Last week I was talking with a VP of sales, who had just returned from a “big deal” sales pitch across the country. Expecting that his team was to present a multi-million dollar sales proposal to the senior executives of the prospect, he found instead a disjointed quasi-meeting. The meeting started 90 minutes late. The chief buyer did not remain in the meeting, but ducked in and out and finally left, turning it over to a team of others who had little idea of what to do or why this meeting was taking place and who, by then, were ready for lunch. The VP said to me, “That was the most expensive sales call I’ve ever made.” We flew in five people from around the country, in addition to our two locals, and we didn’t even get to make a pitch! How could that get so out of hand?”
That’s a great question! And the answer is, there was no system to prevent it from getting out of hand. Here’s the circumstance. In this company, a number of sales managers report to the VP, and individual sales reps report to the sales managers.
In this scenario, the Sales Rep presented his case to his sales manager. He characterized the opportunity as a “big deal” and asked for corporate support to close it. He needed technical and training support plus pricing incentives, and he wanted the corporate sales VP as the trump card. The sales manager agreed that it was a big enough deal to warrant that support, and went about securing the commitments.
The first thing that went wrong is that the salesperson misread the opportunity. Clearly the prospective customer was not expecting nor prepared for a formal proposal presentation. The salesperson did not “guarantee” the meeting with follow up phone calls or a formal agenda. He did not take into consideration the history of his encounters with this buyer. He did not request a formal list of attendees to share with his representatives, nor did he provide a formal list of atttendees to the customer.
At the next step, the sales manager failed to validate the information coming from the sales rep. She should have asked key questions. Is the prospect pre-qualified on pricing and timeline for decision? With whom have you met to date? Is there any influencer with whom you have yet to meet? How can you be sure who will be at the meeting? What have you done to ensure that it will happen as you plan? How about if I go with you on a call before we bring in our VP?
And the Sales VP should have quizzed the sales manager more thoroughly. How well do you know this prospect? What are the signs of readiness to buy? What makes you sure this is a big deal for us at this time? What have you and the sales rep done to ensure full attendance at the meeting? What is the agenda? What role do you expect me to play? What is the likelihood of closing this deal within the next month?
This is a classic case of management losing control of the sales process. For a team to invest in a meeting this costly, there must be multiple check points, or hurdles, that the sales team should clear before calling in the big guns. The Whale Hunters call this process map progressive discovery/progressive disclosure. For each step in your sales process, there should be clear guidelines for the following:
- What do you need to discover (from the whale)?
- What do you need to disclose (to the whale)?
- Who from the whale’s team needs to be at the table?
- Who from your team needs to be at the table?
- How do we know when this step is complete?
If the salesperson is reporting regularly to the sales manager about progress according to steps like these, the manager will have much greater insight into how quickly the deal is moving along and whether it is as big and/or as ready as the sales rep reports. What did you learn at the last meeting? Who was there? Did everyone come who was invited? Who was missing?
In an orderly sales process, there are few surprises like the one I described. If all along the way, people are coming to the table as needed, and they are taking you seriously and paying attention, there is little risk that they will fail to show up for a significant meeting with your headquarters team.
Get your sales process under control, and you will stop wasting previous resources on “big deals” that are not big and not ready.