Buyers are grappling for control—total control. The indicators are everywhere:
reverse auctions, tougher purchasing agents, consultants getting
paid big bucks to shield salespeople from potential customers, more demands
placed upon salespeople, thicker RFPs, pricing up front, more tightly scripted
presentations and demonstrations, and less information available to the
If you take a moment to think back to the deals you’ve won and those
you’ve lost, I’m certain you’ll agree that your chances of winning a deal
where you had no influence on the circumstances were less than even. If
there are five contenders for a deal you have less than a 20% chance of
winning. Since one or more of your competitors probably has some control
or influence over that company’s buying process, you are in a highly disadvantageous
It takes a good measure of courage (one of the critical personality traits
of great salespeople) not to blindly follow the demands of a prospect.
Admittedly that’s hard to do when you have a slim pipeline, a product or
service that isn’t rated number one, your company has little name recognition
or you come into a deal late.
Here are just a few strategies for gaining and maintaining some control
over the customer buying process:
Ask for it, early. A long-term, mutually beneficial customer relationship
begins with win/win right from the start. In fact, the beginning
of the customer’s evaluation process is when he needs you the
most. He wants you to answer an RFP? As a condition, ask to meet
with the executive from whose budget that investment comes. He
wants a presentation to a committee? In return, you get to speak
with each of the committee members in advance of the meeting to
assure you understand the issues, expectations and objectives.
Is this risky? Sure, but I’d rather take the risk and push the customer
a bit early on and find where I really stand in the deal. I
don’t like to waste my time answering questions, responding to
lengthy RFPs or making presentations if I’m really only being
included in the deal so the prospect can negotiate better with the
vendor he’s already chosen. The way I see it, if you ask for some
things and he says no enough times, that’s a pretty good indicator
that he’ll say no when you ask for the order, if you even get that
Sometimes, there comes a point where it pays off not to
accommodate every request of the prospect. A client of mine who
had totally cooperated with an extremely demanding prospect was
dead in the water. He had earned credibility in the account and had
proven himself to be a qualified potential supplier. But there was
no feedback coming from the prospect relating to where my client
stood versus the competition or what the prospect perceived as his
strengths or weaknesses.
After a lengthy strategy session, we decided that we were not going
to provide any more information until the prospect began to share
his perceptions, observations and concerns. We figured that if we
were truly still in the running, the prospect would yield just a bit.
If he held fast, we would lose either way— by not getting the
information we needed to continue our selling effort or, by getting
We said, "No." The prospect was upset, but ultimately gave in. We
were provided with the information we needed and began to
knock off objections, one at a time.
My client won the deal, but at times he’s sorry he did. The customer turned out to be extremely difficult to work with and is never satisfied with anything my client does.
Create and maintain momentum.
Your strength or force is in your
information, resources, customer references, specifications, conference
room pilots, proof of concept projects, subject matter experts,
future product plans, executives, insights, best practices, investors,
board members and all manner of capital that should not be given
away for free. The value of that capital to the customer during his
evaluation should be carefully measured, and then dispensed so that
you’re developing interest first, then attention, then excitement and
Demonstrate leadership and integrity.
As determined and educated
a prospect may want to appear, the risks associated with decision making
are greater for him now than ever before. That scares him.
If he believes you have integrity, you can often get in a position,
over a period of time, to earn some control of the deal by leading him
through his own buying cycle—by coaching, educating and guiding.
If your prospect believes his success is foremost on your mind (his
success is your success), he will most likely relent and allow you to
gradually influence his thinking and behavior. One of the ways
you can accomplish this is to introduce him to customers of yours
who have gone through a similar set of challenges. Another is to
have a strategic plan to win his business and to actually share (parts
of ) that plan with the prospect.
Sell higher, sooner.
You’ve heard this advice before. I can’t tell you
how many salespeople don’t have a plan for getting executive access
or miss an opportunity that presents itself because they aren’t prepared.
You want to gain control in an evaluation? Do everything you can
to get access to the executive who is the real buyer and tell him
exactly how you can get what he needs done sooner, with less risk,
and with the highest return on investment. Then ask if he’ll help you.
He often will.
Recruit and train an ally.
Most selling takes place when you aren’t
there. If you haven’t taken the time to recruit and train an ally within
your prospect’s company who will work on your behalf behind the
scenes, you’re taking a real chance. Once an ally trusts you, he
becomes your sleeper agent, who can provide you with information
about your competition, changing decision criteria, objections to
your offering, insights into the real decision-making process, and
most importantly, will sell in your place when you aren’t there.
Get in early.
Now is the time to target the business you’re going to
be closing next quarter or next year. You want control? Get into
that account before he knows he needs your solution or service.
Understand his world, educate his, build demand and you’ll get
If you find yourself saluting and responding to every unreasonable demand
your prospects makes, try one or more of the proven strategies I’ve listed above
and get control of the sale.
Dave Stein is the author of "How Winners Sell". See his website here.
Written by an author included in Top Dog Recession Busting Sales Secrets. Get your copy here.
"One of these top dog secrets can earn you a fortune." - Jeffrey Gitomer, entrepreneur, bestselling author of Social BOOM!, and America's Leading Business Growth Expert
"It's like reading the best ideas from 50 sales books all in one book. It's awesome!"
— Michelle Nichols, Savvy Selling International