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Sales Strategy
Light a Fire under Complacent Prospects: Start with a Clean Bill of Health
Sep 18, 2009 | Mark Cook lock

Creating an interest in complacent prospects is our first and, often, our most difficult task as salespeople. The receding tide of the world economy has completely exposed an already visible sight: prospects firmly lodged in place, holding the line on needless new spending. My team’s research for Leading Client Growth, a sales methodology, found that 98 per cent of prospects are content with their current solution, leaving only 2 per cent to even imagine talking to us. And our competitors’ customer satisfaction surveys probably show 98 per cent of our prospects are satisfied with our competition. Right? 

Today, prospects are pressured to get to that reality that business requires of them within the next 12 months but with fewer resources. Having that first discussion about change is as difficult as getting someone you care about to the doctor for a checkup. But this is a first cousin to the first commitment we need from prospects. A focus on a big endeavor is the key just like getting a check up before training a marathon.

To create urgency, we need a commitment to at least start with a clean bill of health—to remove any dangers to future success. So we ask about the demands that have been placed on our prospect’s shoulders for tomorrow, not tell about our products today. Prospects have been asked to: “Reexamine everything that endangers profit, cash flow, and objectives this year.” They’ve been asked to start with a clean bill of health. So we create urgency with complacent prospects in a few steps. Before we start, we’ve done some basic homework on the prospect. What comes next will look like asking a friend who is registered for a marathon how a checkup could improve training and race time, not if she feels well today.

First, we ask prospects for a vision of where business is requiring that they be in 12 months. If we can engage prospects in this conversation, what goes through their minds will be the pressures of what has to be done, not how they feel right now.

Second, we ask about dangers to the vision. Small issues of today feel much more urgent if they endanger big expectations tomorrow. We must create urgency in complacent prospects by getting them thinking about expectations tomorrow so we can discuss real dangers today and deal with these. 

Third, we discuss a treatment plan together. In the process, we’ll discuss how we are the right professionals to treat what endangers prospects’ vision and lead where business requires. 

Larry, an orthopedic products rep, is a good example. One of his colleagues shared in a workshop how he drew out a clear vision from a doctor of where the practice needed to go. Larry learned that hospital and clinic procedures were serious dangers to realizing this vision and his team positioned themselves as the right leaders for treatment and success.

After selling to complacent staffers at Memorial Hospital for months, Larry, a rep for us tried a different approach.

Larry had to beat the competition with three doctors but didn’t have any experience with them. So, he quickly asked hospital staff, non-competing salespeople, clients—anyone he could about Memorial’s O.R. procedures and the three doctors.

As soon as he could, Larry spoke to each of three doctor prospects. He didn’t pitch product even though this might be his only chance. Instead, he asked them what big changes their practices required before next year. He heard a lot about handling more operations and making clinic work more efficient. 

Larry, then, asked what could endanger these efforts. He heard a lot about challenges with O.R. inefficiencies and clinic inefficiencies. For example, instrument trays in the O.R. needed to drop from eight to four trays.

Larry’s focus became planning everything his team could do to help deliver the vision and treatment to alleviate dangers to success. He invited the three doctors to an event at the hospital where they could meet experts, not just see products. Larry positioned his team as professionals with the resources, experience, support, and knowledge to help lead the vision each had described. The doctors came to the event.

Larry and team rolled in a mobile lab with everything to demonstrate how to reduce trays from eight to four and improve other inefficiencies. The doctors put real solutions in their own hands and spoke to growth leaders not sellers. Visions became vivid as they discussed potential practices and what stood in the way.

Now listen carefully to what Larry told me after he closed the first deal: “I knew I had the resources to present the tools needed, but mostly we won that day because we spoke about visions for improvement and how to treat the dangers to growth that stood in their way.”

Create urgency by getting complacent prospects talking and thinking differently. Draw out visions of what business requires. Triage dangers to success. And, position a treatment plan that includes your team of professionals. Vision. Dangers. Treatment. Start with a clean bill of health.

About the Author:

Mark Cook wrote Sales Blazers (McGraw-Hill) and Leading Client Growth (sales process workshop) after a multi-year study of successful revenue leaders who outperformed trends and counterparts. Cook leads sales performance services as director of marketing and professional services for O.C. Tanner, a leading employee performance company. 

Cook brings a wealth of real world experience to sales professionals and marketing organizations. Prior to O.C. Tanner, Cook served as vice president of sales and marketing for Center 7, a provider of system-management technology. While working as the director of marketing with Stephen R. Covey’s organization, FranklinCovey, Cook was the founder and publisher of Priorities: The Journal of Professional Success.

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