~~An Introduction to Introductions: Caroline Robinson, or the Sandler Decision Step, Cambridge, England Style~~
The decision step is a pivotal part in the sales process that you know you missed when at the end of a presentation someone informs you that it looks good and they’ll take it to their partner, their board of directors, or their boss. Caroline Robinson takes us through the important pieces of the Decision step that she’s learned and mastered throughout her experience in both practice and sales.
The reason Caroline brought up the Decision step because its one of the most overlooked elements in selling and can have a significant impact, especially if we don’t spend time uncovering the answers to the necessary questions. It might seem that this process is unimportant or the questions are off-limits, and sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth in the answers. It is a risky question and unveils to us the complications in the process of the sale, but if we brute force then we do that at our own peril. The longer the sales process, the higher the cost of the sale and the more significant the impact of not asking enough decision based questions.
This mistake can bite clients when other decision makers come out of the woodworks or the urgency and timeline shifts based on other negotiations that we haven’t spent the time uncovering the reality. If a new decision maker enters the sales process, then we have to start over with the entirety of our process and it can increase the frustration when the person who is the real decision maker has already made up their mind. If that will be the reality then we should be willing to engage and ask about it early on, rather than letting the information be something that abuses us, rather than empowers us to lead our process to a definitive end.
It can feel reassuring to have a lot of prospects in your pipeline, but if we haven’t done work uncovering the reality of those prospects, then we might be sabotaging ourselves by building a pipeline based on hope rather than something that we can bet on. The Decision step is the fifth step in the Sandler process. This is where we probe deeper into the organization and what their process is. We need to understand who will be involved in the decision-making process and probing the initial answer to understand the role of the individuals named, their perspectives, and what will be important to them. On top of that, we need to know about the timeline expectations and the differences between all individuals in the decision step. Too often urgency can fizzle out if we don’t spend time focusing and discovering the reasons why we might expect this is in the future. To execute the decision step well and grow through it, we need to use the mirror to check ourselves after the sales calls that we engage.
What is their criteria for success? What are the roadblocks to working together? What are the hurtles they need to overcome in order for us to work together? The size of this compartment is correlated directly to the size of the opportunity you’re looking to close. We need to spend more time probing and uncovering and working through the decision step to ensure that we are getting to the complexity behind a call that we might, on a regular day, assume that the call is going to be an easy experience. The difference between an effective sales call and an efficient sales call requires time, but the time we spend asking questions will always end up rewarding us in the end. It takes time to ask hard questions and get to a place where the prospect will be comfortable enough to reveal the truth.
~~The Conceptual: The Decision Step to Uncover Decision-making, or Extra Time to Save Time in the Future~~
We move through appreciation of where they have joined us in the process and their willingness to talk about the pain that the problem caused, and the cost of the pain as well as their budget. Then we need to open the conversation to find out about the decision-making step and it requires understanding your right to probe around these areas. If we’ve had an open conversation up until this point, then the decision step should be a natural transition and is reinforced by the mindset that is convinced that you serve your clients best when you understand their process clearly and can help them understand whether or not they should do business with you.
After clearing up the how they make decision then we move into the deeper issues. What are the timelines for you when making a decision? When are you looking to start the work? When are you looking to have it completed it by? When building a timetable with your clients you should be building out the expectations on paper in order to help them understand what their process is and ground it in their own historic context that informs us of their expectations, as well as their previous experiences. To really demonstrate our status as a trusted advisor we should be working together to build it together. We should be probing to find out who are the important people in your organization and their organization that need to be in conversation and need to come into contact to produce the best results from an engagement.
Typically, the larger the organization the larger steps they need to go through in the decision-making process. But, since we’re probing, we’re building out a roadmap in a collaborative way that helps them understand their own process as well and this builds buy in where they find themselves more comfortable and confident in the process that we’re putting together with each other.
We do need to understand the cast of characters and their impact on the process. These may be from the decision-maker to the end user who might be influencers in the decision. People may be somewhere between advocates and enemies and if we know where they are early on then we can build out strategies to manage and address support or people who might be resistant to the change we’re looking to help the company implement through our encounter. This varies business to business or business to consumer. Too often individuals may assume that they’re talking to the decision-maker in a business to consumer engagement without understanding that the importance of the decision-making step is super important, maybe even more important when it’s a conversation related to business to consumer. By understanding the players it gives you the opportunity to become the coach for your buyer and help them build strategies to overcome the obstacles that you know will become an issue during the duration of the sale.