Late last week I received a red alert phone call from the SVP of Business Development of a large tech. company on the East Coast. She had a real problem. And need to arrive at an immediate solution.
A complex and significant enterprise deal she had been working on for months was in the final stages. And all indicators pointed to her crossing the finish line victorious. Value – check. ROI validation – check. Proof of concept – check. Competitive differentiation – check. Relationships – check plus. Further, she was a veteran. Had done her homework. Delivered deep and meaningful insights related to business strategy and outcome opportunities that elevated the sense of urgency to expedite a decision and move into implementation/execution. This was an expertly managed, collaborative sales cycle with a customer showing all signs of a desire to move forward.
Unfortunately, as is sometimes customary in late stage game changing deals, Executives who have been removed from the sales process enter to demonstrate commitment, reinforce value and/or personally offer up the requisite resourcing support. Certainly C level face time can have a very favorable impact. However, it can also adversely effect an outcome if the C suite doesn’t possess the requisite client facing acumen and commit to the preparedness necessary to impact the decision. And that is exactly what happened.
I had a Sales Executive on the line who was frustrated and clearly feeling like she “never should have allowed her CEO to enter into the conversations at this stage….things were right where she needed them and after the last meeting she now has experienced a setback, unsure whether or not she can recover.”
As we conducted our situational assessment it was readily apparent the CEO had made several missteps during the limited client interface that introduced new concerns around the decision. Moreover the customer had lost some of the good feelings that were previously associated with the idea of this partnership. And that shift in “feelings” or “instincts” were communicated by the customer post meeting by a sudden need to take a much closer inspection to a specific competitor. Never a good sign. And we needed a game plan for this sales recovery mission.
As we began developing our approach/recovery plan to compete through the final phase of this sales cycle there was an overwhelming desire to communicate. She wanted to pick up the phone. Have a personal review with all of her key contacts. Apologize to everyone and get the situation back on track. She wanted to send e-mails. Have conference calls. She wanted the fix. She considered eating deeply into her margins and discounting in lieu of a serious competitive threat to preserve the sale. Ultimately we organized a course of action that was more directed and focused on moving the customer back to the shared vision of the outcome that my SVP was capable of delivering. We did that 3 ways:
-By isolating the new issues relative to the decision, owning them and specifically making sure they were addressed. How you deal with a misstep in the sales cycle says a lot about what kind of vendor partner you are going to be. In large, complex, technical sales there are likely to be imperfections. It was clearly in everyone’s best interest for the SVP of Sales to apologize, own any parts of the process that wasn’t managed properly, understand the new/key concerns specifically and address them head on to minimize their significance in the outcome. Further, she needed to get back to owning the relationship. She was a big part of the reason the company was going to buy and it was critical she emerge as the lead to drive the relationship forward.
-By reinforcing value. A new competitive threat did offer up another opportunity to discuss the clear and compelling advantages of this specific partnership in a side x side comparison and reinforce the outcomes. Building out some customized communication around this and presenting it personally at the right time should prove to validate the business reasons behind doing business. Absent the emotion, the logic make sense (although that isn’t necessarily how people buy) and we we have the opportunity to interject both back into the consideration.
-Give something first. And while that didn’t mean eating into her margins the idea that new concerns were understood and being met with some specific action will make the customer feel better about the partnership and go a long way to demonstrating the understanding, flexibility and value associated with doing business. That is good partnering.
This cycle stalled but it’s still very recoverable if the next steps are managed properly. This SVP of Sales is expert enough to seize this setback and treat it as yet another opportunity to demonstrate that she is truly going to bring the very best solution to bear on the business challenge. And like all good sellers, she is going to make it all about the customer and build the shared vision of the experience and results in working together.
I like her chances.
Ryan Estis is a Keynote Speaker & Management Consultant blogging about business performance.