As smart, hard-working sales professionals, we’ve checked all the boxes on the list of steps to secure that win. We’ve tailored our pitches and built relationships with our buyers. We’ve been flexible. We’ve been responsive. Heck, we’ve been stellar.
So, after all that work, why do we still often hear the eerie sound of air slowly escaping a balloon as opportunities deflate?
As a win-loss analysis firm, DoubleCheck Research has collected data from thousands of technology buyers on behalf of clients ranging from the largest software companies in the world to others still very much in startup mode. One of the questions we ask helps us identify and understand the weight of key influencers on a buyer’s decision to pick one vendor over another.
Here’s the problem: The sales experience scores quite low on that list. Other external influencers, such as peer network discussions, past vendor experiences, and formal client references, score much higher. To ensure that nothing tarnishes your next sales experience, consider these three pro tips to keep those influencers in check.
Peer Network: Keep Track of Your Clients’ Health and Happiness Levels
Peer networks can have a significant influence on buyer decisions. Think about it: If a buyer calls a friend at another company only to hear horror stories about a preferred vendor on their shortlist, all of the investments made by that vendor in hiring top-notch sales talent, hosting the greatest user conference of all time, and investing in marketing efforts quickly go out the window.
Sellers often assume that current clients are happy if they hear no complaints. Unfortunately, that's rarely the case. What might be a happy and engaged client in January could be a very unhappy and quiet client come March. So, do you know which of your clients are happy and which are not? For the clients feeling less than happy, how are you reshaping their experience? Many organizations fail by not having answers to these questions.
If you’re not already, consider standardizing your approach to tracking client health and happiness regularly. Build an escalation plan that’s focused on problem resolution. Make client happiness and health your top priority. After all, happy clients are worth their weight in gold and happen to be your strongest sales assets.
Decision-Making Committee: Know All the People Deciding Your Fate
Another influencing factor is the personal background and experience of every buyer on the evaluation and decision-making committee. If one member has had a negative experience with your company in the past, it’s quite certain that their experience will affect your outcome, unless you identify and address any open issues upfront.
Understanding who is part of the evaluation and decision-making committee is critical. Way too often, sellers spend time getting to know their primary contact, but are not aware of, nor do they research, the other committee members.
Ideally, the sales lead will ask for and obtain access to all committee members. But, unfortunately, access is not always granted. A simple review of the committee members’ LinkedIn profiles is what most salespeople fall back on, but this only constitutes a basic, 101-level approach to conducting appropriate background research.
Instead, consider asking your primary contact to field a handful of questions to the committee in an effort the tailor your approach and add more value, while gaining a strong understanding of their biases and predispositions. Consider open-ended questions such as the following:
- What has your experience been like with other technology providers in this space?
- What did you like and/or dislike about those providers?
- How will the effort benefit you personally?
- What are you hoping to learn about my organization through this evaluation process?
Client References: Make Sure They Are Properly Vetted
True or false: Vendors hand-pick happy clients to participate in reference calls with prospective customers.
Believe it or not, the answer is often false. It’s mind-blowing, but we have interviewed many buyers who said that the formal client reference call set up by a vendor fell short. In the end, they walked away with more concerns about working with that vendor. In other nightmare scenarios, reference clients have told prospects to turn and run the other way! Could there be a bigger deal killer than a vendor unable to bring happy clients to the table?
Be sure to prequalify your client references before connecting them with your prospects. Some salespeople simply make an email introduction, but don’t brief the client reference beforehand. This is seriously risky behavior.
To ensure that the client reference you had in mind is the best available, consider reaching out to the reference to schedule a quick, five-minute prequalification call. Let them know that you have a company interested in working with you and that you’re researching the right client reference to connect them with. During the call, ask your client the following questions to decide if they’re a good fit:
- How has your experience been thus far?
- What have been the highs and lows?
- What benefits have you seen?
- If you could go back in time, would you still select us?
- Would you be willing to recommend us to a group of your industry peers?
Yes, salespeople do have influence—both positive and negative—on the way a buyer perceives a vendor, but when it comes to the final decision, a seller’s influence can falter as buyers go elsewhere for affirmation. By keeping tabs on your buyers’ biggest decision influencers, however, you’ll improve your chances of seeing higher new business and renewal rates, more happy client referrals, and more wins in competitive situations.