Your Biggest Competitor is No Decision

Back when I was a product manager, I used to conduct sales training classes.  I often opened up the session by asking the question, “Who is your biggest competitor?”  The reps invariably listed a company or two they had heard over the prior day and a half of training.  Even seasoned reps would answer the question incorrectly.

Unless you are in a duopoly or there is a competitor that controls half the market, your biggest competitor is probably NO DECISION.  Either the purchasing decision is kicked down the road or no funding is found.  It may also be that the opportunity was poorly qualified to begin with.

Sales reps no longer control the conversation due to the informed buyer who leverages the Internet and social media in order to research vendors prior to contacting them.  This is one of the reasons that marketing is looking at digitally influencing anonymous individual on the web via Visitor ID, SEO, SEM, and Programmatic.  Sales reps are also confounded in their sales efforts by a second change in purchasing patterns.  B2B budgetary decision making processes have become more complex.

Budgetary centralization and committee-based buying decisions have increased the number of decision makers in the purchasing process, resulting in a greater likelihood of no decision.  According to a Forrester survey of IT sales reps, 43% of lost deals weren’t to competitors but to a category titled “lost funding or lost to no decision: customer stopped the procurement process.”

Furthermore, the rise of cloud computing has shifted budgetary decision making authority away from the CIO to the heads of various functional departments.  Purchasing decisions are being compared to a broader set of non-related purchases from across the organization.  It is therefore critical that sales reps “understand and navigate complex agreement networks and processes within the buying organization that span different altitudes and functional roles,” blogged Forrester Sales Enablement Analyst Mark Lindwall.  “Because decisions are more cross-functional, every dollar is compared against how it could add value in potentially completely non-related areas of investment.”

Thus, sales reps need better tools for identifying who to engage and when best to engage.  They also need to be better informed about companies, individuals, and the industries into which they sell.  In short, they need to know who to call, when to call, and what to say.  They need to quickly navigate what Forrester calls agreement networks to establish relationships across multiple levels and job functions at the organization.

Fortunately, Sales 2.1 tools provide rich biographies and full family trees for navigating these networks.  Users can target specific job functions and levels across the corporate hierarchy, research the appropriate individuals, and reach out to them via social media, email, or phone.

Newer ABM tools help identify the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), score leads based on the ICP, and call out similar accounts and contacts that are not on the company’s radar.  Thus, it’s not just about selling more intelligently based on insights, but targeting and prioritizing one’s sales efforts more effectively.

Sales triggers assist with identifying executive changes, M&A events, product launches, and other reasons for reaching out to individuals.  Triggers can also indicate an expanding opportunity or that a proposal is potentially at risk due to company or market dynamics.

And yes, sales reps should research both the company and the executive.  They need to understand the key trends in the prospect’s industry, why their last quarter was soft, and what does the executive muse about on social media.  While such facts may not be immediate hooks, they provide context and potential talking points down the road.  It also shows that the rep is willing to invest time in understanding the exec, her company, and the environment in which she is making decisions.

There is an opportunity cost to poor targeting, prioritization, and account planning. It shows up as No Decision in your CRM, slow deal velocity in your pipeline metrics, and disappointing sales growth.

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