With buyers having more information at their fingertips than ever before, it is no secret that in many sales situations, the exploratory buyers rely less on the seller at the onset of opportunities than they traditionally have. That being said, independent research and personal experience shows that today’s buyers place a premium on collaboration, value exchange, and risk mitigation. That is, they want to engage sellers who aren’t there to “sell,” but rather to collaborate on a solution and add value to each meeting or engagement. So, if there was one sales tool you could easily implement tomorrow that helped you collaborate and demonstrate value instantly while mitigating buyer risk, would you use it?
I get it – collaboration, value exchange, risk mitigation – those words and phrases can be so overused and lose their meaning. Let’s try and reattach some importance to those concepts.
Where do you collaborate with buyers during the sales cycle, if at all? Exploring capabilities needed to solve a problem? Creating a broader base of support within the organization? Navigating the decision-making and evaluation steps? Proving capabilities?
There are lots of opportunities to collaborate, but consider this – that buyer or buying group may be in charge of evaluating your proposed solution. But, that might not be something they do every day, or maybe they don’t even know how to evaluate your specific set of capabilities you are proposing. This is where you can add value by helping establish a draft plan of evaluation – one in which the two parties collaborate on in order to create and execute.
The “How to”
First, you position the approach by asking something like, “What is important to you and your company in terms of what steps you need to take to effectively evaluate the capabilities we just discussed?” This open approach will let them share their perspective. But, in the spirit of collaboration, you should also suggest steps or activities that you find useful to your company or that you think will be useful to properly evaluate your offering, whether that is interviewing other potential beneficiaries, presenting a ROI analysis, or reviewing some form of an implementation approach. The point is that you have a joint set of activities identified.
Then you, the consummate sales professional, suggest to the buyer that you will take the list of activities and arrange them in an optimal sequence, with draft dates for completion, and even assigning resources or ownership of the activities. In other words, a joint plan of evaluation. And, in the further spirit of collaboration, you might identify key activities that serve as milestones in the plan where both you and the buyer can make “go/no go” decisions as to whether or not to continue in the evaluation.
You craft the Collaboration Plan (and mark it “draft”), email it to the buyer, and invite them to react to it. In other words, does the timeline work for them? Are the activities reflective of what they need? Are the dates open on their calendar? And, so on.
In essence, this becomes the vehicle by which you will execute the rest of your sales cycle and the buyer, their buying cycle. This shows the buyer that you’ve done this before and you know how to help a buyer through the evaluation process. And, if they don’t value this collaborative approach or cannot really execute upon the plan, that might be an indication that they really aren’t that serious about your solution or they might not actually have the decision-making authority to execute on the plan. Those are both good things to know before you invest any significant time and resources in the deal.