I’m not sure yet how any of this will apply. It’s almost as though they have a list of questions they’re checking off one-by-one. Ok, now they’ve given me a generic pitch of what they do. Wait, that’s it? Now they want to schedule another call to do a demo and talk specifically to my issues. Ugh. This is becoming a project. Interest is now a 3 out of 10.
Step four: The demo / presentation call takes place.
Customer mindset: So, we did a call last week where they asked me a ton of questions. Looks like all of those questions have now made their way into a single slide called, “customer objectives”, and that's all. Even then, they look pretty generic. Not even gonna bother to clarify, as I don’t want to get into another “discovery” again.
Ok, the demo / presentation has started...aaaannnnddd it's clearly generic, too...not customized to what I talked about. Oh, and, according to them, their solution is a perfect 5 out of 5. Wonder if it makes coffee, too. I guess I now understand what they do, and I have to figure out how this applies to us.
They’re very proud of themselves with their mission slide, awards slide, location map and then a piled high NASCAR (aka, logo) slide. I can’t even remember why I cared, as other issues and priorities have come up. I'm going to reach out to some buddies who may have some experience in this product category, check out G2.com, TrustRadius and Glassdoor to get the information I'm not getting here, and depending on what I find, I’ll likely put this on the back burner. Interest is now around a 1 out of 10.
Step five: You start sending the “just checking in” emails and leaving voice mails. The opportunity you were excited about has now moved back to suspect on the pipeline.
What can you do about it?
1) Discovery v1 - Be Interested!: Have you ever watched a really good interviewer? Last week I watched Jimmy Fallon interview the great old-time rocker Steve Miller. Jimmy was like a kid interviewing his hero. He was engaged, excited, leaning forward, and truly listening. He wasn’t checking a box of questions he needed to have answers for. That excitement caused Steve Miller to open up, and it was like two buddies sharing everything. It was as though there was no audience...just two people talking. Listen to Howard Stern do an interview. Love him or hate him, his interviews are well prepared. There is never a generic question. It’s all based on the interviewee. Transparency begets transparency. Interest begets interest. Show some.
2) Discovery v2 - Evaluate The Necessity & Timing of Each and Every Discovery Question: Have you ever felt like someone is asking you questions so they can back you into a corner later? Questions that are all for the benefit of the seller to "sell" you? What is the purpose of each and every question you ask? If a buyer is interested, they want to give you the minimum amount of information so that you can help them predict how your solution will address their challenges. A parade of unnecessary questions or ones designed to eventually be held against the buyer later need to go! The discovery needs to be MUTUALLY beneficial - not just beneficial for you.
3) Discovery v3 - : What perception are you giving your prospect based on the questions you are asking?:
- "What resources do you have available to run the implementation project and ensure success?” - hmmm, sounds like this is going to be really complicated.
- “Do you have budget allocated, and if not, what is the process to secure that budget?” - uh oh. Sounds like this is going to cost a lot.
- "Who do you sell to?" - it would have been nice if they did a touch of homework, because that's an obvious question.
Be transparent up front about what your solution can and cannot do. Be transparent about what environments are optimal, and which aren’t. Your questions shouldn’t leave the buyer wondering. And, your lazy questions shouldn't leave the buyer thinking you're not going to put in the effort. Your questions should support assisting the buyer in making the right decision for their challenges and environment.
4. Remove or enhance steps: Evaluate whether your discovery truly impacts your positioning and demonstration. If it does, prove it. Make sure the client knows the effort you’ll be putting forth to create a message that firmly addresses the challenges the customer is facing. If it does NOT, why is discovery one step, and presentation / demo is another step? Remove the step (especially in low average selling price environments where custom presentations and demonstrations are not cost effective). The customer had an interest and is losing it with every step where they are not able to paint a picture for themselves. Combine a short discovery with your positioning and potentially the demo if what you’re going to do is position generically. More often than not, organizations are adding unnecessary steps to the cycle, eroding interest over time and slowing their cycles.
5. Close for a next step at the end of each step: Evidence of an engaged customer is shown in their willingness to put additional time on their calendar. If the call ends with “we’ll call you”, simply ask, “so we don’t end up missing each other, can we schedule fifteen minutes for (time and date)?” If the answer is no, prepare for a stalled deal.
Discovery for discovery’s sake is a losing bet: The faster you can help a buyer get to where they need to be in their desire to evaluate, the more energy builds (versus erodes), and the more you are seen as an aid in the process versus a necessary evil.