Selling in the crucible

Selling in the crucible

Competitive selling of big-ticket IT solutions usually results in a comparative evaluation. Several SIs (systems integrators) are invited into the process, quite often with an RFP to a committee of buyers from different departments.

It's an all-or-nothing game. One competitor emerges victorious. And unless you win, these opportunities can be a black hole of resources for your organisation.

Although this evaluation process starts out in a logical mode, there's a point at which it often turns from a logical and rational information-gathering process to an emotional and political decision-making process.

It's what I call "the crucible". You see multimillion-dollar deals melt down in 24 hours during this emotion-packed period.

As the evaluation approaches the crucible, the customer often has people on the committee who want different SIs for different reasons. But they must make a decision. And as one of our integrator clients put it: "They don't decide how to decide until they can't decide."

In the crucible of a buying evaluation, there are three typical scenarios.

1) Issues shift. Several integrators have an acceptable solution. At that point, the issues in the evaluation change in importance. Product or proposal functionality is no longer the crux, and the client turns to other differentiators such as company strength, price, service, or relationships. A savvy salesperson can use this turbulent time to refocus the issues to his or her company's strengths - or a weak salesperson can be blind-sided by these changes and try to sell the wrong things to the wrong people.

2) Divided camps. "Nobody has everything we need," say committee members. "Each integrator has some desired capabilities - but we can't get it all from one company." At this point, in the absence of a clearly defined decision-making process, a power struggle often breaks out.

Equal power

A simple vote of committee members is rare. Politically, all buyers do not have equal power, nor are all business benefits equal. At this point, the power of your capability is only as good as the political power of the sponsor that wants it - or the magnitude of the business problem that it solves.

3) Loss of momentum. Your biggest competitor is often inaction. Some companies lose as much as one-third of their forecast pipeline to prospective firms that evaluate RFPs and then don't buy anything. This scenario obviously results in a terrible waste of resources.

It happens because neither pain nor power is strong enough to drive the opportunity into a sale. Nobody inside the client organisation can sell the proposal internally and deliver a compelling value proposition that's strong enough to cause anyone to take action. Risk begins to rise; no one can sell the CFO or the decision-makers. The deal stalls.

This situation often results when financial returns and operational benefits alone aren't enough to move someone to risk action. There must be political, emotional, or strategic benefits to drive a decision - as well as a power sponsor.

You must have pain and/or power working for you in the crucible, or else you should plan to lose. You need to have a different benefits message for each powerful buyer. Your sales team must also have a plan to gain each person's vote or live without it, based on each stakeholder's part in the decision-making process.

Without a written plan to win, a business developer is flying blindfolded. And hope is not a strategy.

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