As we’ve said before, a sales process can be good for your wealth, this is even more relevant with complex selling cycles; it helps to ensure a seamless flow of contiguous activities that move you smoothly from first identification of a possible opportunity through to successful deal closure. Following a process helps to ensure you pursue only the most likely opportunities while increasing your chances of winning the ones you really want – less waste more success!
A common myth is that processes destroy the creativity of the talented sales person when the opposite is true. The process ensures the “must do” activities are in effect sequenced and automated providing a framework within which the sales person has even more time to be creative. In any event, all naturally gifted sale people follow their own internal processes so provided your process is better than theirs they will happily adopt it which gives you a consistent environment to manage.
So finally in this series we deal with businesses who typically have:
- complex propositions often with multiple facets such as; technology, financial benefits, environmental impact, each of which means the proposition will be viewed differently according to the interests of the individuals in the audience;
- potentially high value orders maybe involving capital outlay;
- an engagement process typically encompassing multiple people from both the supplier and prospect, which suggests the prospect may make decisions collectively although there will typically be a main decision maker whilst others function as advisors or subject matter experts;
- an engagement cycle spread over weeks, months or even years, involving multiple touches between the contacts in the supplier and prospect organisations prior to and during a formal proposal submission;
- customers with formalised processes which dictate the way suppliers must construct their bids and proposals; these may be indicated by such as; requests for information (RFIs) and requests for proposal (RFPs). In such circumstances the RFI stage may be a means to whittle down the contenders for RFPs;
- customers in public sector and government departments who commonly require suppliers to have done the work to be included in a list or catalogue of recognised, pre-screened potential suppliers. Such formality moves to greater degrees of complexity when procurement falls under EU regulations.
Examples of businesses with complex selling cycles might include; equipment suppliers such as; aircraft, fleets of vehicles, large bespoke computer applications, industrial machines or office IT equipment. It could also include service organisations involved in things such as; outsourcing solutions, consulting assignments or any other business where delivery involves continual supply of services.
However, not wishing to bias this too much towards the most complex scenarios, any business that is involved in a multi touch engagement process has in effect a complex selling cycle.
The Pursuit process
We talked last month about the Decision Making Unit (DMU) and Decision Making Process (DMP) and understanding how your prospect organises its DMU and DMP is even more important with large complex selling cycles.
Taking each of the above characteristics in order:
- if your proposition is multi-faceted and the DMU involves people from different disciplines and interests your approach must appeal to the complete audience of stakeholders. For example, if writing a proposal you must ensure it addresses the concerns of; the end user, finance, technical, HR, compliance, etc. Each situation will be different consequently each proposal would be unique; tuned to the individual prospect.
- if what you are proposing is high value or maybe perceived as capital outlay then you must be prepared to provide financial justification in the format the prospect needs to see. It may also be advisable to include your financial experts in the engagement process; I well remember a situation where a decision had become stalled but getting my finance person to spend 30 minutes with the prospect’s finance person got the wheels turning again
- where the engagement process involves multiple people on either side, this requires co-ordination of effort and messages, permitting subject matter experts to communicate at equivalent rank whilst maintaining a consistency of storyboard. The critical path of the interactions will need to be managed as each stage may be dependent on the output or outcome of previous stages.
- with a long engagement cycle it is important to have that bid plan in place otherwise focus may be lost especially where some or all members of the supplier’s bid team could be working on several jobs at the same time. It is also important to have a timetable agreed with the prospect to ensure that they too meet any obligations they may have such as supplying information or reviewing documents
- it is important to understand the prospect’s buying and decision making processes to ensure your bidding process is aligned. It is not uncommon for the buying process to have gaps, at least from the supplier’s perspective, or to apparently make it difficult for the supplier to present their proposed solution in the best light.
We always recommend early engagement with prospects before an actual opportunity has been identified as this makes it easier for the supplier to influence the buying process outside of the “heat of the commercial kitchen”. The most productive scenario, both for suppliers and prospects, is that the bidding process is agreed by mutual consent. Such early engagement becomes even more crucial where potential suppliers will be required to pre-qualify by becoming registered in the official catalogue or accepted onto the preferred suppliers list.
It is not uncommon that some suppliers, once they reach the more formal stages will hand over to a dedicated bid management function. This is a specialist subject and we will have a guest article on this next month from a very experienced award winning bid manager; Sally Buttery.
An account plan is an ideal mechanism for collecting and collating all the information relating to a key account. The plan can be developed as a “master account plan” with sub plans for each individual opportunity. This is another topic that we will cover in more detail next month.
The important thing when choosing a methodology and processes for your business is to ensure that what you choose provides a complete contiguous solution. It must cover all the bases providing a seamless flow of activities which leaves no one in doubt as to their role in the process or the timing and obligations of their involvement. If your business boasts a skill in planning and executing projects and programmes of work you must appreciate that the way you approach the bidding process provides the prospect with a window on your capabilities.