Let’s Get Real, or Let’s Not Play – transforming the buyer-seller relationship
Relationships between buyers and sellers are often dysfunctional, often being motivated by fear. For the buyer that is the fear of being talked into buying the wrong solution. For the salesperson it is the fear of missing target.
Rather than working together for a win-win outcome, both sides are often pulling against each other. However, Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig, in their book aptly titled ‘LET’S GET REAL, OR LET’S NOT PLAY’, provide the antidote – a means of transforming the buyer-selling relationship
It is not just the salesperson who is at fault. The authors make it clear that bad buying is as common as bad selling. They point out that when buyers don’t trust sellers, dysfunctional buying practices result, such as:
· RFP practices that hide and protect vital information, and restrict personal contact.
· Sellers having no alternative but to guess what their customers want
· Buyers expect sellers to make large upfront commitments of time and energy
· Sellers are expected to reveal proprietary knowledge and to present an immediate solutions to problems that may have existed for years.
Although both sides own the problem, it is up to the salesperson to strive for a solution say the authors. That is to create a mutually beneficial dialogue that is consultative, value based and integrity driven.
What is the starting point? Well, salespeople must act in the role of consultants (as opposed to salespeople) looking to satisfying client needs as the means to achieving their own goals. This has to be his, or her genuine intention, say the authors. They emphasise that such a genuine intension is more important than any sales methodology, or process.
The authors advocate a structured and systematic approach to the management of the sales opportunity, one that helps buyer to buy, as well as seller to sell. It is aimed at progressively qualifying the opportunity by resolving a logical sequence of questions, as follows:
QUESTION 1: Should we be talking, should we keep talking? – starting the dialogue requires that that the salesperson have something interesting to say, a reason for the client to invest time talking with us. An important caveat is that the salesperson has to be prepared to walk away if both parties cannot achieve a win-win dialog, or deal, after all that is the title of the book ‘let’s get real, or let’s not play.’
It is most important to determine in the early stages if there is a mutually beneficial reason for both sides to be talking and to engage in a number of next steps together. The first encounter presents the opportunity to exit low probability opportunities early, as well as to get high probability opportunities off to a good start.
QUESTION 2: Should they buy? The dialogue starts with the sales person working from an educated guess, or hypothesis regarding the customer’s needs, or interests. But does the customer have a real need? Mastering this stage requires:
· Getting out and prioritising all the issues (including the unspoken, or inherent ones)
· Moving beyond the initial preconception of the solution to address the full, or underlying needs
· Gathering evidence of and quantifying the impact of the problem
· Understanding the organisational context of the problem,
· Recognising why the need has not been resolved to date (i.e. constraints).
One of the main points made by the authors is that world class inquiry precedes world class advocacy. In other words the salesperson needs to fully understand the problem, before being able to sell his, or her solution.
All of these points sound obvious, however completing them requires some considerable skill on the part of the salesperson who must:
· Second guess and interrogate any information that is provided
· Earn the right to ask certain questions, or raise certain issues
· Avoid being deflected by the buyer who wants to get to a solution without first exploring the problem
· Apply a more thorough and forensic approach to questioning
· Demonstrate the tact and diplomacy of a counselor
· Arrive at the explicit and quantifiable, but with egos and sensitivities intact
· Bring the customer along on the journey of discovery, or needs analysis.
· Avoid any guesswork and look beyond the obvious.
· Understand any challenges, or solutions in the context of organisational goals, strategies and politics, including priorities, constraints, trade offs, etc.
QUESTION 3: Can they buy? Pre-qualification does present challenges for salespeople, particularly in an environment where opportunities (genuine or not) are scarce. In this context however the authors again remind us that buyer and seller must ‘get real or let’s not play’ mindset.
The authors remind us that ‘intent counts more than technique’ and that the intent is to figure out if the salesperson and the prospect are headed in the same direction and should keep on going. If not then ‘let’s find out now, so we do not waste each other’s time…’
Put in this context it makes sense to bring issues of budget and price range up front. So, qualifying the resources available to the client for the solution in terms of time, people and money is essential.
The salesperson must be constantly looking out for signs, or signals that indicate their chances of success. But the authors argue that a Yellow, or even a Red light is, in itself, not a problem.
For example, a red flag is only a problem if it is received too late to be addressed, or after too much time has been invested.
So, the advice for the salesperson – if you feels something is off slow down and to address it fully and explicity.
QUESTION 4: How will they buy? Often salespeople don’t ask about how the buying decision is going to be made. That is because they are afraid of the answer. For example, it is uncomfortable to find out that:
– the decision is going to be made by a committee of 6 people, when he, or she has only had contact with 2 of them
– the time frame is not quarter 2 as suggested by your cash flow, but based on the buyers rate of progress will be quarter 4 at the earliest.
This is not helped by the fact that buyers often play their cards close to their chest. Buyer’s often don’t tell salespeople about how they are going to buy for an entirely different set of reasons, such as a desire to protect key stakeholders from the salesperson, etc.
Again, the authors reinforce the notion ‘let’s get real, or let’s not play’- so if the buying organisation is restricting access to key information, or key stakeholders that is a flashing Yellow light and one that requires a carefully structured approach by the salesperson.
The authors point out that coy buyers have learned that the easiest way to get rid of a salesperson is to give them something to do – prepare a proposal, etc. In the ‘let’s get real or let’s not play’ world the buyer can and should be asked to do something in return. It is after all a two way commitment.
The authors suggest that 80% of lost deals are the result of an inadequate, or nonexistent prequalification process and the lack of an effective sales planning process. This book goes a long way to addressing both. It is a must for every sales professional and the best sales book we have read this year to date.