Up until 15-20 years ago, and out of necessity, buyers would rely on salespeople to get information on products and services of interest to them. The Internet has forever altered the balance of power, to the buyer’s advantage. It is not uncommon today for decision makers to avoid talking with a salesperson early in the sales cycle thinking, somewhat erroneously, that they are able to diagnose their own needs and to then seek and find the best solutions through their own investigation. In recent studies, 60-70% of the surveyed buyers say it was they who found the seller not the other way around.
Prospects want to investigate their options when they have time (like in the evenings after dinner). A more significant factor than convenience is at the heart of this statistic, however. Buyers simply aren’t willing to cede power to a salesperson needlessly. So they cautiously postpone sales discussions until they have built a comfortable level of knowledge and insight – on both their requirements and available solutions – at which point they are fully in charge of deciding who to talk with, why and when.
With much too much frequency, buyers have witnessed salespeople grab onto a bona-fide prospect faster than a dog to a bone. Having been in that situation, they know that a determined salesperson will not let go until he or she makes a decision or stops returning their phone calls. Naturally, prospects shy away from this.
It is not until prospects decide that they know enough – about what they want, and what questions to ask – that they become willing participants in a sales conversation. And that, all too often, is at the end of the buying cycle. You can win even when prospects engage with you late in the buying process if you play by these rules.
Rule #1 Don’t force an interaction
One way to force an interaction is to withhold pricing information. If you withhold pricing information you force the buyer to talk with a salesperson. On the surface, such a strategy might seem perfectly reasonable (and admittedly, for some types of industries or products, it can be). However, withholding pricing information can most definitely back-fire, to devastating effect. Do you feel good about a company that makes it difficult to get the information you want from their website?
Of course not. And your prospect won’t appreciate it either. In fact, they will likely go elsewhere, to another vendor or Website where the information is readily available.
If your pricing is complicated, or you offer too many options, or you don’t want competitors to know, it doesn’t preclude you from giving your prospect “self-service” access to pricing without disclosing it on your website publically.
You can and should make it easy for your prospect to learn your pricing with a self-service model (see LeadLifter). According to Marketing Sherpa, budgetary pricing is the number one piece of information that serious buyers seek from a website, even more so than information on product features. Use self-service, budgetary pricing as a call to action. You will build trust and surface qualified buyers at the same time.
Rule #2 Don’t inadvertently sabotage the sale
When salespeople are invited to a discussion late in the buying cycle, rest assured that the prospect has already formed opinions shaped by what they’ve read or seen. They’ll ask questions to see how your product or service fits with the conclusions they’ve drawn. Make sure you don’t unwittingly insult your prospect by discounting a preference or aversion.
Take the time up-front to learn about their motivations and leanings before you state your case. If you forgo this important step, you might inadvertently position yourself out of a sale. As an example, you might focus on how your solution enables the prospect to do more (run more reports, slice the data more ways) when what they really want is to do less (save time, eliminate steps, simplify).
What’s most important at the end of the buying cycle is to listen before you talk.
Rule #3 Don’t push the prospect faster than they are willing to go
Just because the prospect is in the late stage of the buying process– don’t assume you can control how quickly they wrap it up. You can’t. But that’s okay. This is your chance to build trust and value and to differentiate yourself from competitors. Help them make their way through the process. See Rules number 3-5 in “the 5 Immutable Laws of Selling.”
Rule #4 Don’t move slower than the prospect wants
Don’t be surprised if the prospect is close to a decision when they finally reach out to you. In fact, they may have already decided that they like your solution above all others they’ve researched. Avoid the temptation to start from the beginning and to go through your entire pitch. Take your guidance from what the prospect tells you or from what they ask. While they are a new prospect to you, they are not new to your product or service. Remember, they’ve done their research.
If they say “I want to make sure I can access the software without being online” answer “yes” (if that’s the case). Don’t answer “Yes you can. You just use a guided interface that lets you store…” Too much information can be a bad thing when a simple confirmation is what your prospect seeks.
It is most definitely important to askquestions that uncover the prospect’s understanding of your capabilities and the degree of importance of each. It’s a perfect time to reinforce their perceptions (assuming they’re correct).
Rule #5 Don’t try to wrestle control away from the buyer
Be grateful they’re taking control. It means they’re serious.
Engaging with a prospect late in the buying cycle is rarely ideal. Often, prospects will have formed biases that are disadvantageous to your firm and therefore difficult to overcome. But it is a reality of the world we work and operatein. As undesirable and yet unavoidable as it may be, it is possible to sell late in the buying cycle if you abide by a new set of rules.
Author, Nancy Nardin is the foremost expert in sales productivity tools. As President of Smart Selling Tools, she consults with many of the top sales productivity software vendors as well as end-user organizations looking to select the right tools. Click to get Nancy’s What & When weekly digest with invitations to complimentary webinars and informative publications. Follow Nancy on Twitter @sellingtools or subscribe to her Tool Talk blog. Nancy can be reached at 916-596-3035. To schedule a free 30 minute consultation.