Problem: Cal was a machine tool sales engineer. One day in sales training class he lamented about his inability to get a prospect to make a decision on the proposal he had given for their new parts project. He had provided some relatively attractive incentives to encourage his prospect to accept the proposal now, but couldn’t get the prospect to move. I told him, “Go back and dig a little deeper as to when they would need the new machines for this new parts project.” Upon further questioning, it came out that yes; it was true that they needed new machines to manufacture the parts. However, the order from their customer had not been finalized yet and even if they did get the order today the first production run would not be due for five months!
Analysis: Cal was calling on the project manager who was pushing him for a proposal because he was being pushed by his boss to get a solution identified because his boss’s boss wanted to be sure that if and when this new parts order was finalized, they had a plan in place to meet their customer’s time frame
Cal mistook the project manager’s urgent need for a proposal as an urgent need for a solution.
Taking the incorrect timing need back to his sales manager; they both came up with an incentive that would surely tip this deal over to one being done. Their incentive package was fueled by the fact that the branch wanted to make quota this quarter and this deal would push them over that.
In sales, we are problem solvers. The problems our prospects have generally fall into one of two categories: fix it or forget it. Both categories have two elements: severity and timing, and the timing is often the key. If finding a solution to a problem can be postponed without severe consequences, chances are it is a low priority. That was the case with Cal’s prospect.
Solution: It’s always about timing. If you are too early, they have no real interest. If you are too late, no one cares. You must understand the prospect’s buying process, his time frame for making a decision, and when he needs to implement the solution. If you engage the prospect too soon, you don’t have his full attention. The problem is not in the here and now; it’s somewhere down the road and he figures his time is better spent dealing with today’s problems, rather than working on things that can be postponed. If you wait too long…well, you’ve probably missed the opportunity entirely and handed the business to your competitor.
Always ask these three questions:
- “When do you need this solution in place and up and running?”
- “Why is that date important?”
- “What happens if you miss that date?”
Having answers to these three questions will help you understand their timing perfectly, so you can deliver your proposal at the right time.