It is important to have a fool proof way of answering this question as knowing for certain what stage the other party has reached is crucial when deciding on your next action.
We have looked at some aspects of this subject within a number of articles in the past but have been spurred into action to cover it again as a result of a lot of questions that have popped up on LinkedIn groups during the Summer which include a couple of common themes. Firstly each of the questions was posted by people from the “supply” side; they are all in sales roles. Secondly they used the terms suspect, prospect or client to reflect their perception of the status of the relationship but no attempt had been made to establish whether the person they were engaging with agreed.
We are strong advocates of a systematic process that sees contacts develop into suspects, suspects into prospects, and eventually prospects into customers. But we have equal conviction that those staging posts in the journey from contact to customer must be achieved by mutual consent. Also, there must be awareness by both parties of the expectations of the other.
Exploring this topic further we have used three of the questions posted in LinkedIn groups:
If suspects won’t read marketing e-mails, you can’t use direct mail as it’s too costly and people won’t take calls how do you engage?
As no two way dialogue had taken place between the parties, the “hoped to be potential customer” can only be considered as a “yet to be established contact” not even a suspect at this stage.
The selling organisation needs to use all the tools at its disposal to raise awareness and generate potential interest in the sea of unmade contacts which make up its market. There are many options for doing this today and most businesses understand what works best for them.
The first stage in the selling process must provide the sales people with a mechanism and the tools to take those unmade contacts and turn them into suspects. This will include some desk research, on-line and physical networking and probably some social media networking. Now the sales person needs to use their preferred mechanism for approaching potential suspects be it warm calling, e-mailing, etc. The role of the sales person is to get the other party to take notice and they cannot be considered to be a suspect until there has been an exchange of information confirming that an on-going dialogue is wanted by both parties. Now you have a suspect.
When should you stop following a prospect who is not responding or one who agrees to buy but then drags their feet?
The most common reason that a prospect is not responding will be that they did not see themselves as a prospect and therefore did not need, within the context of their buying cycle, to engage with the hopeful supplier. The sales person made an unsubstantiated assumption.
The second part of the question suggests the prospect had agreed to buy but then fails to follow through. Most likely they agreed to buy as a means of “getting rid” of the unwanted attentions of the sales person.
In both cases the non-prospect has gone into hiding hoping the sales person will give up, and most do at some point.
After e-mail proposals clients often vanish with no feedback; how can this be prevented?
This is effectively an extension of the previous scenario; the seller has sent a proposal to someone they view as a potential customer who is not responding. This scenario has been covered under Question 2 but it deserves a special mention because of “after e-mailing proposals …”. If you really are engaged with a genuine prospect who is interested in your proposition they deserve more than an e-mailed proposal.
The specific issue in the question could have been avoided if the sales person had, before committing to produce the proposal, arranged a date and time to visit the prospect to present and walk through the proposal. If the prospect would not agree to this, they are probably not a prospect and writing the proposal will usually be a waste of time and a source of frustration, as indicated in the question above. There is also a strong risk that the sales person’s attempts to get a response will damage what small relationship has been established which in turn jeopardises the chances for future opportunities.
- You must have a defined selling cycle but you must ensure you align it with the potential customer’s buying cycle – the supplier must be flexible in this regard.
- Never assume; always check with the other party that they see the position in the same way that you do and if they do not, change your approach accordingly. For example; if you think the point has been reached where a proposal should be produced then check that the prospect agrees and that they will agree to the next step e.g. a meeting so that you can present it.
- At regular intervals as the prospecting cycle progresses “test” the status of the relationship. Ask questions to establish where the potential customer sees themselves in their buying cycle. Questions such as; do you agree XXX is the problem, do you want to solve that problem at this time, will you consider buying a solution from us and will you allocate the budget if we put forward a compelling solution? This helps to match the sales effort to where it is most likely to have a positive impact.