You meet with your prospect, run several meetings, they tell you how much they love your proposal. But then you wait... And wait... And wait...
Unfortunately, we've all been there.
In my experience, this is one of the most frustrating things business development reps ever have to deal with.
In the example above, it's likely that the client really did love the solution you were proposing. Perhaps, for them, it was a “nice to have” vs. a “need to a have.” In the world of business, the difference between a "nice to have" product and a "need to have" product is actually quite dramatic.
If we are honest in looking at our business development funnels, they are filled with prospects that believe the solution being proposed is good, or fine, adequate, or sufficient. For them, what's being offered does not serve an immediate need to motivate them to buy immediately, however.
These opportunities fall into the dreaded “nice to have” bucket. This could eventually turn into a deal that will come in six months, maybe a year, or perhaps never.
The tricky part for business development professionals, is that our most valuable asset is our time. Spending the time to end up with a "nice to have" offer, simply leads to inconclusive interactions with prospects. Positive or negative, you want to make sure all of your deals are closed as succinctly as possible.
"No" Isn't Always Bad
We need to do a better job of qualifying our opportunities, to get to more “no’s.” I always say that I would rather a “no” than a “maybe.”
Well, because a "no" is never really a "no." Anytime a prospect declines in such a manner, what they actually mean is, "not right now." Meaning, you may be able to contact them again in the future, but you at least know for sure that right now is not the time, and so there's no need to keep them top-of-mind.
That is much better than receiving a "maybe," which could mean so many things, that it actually means nothing. A “maybe” just wastes our time, and causes our energy and focus to be diverted from real opportunities.
"Maybe" is never something you want to hear as a business development rep. So, below, are three ways to ensure that you avoid the “nice to have," "maybe," and "I don't know" buckets:
1. Ask Better Questions
One of my old bosses used to always say, “A good development rep ask two questions... But a great rep asks two more."
The second-layer questions uncover what is most important to our clients and where they are spending their time and dollars. Questions that dive a bit deeper than the surface, and get to specific pain points of your prospect.
When we ask prospects questions like, "What is most important to you and your team right now?" or "What is your biggest area of focus in the first six months of the year?" I find they provide answers to the problems that they assume we can solve.
A good way to mitigate this is to ask your client to assume there is no logo on your business card - as if they know nothing about you. How would they respond to your question with that in mind?
When you frame the question that way, it garners more meaningful responses from prospects. They think less about you in their answer, and more truthfully about their own business.
Now, you can get more honest feedback, and better understand their key challenges, letting you better measure the impact of your solution on their business. You'll better understand how your product will effect your prospect's team, their organization, and them personally.
If you know all of this information, you can better tailor your message to their needs.
2. Understand the Buying Process
Something else that is vitally important, is to understand your prospect’s buying process.
Sure, your solution might be incredible to them, but there may be others within their company that need to get involved in the decision-making process.
The best way that I've found to uncover their true buying process, is to simply ask, straight out, with an energizer infused in to the question.
For example, you can start with: “There has been such a wide range of how our clients choose to partner with us. In some cases, there was only one decision maker. In others, there were a handful of people included in the process.”
Then continue with something like, “I don’t want to make any assumptions about your business, so can you walk me through your normal process in approving a new business venture?"
If they hesitate, you can add a second-layer question. For example, ask them to walk you through the last advertising package they bought.
Did they need other approvals, or could they sign-off on their own? Are they the true decision maker? If not, what did they need to show their senior leadership to make it a no-brainer for them to approve?
Knowing this information and flushing it out of the process will make a dramatic impact on your closing times and will provide more information for you to move prospects from the "nice to have" bucket, to the "need to have" bucket.
3. Send a $0 Contract
Another tactic I use to ensure that I've uncovered all potential objections is to make the assumptive close and ask to send a $0 contract.
An easy way to do this is to explain that, in your experience, the legal teams of your clients vary, with some approving terms very quickly, and others taking longer to review the contract.
At this point, you've done your due diligence. You know and understand the impact that your solution can have on your prospect's business, so you don't want the contract to delay implementation. Offer to send a $0 contract so their legal team can review the terms in advance.
In most cases, the client will think it’s a great idea, and will send it over to their team for review. This is a sign that the client likes your solution and is making recommendations internally, and also does not want the deal to be held up by their legal team.
In some cases, however, the prospect will feel uneasy about doing so.
Uncovering this information is just as critical because it allows you to be honest with the deals in your funnel and their probability to close.
When we see the uneasiness of the prospect to send a $0 contract, we know the client perceives our solution as a “nice to have” and not a "need to have.”
This is a golden opportunity for you to get to the heart of their true objection. If you did not follow this process, this would turn into another opportunity left sitting in your funnel, week in and week out.
Now you know that there are still objections left to address with your prospect. One way to uncover them is to put the blame on yourself. I have found this is a quick tactic to personalize yourself to the prospect. They'll want to diffuse your self-doubt.
For example, you might say to the prospect after they refuse to send the $0 agreement…
- I apologize because I feel like I have done a poor job of communicating the impact this solution would have on your goal of achieving “x.”
- In reviewing my notes from our last several meetings, I know your main objective was to achieve “x” in the next six months and our solution would help you exceed that timeline. What did you need to hear from me to make it an easy decision to have the legal team review the contract?
By phrasing the question this way, the prospect will want to address it directly with you because their refusing to not forward an agreement is not related to your potential relationship.
Typically, the prospect will say something along the lines of "It’s not you. I don’t have the budget” or "It’s not your solution, we have other priorities right now.”
Your goal should be to address these objections and reiterate how your product can be tied back to addressing their number one challenge or goal.
Unless you can directly tie our solution to their top one or two priorities, we will continue to stay in the “nice to have” bucket.
These tips have come from years of scraping my knees and making similar mistakes. Building business relationships is both an art and a science. I hope that some of these practices will help improve your funnel, increase your business, and form stronger partnerships with clients.
But, in the end, remember to bet on yourself – you got this!