- Know the customer. Some sales people call on prospective customers with little more than a “lead”—maybe only an address and a name scribbled on a post-it note. But whale hunters do not call on a large prospect until they have a complete dossier prepared by a Scout, someone in sales support, marketing or administrative assistance who has been trained to conduct the essential research. Your dossier should include a complete description of the company and its history. You need to know its major customers and competitors, key products and services, and its market position. Record three years of data on revenue, gross margin, and operating margin. Total assets and total debt help you create a snapshot of the company’s current position.What is the company’s current market strategy? Are they gaining or losing market share? Are they poised to introduce new products or services? Are they B-to-B or B-to-C? What kind of budget have they had historically? Who is or has been their incumbent provider?
- Think like a buyer. We tend to have a huge need to talk about US. We blab about our services, our track record, our cool tools and metrics and stuff that we do. And the more innovative, the more creative, the more bells and whistles we can present, the better we like it.Large account buyers, however, are not really looking for the best of all possible solutions. They want a reasonable solution that will work. They want a solution that will not cost them too much money or work or time or change or internal conflict. They want to choose a provider that will not embarrass them or get them into trouble. So they have a huge preference for big agencies, with big brands, that are well known and comfortable.If you are a smaller company or a company unknown or little known to them, you need to learn to think from their point of view. They are afraid of you. Your job is to make them unafraid. They cannot hear your value proposition until they become less afraid of you. So what can you do?
- Ask great questions. Instead of leading off with what you can do, lead off with rich, meaty questions about their circumstance. I don’t mean just the ordinary questions to discover their “pain points.” What are their aspirations? What do they want or need to accomplish? What obstacles are in their way? How can you help them define and/or scope out their hopes in terms that make sense to an agency?Great questions invite your prospect to talk about how things have gone in the past. How things are going now. What is the typical way his or her company responds to the current set of needs, challenges, or aspirations? How have they handled this need previously? What has gone well and what didn’t work previously?Of course your questions are about the company. However, your challenge is to frame those questions in the context of the individual or team that you are currently talking to. Make it personal; keep it personal.
- Listen. When you ask great questions, you will typically get very useful answers. If you don’t get good answers, or if the person you’re talking to doesn’t really want to interact with you and your questions, it’s a good sign to walk away from this deal at this time. So the first point of listening is to listen for signs that you do not want to pursue this relationship at this time.But when you have asked great questions and listened to your counterpart’s answers for 30 to 45 minutes, that person begins to believe you are wise and knowledgeable. You have learned valuable insights about what the prospect needs, wants, and hopes to accomplish. You may have told very little about your company’s capabilities. Nevertheless, you have proven that you “understand” the needs and desires of the buyer.
- Ask for a process commitment. A key ingredient in large account selling is to get commitments from the prospect and test whether they can and will keep their commitments. A very easy and significant commitment is the process map. This is a simple exercise that you can conduct on a note pad or on their flip chart or white board. Map out the steps in their buying process. Find out who needs to be involved at each step and whether the person you’re talking with is willing to get the important people involved. See if your contact knows the buying process and if their process is compatible with your sales process.
Follow these five steps and you will have more productive first meetings with large-scale prospects. Then you will be armed key understandings to share with your team to begin designing solutions.