Last spring, Gary had spent hours preparing to pitch a series of executive development workshops to a prospective client. His prospect was anxious to move forward and absolutely loved the idea of having Gary come in and create a unique program for them. In Gary’s mind, all he had to do was present his proposal, handle any questions, and get it signed.
At the end of the presentation, Gary leaned in and asked an appropriate closing question, “When do you want to schedule the first workshop?” The prospect sat back in his chair, sighed, and said “as soon as I get the executive committee’s approval. They meet the third week of next month”.
In our anxiousness to find new clients, we as coaches and consultants will sometimes talk to anyone who will lend us an ear. But selling to the wrong person in any organization… large or small… can permanently damage your chances of ever selling anything to them… ever. And although these willing listeners can seem like helpful allies, they can become potential saboteurs! Here’s the bottom line on this… it’s all about qualifying a prospect as a true decision-maker before we spend any time, energy or money on them.
Gary had been selling to the wrong person – an influencer rather than a decision-maker.
Influencers are individuals who have the power to affect the purchase decisions of others because of their position or relationship with decision-makers. Hey, it’s easier to get a meeting with an influencer than a decision-maker… right? Influencers are more accessible and really do want to engage your services. They can lull us into a false sense that things are going well… but, they don’t have the power to make it happen.
True decision-makers are the only ones who can give us an unqualified yes. Decision-makers control budgets… Influencers do not. Influencers do not like to make decisions or take risks. Influencers are often very price-oriented… They will most often deal based on price rather than the true value you provide to the client. Influencers always like to see more data before moving to the next step.
Influencers are often a gatekeeper of sorts for the true decision-makers. If we count on an influencer to carry our proposal to the true decision-maker(s) without us being present, our chances of getting the engagement are reduced to nearly zero. Even worse, Influencers will sometimes turn against you to protect themselves against anything that poses a risk to them.
What if you find you are talking to an Influencer and not a decision-maker? Your objective should then switch from convincing the Influencer to engage your services to obtain a meeting with the real decision-maker.
There is a time-tested protocol for determining if someone is a true decision-maker. I’ll cover it below because it is important you understand it and use it to qualify prospects. But, I’m not a huge fan of the traditional or conventional, so once we look at that model, I’ll give you the inside scoop as to who you should really be talking to in any organization!
M.A.N. is an acronym for Money, Authority, and Need. This method asks these three questions… Does the prospect have sufficient money to pay… the authority to buy… and a perceived need for your services?
Let’s look at each one separately…
I wish the acronym was reversed, with need first… but it wouldn’t be as easy to remember. The need, the pain or the problem the potential client is facing is far more important at this point in the process than authority, money or anything else. Need comes first… without it, we must disengage early in the process and go on to the next prospect.
The best way to gain insight into your prospect’s problem or need is to ask them questions and listen to their answers. Asking will help you understand the nature and scope of the problem or opportunity.
By asking the right questions, you will be able to better uncover needs and qualify prospective clients…
“What are the most critical challenges that you have now?”
“How have you been solving them so far?”
“How long have you had this problem(s)?”
“What outcome(s) are you looking to achieve?”
“What will be the consequences if it is not resolved?”
Here are some other questions that will help you determine the level of perceived need that the prospective client feels…
“How big of a priority is this for you?”
“Do you have time to begin implementation now?”
“Do you feel like we’re on the right track?”
“Should we start working on a letter of agreement?”
These last four questions are trial closes. The answers to these types of questions will help you determine the extent of their felt need. If the prospective client waffles here… you’ll know they may have little or no perceived need.
Spending too much time with unqualified prospects will put a lid on your income. Influencers can hide behind fancy titles… like a manager, analyst, or buyer. But the titles are often meaningless… they can’t engage your services without approval from higher up. Determining authority doesn’t have to be tricky. Real decision-makers often have titles that begin with the letter C… CEO, COO, CIO, CFO, etc. They may also be V.P.s or divisional heads in large companies. In addition to any LinkedIn research you’ve done, here are some questions to ask to help you determine the extent of someone’s authority…
“Who, in addition to yourself, who will be involved in making the decision to retain my services?”
“How are such decisions made?”
“If others would be involved, would it make sense for us to schedule a call or meeting with them?”
Resist asking the question this way… Are you the final decision maker on this? It has a very high likelihood of offending the prospect!
A true decision-maker must always be present when you offer a proposal. If you can’t get them into the meeting, then resist presenting your proposal until they are present. If you go into an organization too low on the organization chart and present a proposal there, you’ll almost always be labeled as a “small player” by the top-level executives.
Most coaches and consultants will tell you that money is always a major issue in any decision to engage them. Here is where I will differ from the conventional wisdom. If you are talking to the right person in an organization and make a convincing, benefit filled case, they will almost always have the power to funnel funds around from other priorities. True decision makers control budgets… they rarely need to live within someone else’s.
If most of the answers to the questions in this last 3 sections have been positive, it’s time to take it to the next level with questions like these…
“Do you have a calendar and what is the best date and time to schedule our next meeting?”
“Ideally, what would be the focus of our next meeting?”
Who you should really be talking to…
If you remember just a few things from this post, this is one of them. Print it. Highlight it. Underline it… and remember it going forward.
Decision Makers buy because they wish to realize their personal aspirations or reduce their internal fears.
That’s it. There isn’t anything else. In other words, decision-makers act to benefit or protect themselves personally (the same way an Influencer does). Unless they are the owner of the company, forget about all the altruistic stuff about the company saving money or increasing revenue. Sure, that looks good in a proposal and belongs there, but most of the time that’s not why they will engage your services. They want a promotion. They want a raise. They want recognition. They want to outperform their peers… and they don’t want to be fired, get passed over or to look ineffective. In other words, clients buy what they want, not always what they need.
So, the question becomes… What true decision-maker in the organization will benefit the most from what skills you have to offer? He or she who stands the most to gain or lose… personally, that’s who!
Here’s how I would ask the question(s):
“What would success in this project or program mean for you personally?”
“What would lack success in this area mean for you personally?”
Until next time…