James (a hypothetical sales person) keeps getting what sound like positive buying signals during his prospecting calls. Somehow, though, he’s not getting very far.
“People tell me to call back in two months, four months, six months, when they will be looking at this problem” he says, perplexed. “When I call back, I get people telling me how glad they are that I called … but my close ratio is low, and my sales cycles are way too long. What’s going on?”
Search for trigger events
In response, I would offer James the following advice.
“When you cold call someone in an attempt to sell them something, you’re interrupting that person’s day. The dominant instinct is always going to be for that person to find any reason to get off the phone and get back to what they were doing before you interrupted them.
“Your goal has to be to maintain your poise and get past that first fifteen to thirty seconds of the initial call – which is always going to be a little bumpy.
“But – the reason you’re riding out those first fifteen to thirty seconds is not so you can try to turn the person into a short-term prospect on the spot!
“Actually, you’re trying to discover if this person has experienced a trigger event. If there has been such an event you want to find out what it was and when it happened. The trigger event could have taken place quite a while ago, it could have happened only recently, or it could still be on the horizon.”
These trigger events typically fall into one of three categories:
1. Bad Experience
The buyer has a bad experience with a product/service, with people, or with a provider. This is something that happens on the current provider/supplier’s end. For instance when a product is upgraded or replaced, very often the new product creates dissatisfaction because it does not meet the buyer’s expectations. To spot these opportunities keep your eyes and ears open for competitors who announce an upgrade or replacement of their product or service (e.g. Windows 7 to Windows 8 – This one resulted in me purchasing my first Apple computer).
2. Change / Transition
The buyer has a change or transition in people, places, or priorities. This is something that happens on the current buyer’s/user’s end. For instance a decision- maker changes at one of your prospects and the relationship that existed between the current supplier and the buyer is severed. To spot these opportunities keep your eyes and ears open for a change of decision-makers within your prospect list (e.g. An email you send to a buyer on your prospect list bounces back to you).
The buyer becomes aware of the need to change for legal, risk-avoidance, or economic reasons. This is something that happens on your end. For instance when you help a prospect understand that buying from you is less risky than continuing to buy from their existing supplier.
To spot these opportunities keep your eyes and ears open for situations where the perceived risk of inaction – continuing to buy the existing solution from your competition – becomes greater than the perceived risk of taking action – buying a new solution from you (E.g. Announcing you have recently won a big customer or a big contract leverages the tendency of companies to imitate their competitors because they view it as risky not to).
During the first minute of your call, use the opportunity to understand which of the following three buying modes the buyer is in:
The buyer is completely happy with what he or she currently has. There has not been a trigger event in the recent past, but there may be one on the horizon. You may think this person is a waste of time and may want to move on to the next person on your list.
Actually, if this person has money, authority, and influence, this is a great long-term opportunity. A strategy for this type of call is to start the relationship building process. I would also suggest that you check back in on a monthly basis to see if a trigger event has recently happened.
Searching For Alternatives
This person is unhappy with what he or she has, has spoken to several suppliers, and probably already has a favourite. A trigger event took place a while ago, and they’ve already taken action on it. You may think that this is a short-term opportunity… because the buyer is actively talking to a number of potential suppliers.
This is in fact probably a medium-term opportunity … because it is highly likely this buyer already has a first choice. Selling to buyers under these conditions typically results in a lower close ratio and a longer sales cycle – exactly the problem that you are experiencing. A strategy for this type of call is to position yourself as the buyer’s number-two choice – so you get called first if the buyer’s current favourite falters. You should check back every other week to see where you stand.
Window of Dissatisfaction
A trigger event has recently taken place and this buyer knows that what they are currently using is no longer sufficient, but has not done anything about it yet. Because they tell you to call back in two months, four months, or six months you make a note to do that and move on to the next person on your list. Wrong answer!
This is actually a short-term opportunity, because the buyer is not talking to your competition – yet. When you call back a few months later, even if you call a few weeks early thinking it will give you and edge, it’s very likely they will already be talking to your competition.
The strategy for this type of call is to identify the business opportunity and pursue it immediately – with as much happening on this initial call as possible and future contact taking place in the very near future. You must find a way to push a little bit and learn more about the trigger event, then try to set a near-term course of action.
A Winning Strategy
“As it stands, James, you are focusing on those people who are already talking to your competition.… and missing the biggest opportunities: those buyers in the Window of Dissatisfaction, who recently experienced a trigger event and have not started talking to your competition. That’s why your numbers are as bad as they are; that’s also why your sales cycles are so long.
“James, you need to do a better job of ‘staying on your feet’ for the first thirty seconds or so of the call – long enough to ask a couple of questions that will help you learn whether the person has:
- Not had a trigger event in a long time
- Experienced a trigger event a while ago and already doing something about it
- Recently experienced a trigger event and has done nothing about it – yet
“Once you learn if, and when, a buyer has experienced a trigger event you can apply the appropriate strategy. When you do that, and focus first on those people in the Window of Dissatisfaction, who recently experienced a trigger event and have done nothing about it yet, you will have a much higher close ratio… and you’ll have much shorter sales cycles.”