Players were asked to make a simple calculation before every move they made: Is this going to make me a better soccer player? If the answer was no, then don’t do it.” -Kevin Baxter, LA Times, Sept 21, 2013
That quote is from an article about the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team as they train for the 2014 World Cup. The coaches were asking the professional players on their team to make conscious and deliberate decisions about how they spent each minute of their day by answering a simple question: Is this going to make me a better soccer player?
The same calculus holds true for professional salespeople. Before every interaction you have with a customer, before every sales touch, you have to ask yourself this question: Is this going to move the prospect closer to making a purchase decision? If the answer is no, then don’t do it.
Empty sales touches that deliver no value to your prospect make them leery of giving you more of their time. Equally as important, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by wasting your own limited selling time on sales actions that don’t move the customer at least one step forward in their buying process.
Know the very next physical action required to move the situation forward.
Productivity consultant David Allen is the master of getting things done. In fact, his bestselling book, Getting Things Done, is about time management. However, many of the lessons he teaches in his book apply to equally well to selling. The most relevant lesson for salespeople involves how to breakdown a bigger task (i.e., getting an order) into the logical sequence of events required to help the customer make a purchase decision (i.e. your sales process.) Allen writes about needing to know at each step of your process the “very next physical action required to move the situation forward.” In selling terms, this means knowing at each step of your sales process the very next physical action required to move the customer at least one step closer to making a purchase decision.
Unfortunately, this is too often where salespeople trip up. The problem is that you really don’t know what the “very next physical action required to move the situation forward” should be. Oh sure, you’ll say to yourself that you need to send a follow-up email to the customer. But why are you sending that email? What information are you going to provide that will move the customer’s buying cycle forward? What value are you delivering in the email that will make a difference? And, most important of all, what’s the “very next physical action” that you want the customer to take in response to your email?
A sales touch can’t make a difference if it isn’t intentional.
To frame the importance of this issue, consider the following questions:
- How many sales touches, or interactions, do you have in your average sales cycle?
- If one of those touches is wasted, because you didn’t have a plan before you reached out to the customer and they didn’t take a “very next physical action,” what percentage of your sales cycle did you just waste?
For the purposes of illustration, let’s say John’s typical sales cycle has five sales touches. Imagine that John wasn’t prepared for the discovery phase. He thought he would just wing it. He hadn’t adequately researched the customer, their business, their products and the markets they serve beforehand. Once he got in front of the customer John wasn’t prepared to ask the probing questions that got to the heart of their requirements and he missed out on uncovering one of their key pain points. As a result, the customer left the meeting with doubts about John’s suitability as a supplier to them because he clearly didn’t understand their requirements.
For all intents and purposes, John squandered 20% of his sales cycle. It is extremely difficult in these circumstances to make up the lost ground. In all likelihood John is fighting for second place with this customer.
Bottom line: Don’t make a move until you’re confident that your interaction is going to move the prospect closer to making a purchasing decision. You need a plan to a.) deliver value in the form of information and b.) to achieve an outcome in the form of the customer taking action to move closer to making a decision.
Andy Paul is author of the award-winning book, Zero-Time Selling: 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales. He is also the founder/CEO of Zero-Time Selling, Inc. A sought-after speaker and business coach, Andy conducts training, coaches and consults with CEOs and sales teams to provide selling strategies that maximize the value, responsiveness and speed of their sales processes.