Sunday, November 2, 2014

#Startups: The Reluctant Customer: 5 ways to find out

I was reviewing a sales report the other day of a startup; I wondered over more than 50% of customers engaged actively during a sales cycle had gone into silence - it is a big challenge for a startup, which has only its senior folks to look up to for sales..
They had said a yes, but then there was a silence or hesitation forever. Should the case appear in the funnel? How long one should follow up?
Reluctant Customers :  5 ways to find out 
This is a classical dilemma. There are legendary stories of tenacity, by sheer grit, sales teams turning around deals which were hitherto written off. There are on the other hand, the entire organization cajoled and brought to force only to reach a point of silence.
There are two schools of thought - sales as art, and sales as science. As I explored the entire funnel, and discussed with the stakeholders, it was evident that there was no more than one reason for the 'reluctant customer'.
a) The customer was just exploring - Some customers have the habit of exploring to just learn. May be it is an idea to them, but at some point, they scout and create interest in the vendors. The more spiked the interest it, the more vendors respond. Sales meetings turn to knowledge seeking meetings, and proposals into literature.
The only way to avoid that is to find out if the customer representative has the need, budget and authority ( NBA) to talk. If we know that there is no budget, then we need to qualify if the non-budgeted project has overwhelming need. That will help us clear the air upfront in terms of whether to put commensurate effort or not.
b) The customer has options and you are not the preferred: Some customers are open enough to tell your position in the race. And significantly you are not in pole position. That gives us the position that you are entering and holding the position as an also ran, but in fact will also suggest what you need to do to reach a better position or a position of contention.
Most customers are ready to talk about this, but may not reveal much of competition details, these customers can be worked upon.
c) The customer has a big brother: There are employees / executives on the customer side who do the leg work. They can be your information source, interaction point - but rarely they may be the decision maker. The decision maker is typically a CFO or a business head, shielded from vendor approaches, and who focuses on the problem, and the solution. They generally go by either prior experience, or an analysis presented to them.
Small companies who are into products or services that are not niche will end up facing the lower rung - unless the decision maker for significant reasons involves himself in vendor interaction in the evaluation stage.
d) The customer has been just swept of his feet by competition : This will depend on how the customer has seen you vs the others. It is purely a confidence issue. The customer believes that you were not the best. The competition was better. It is important to be as professional during the first impression you make, and so an overall understanding of the customer is important.
Another aspect is competition might have shown more options, have been more affordable, and probably have some mind-catching thought process.
e) You were an overkill - sometimes, when you pitch for a story, there is a tendency to go overboard, and create an impression that you are bigger than they need, or costlier that they can afford. This can be a classical case of overselling.
The only way to mitigate that is by listening to the customer and understanding what direction he is going. Your proposal should be right in content, proposed at the right time to the right person, and finally, at the right price. If you discover soon enough the customer had made up his mind that you are an overkill.
Customers can always spring a surprise on us. And the sales success stories are sometimes due to sheer grit of the sales person, when even his/ her organization had lost hope on closing a deal.
But in many cases, we should let go of customers who are fighting you. This saves precious sales hours. The choice is difficult, but it gives lot of mileage in the long term.
The few scenarios that I have shared are my two cents. I would love to hear from you on how you have identified and handled, even better, turned around a 'reluctant' customer.
- Ashok Subramanian


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