Written by Kevin Jones, Principal – Ignite Selling

Many people love the thrill of riding roller-coasters, such as Kings Dominion’s Intimidator, named for NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt. Featuring a 300-foot, 85-degree drop and speeds at over 90 mph, the ride lives up to its name. Once the ride crests the hill, there is almost no stopping it.

There are some sales opportunities which remind us of roller coasters. As one of our clients told us, “Sometimes we’re lucky and the sense of urgency driving the decision is internal, and all you have to do is hang on and work to influence the decision in your favor.” Just like a roller coaster. For other opportunities, we have to help the customer find the sense of urgency. As one executive told us, “If there’s no burning platform, we have to light one on fire.”

Some questions which might help get this sorted include:
• What’s driving your customer’s decision to act?
• Is there a driving force in the market forcing them to act now?
• What compelling reason do they have to act now?
• Does each influencer have the same sense of urgency?

It would be great if our sales opportunity was the only initiative on the customer’s plate. Unfortunately, that’s only true in our sales fantasies. Many other projects are competing for the attention, to say nothing of the time and money, of our customers. Moreover, we are not the only ones trying to capture our customer’s ear. Sometimes, these decisions represent a zero sum game: when one wins approval, the others are immediately back-burnered (or even put in the freezer, never to be heard from again). Part of our challenge is keeping the customer’s focus on us.

While working with a major medical device manufacturer that sells bedside monitors, we had the great pleasure of working with Wendy. She was a young, solid performer for her company, attaining Presidents Club twice in her three-year tenure. Wendy was working with a hospital in the southwest to replace 300 competitive monitors located in all of the hospital’s ICUs. Wendy was fortunate to get her products approved for trial, and the trial process was a success. She thought she had the sale in the bag. However, weeks went by, and she still struggled to get access to her contacts within the hospital. After three weeks passed, Wendy finally spoke to her contact. She learned that the plan to replace the monitors was on hold. Wendy was confused. How could the committee put the project on hold after putting forth all the effort to evaluate the replacements? Wendy learned that the hospital had hired a new CFO, one who had a reputation for scrutinizing spending decisions.

So, what can she do now? Wait until they felt ready to re-engage? Wendy was a top performer and a driver, she knew she had to find a way to create a sense of urgency to get the hospital to take action. She knew that the hospital staff preferred her monitor over the competition. But if she didn’t get them to take action, the competitor would win by default.

Wendy decided to schedule a meeting with the new CFO, using her advocate to arrange an introduction. Wendy listened to his plans and objectives related to profitability. She demonstrated how her company’s track record aligned with the CFO’s objectives, specifically demonstrating the link between her product’s key strengths and those aims. She found the hospital’s sense of urgency, and the deal was back on track. Within the month, her customer had ordered 275 new monitors.

Knowing the key players and staying in touch with changes is vital in dealing with large and complex organizations. Good relationships, asking the right questions, and good listening will take you a long way in a strategic approach to selling.