August 06, 2009

Has Your Prospect Done His, or Her Homework?

Has your prospect dutifully completed the tasks that were agreed at your last meeting? Has the homework been done, thereby helping you to qualify the opportunity and to determine how much time and effort you should commit in selling to them?

Let us explain what we mean. Too often salespeople meet with a prospect who nods in agreement to everything that is said, indicating a need and the desire for a solution.

Why Give Your Prospect Homework?

The salesperson leaves the meeting full of enthusiasm and with a number of follow-on tasks to complete, for example: writing up and sending on a note of the meeting, forwarding a short technical brief (hopefully it is a template that does not require too much customization), offering a list of suggestions and next steps, perhaps even creating a summary proposal, or price quotation.

All that may involve several hours work for the salesperson. Meanwhile, what does the prospect do? Well, probably nothing. That means it could all be a waste of time.

A Commitment on Both Sides is Required.

When the salesperson has completed all his or her tasks and the proposal is sent, expectations are high. However, many sales people are disappointed when the buyer does not respond with equal enthusiasm in turn. Here is the problem - the salesperson has does all the running, failing to check that the customer is following.

It is a statement of the obvious, but selling requires the involvement of the buyer. Buyer and seller must move ahead in tandem, because it has to be a process of dual engagement and mutual commitment. So, there is no point in the salesperson doing all the running, or taking on all the work.

How To Ensure Your Prospect is Following.

To avoid this happening, salespeople are advised to build and test commitment incrementally, for example by giving the buyer a test, in the form of some homework after a meeting, or a task to be completed prior to the preparation of a proposal.

If the buyer does not complete the task successfully, then a red flag is raised regarding his, or her level of commitment. This is an effective means of allowing the buyer to prequalify himself by his actions.

This is important because words and deeds don't always match up. For example, the buyer may be saying the right things, but only because he, or she is reluctant to say ‘no’, even though there is not intention to buy.

So, let us take an example - the prospect asks for a proposal after just one, or two meetings. Rather than immediately saying yes, you might give the buyer a test by responding as follows: ‘Sure I would be delighted to prepare a proposal for you, but in order for me to be able to do that effectively would you….’ The specific ‘homework’ might be as follows:
- Send me a one page outline of your requirements, or a technical specification…
- Introduce me to your colleagues in IT, so that I can check one or two pieces of information with them…
- Send me a sample of the reporting provided by your existing system, so that I can understand the gaps as you have described them…
- Provide a tour of the facility and talk to some end users…

Progressively Building and Testing Commitment.

Giving homework is an integral part of the process of confirming interest, agreeing next steps and sharing of any follow-on tasks.

Agreeing to share tasks between buyer and seller at each stage of the sales process, is likely to involve some, or all of the following:
- Sharing information
- Providing feedback
- Providing access
- Indicating commitment
- Organizing a next step (e.g. demo, presentation, etc.)

The particular task is not only aimed at testing, but is also used to build the buyer's commitment. The rationale being that if the buyer is prepared to take the time to prepare a specification then that is a sign that he, or she is pretty serious. The act of preparing the specification is a significant advance in the buying process, as well as an important input to enable you complete the next step of your sales process – in this example the preparation of the proposal.

A Word of Caution

The principle of 'giving the prospect homework' is an important one. However, as with all techniques it must be applied with care. Although it is a term that is in common usage, the language is a little off, particularly if you are a buyer. People don't like being told what to do and just as in school days most people don't like doing homework!

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