1. There is a low frequency of contact. There aren't very many meetings, phone calls, or e-mails between you and the prospect. You had that one face-to-face, but between then and the upcoming meeting in which you expect to ask for the order, you haven't heard from the prospect, nor has she heard from you. She has no idea what you're cooking up, and you have no notion of whether she'll find it tasty.
2. You have unspoken assumptions and unasked questions. You consciously decide not to question the prospect about something you know is important, so as not to stir up trouble, raise doubts, take any more time than you already have, or open a can of worms you just don't want to deal with right now. How often do you later wish you'd asked about it—because it would have eliminated trouble, rather than stirring it up?
3. There are obvious expectation gaps. There are little disappointments and those awkward moments when one or both of you discovers that what you were thinking or expecting was quite different from what the other was thinking or expecting.
The expectation could be as simple as how long a given appointment would last, or as deal-busting as how high the price tag would be.
4. There is tension you can cut with a knife. The prospect distrusts you from the outset, not wanting to grant you very much time, or giving brief, largely useless answers. Or perhaps it happens later on, when he suddenly clams up and the flow of information drops to just a trickle. Sometimes it's you who doesn't trust the buyer, so you know exactly what it feels like when he doesn't trust you!
5. You forget there's a buying process going on. You get so wrapped up in qualifying the prospect, nailing down her needs, and crafting your proposal, that you give no time to considering the steps the prospect must go through before she'll be able to say yes to your proposal. You carry on unaware until she says something that reveals she's way back there at step one, or maybe step one-and-a-half.
6. The prospect loses touch with the selling process. There's been so much going on in the prospect's world since your previous appointment that he seems to be on a different planet now. He remembers you, but he's unable to recall what you related to him last time or even what he told you…his needs, his issues, his expectations. It seems as though you have to start over.
7. Their needs changed and you didn't know it. It took a while to assemble your proposal, and in the meantime there has been a material change that made your proposal at least slightly off focus, if not totally off base. But your lack of interaction kept you in the dark. Weeks don't have to pass for a prospect's needs to change—it can happen overnight, perhaps the result of a meeting the prospect had with one of your competitors.
8. She gives you endless grief about every element of your proposal. of your proposal. You know she's not out to get you—at least, you hope she's not—but it certainly seems that way, because you can't get through a single piece of your plan without a tough cross-examination. You worked hard to come up with the right plan for this prospect's needs, and the thanks you get? Doubt, skepticism, and hostility.
9. Your price is too high for the prospect even to consider. Or there's some other element of your proposal that marks it dead-on-arrival. The prospect shows no particular interest in having you rework the plan and resubmit, and instead rises to shake your hand, says thanks, and shows you out. You could fight your way back in, but you wonder if it's worth it.
10. The prospect takes all your hard work for granted. This one galls you. The prospect is dismissive of the effort you put into crafting a solution for his needs. He acts as if all you did was grab a package off the shelf, that you made no effort to tailor the plan to meet his unique needs, that nothing you did deserves even a thank-you. This kind of call makes you wonder if you should even stay in sales.
11. You often hear the "Give me some time to think about it" response. about it" response. It sounds promising—better than a rejection!—but it's the classic indicator of handoff selling. You hear it every day, or at least every day you submit a proposal to a prospect. And it's a legitimate response, because you failed to give the prospect time to think about it earlier. People do need time to consider plans and proposals, ideas and solutions—even good ones.
12. You make too much of an investment too early. You go all out on behalf of a new prospect, wasting valuable time that could have been invested in a better opportunity. It might be the wrong prospect, because they'll never turn into a good client; the wrong person, and sooner or later, you'll have to start over again with the right person; or the wrong project, and there were bigger, more important, more urgent, or more appropriate needs for you to work toward meeting and solving.
13. There's too much time and effort spent closing. Your calendar and to-do list are crammed with phone calls and e-mails in which you have nothing to say, nothing to add, nothing to contribute…you struggle to find something to say other than, "So, has the decision come down yet?" That's what life is like when you've already handed off the proposal. At that point, you're just trying to push on a string, to somehow keep the proposal moving inside the prospect's company, which is darn hard to do from the outside looking in. These calls are no fun to make, and from the reactions you hear on those occasions when you get through, these calls are no fun to receive, either.
These post-handoff phone calls are no fun to make and no fun to receive.
14. The client is contentious after the sale. Sometimes the hardest part is not even getting the deal done—that was hard, but not as hard putting the solution into motion, keeping the client happy, holding the deal together, maintaining profitability, and sometimes even keeping everybody out of court. Too many of your clients these days act as if you're the problem, not the solution, and often the reason is that expectations about performance, about deliverables, and about return on investment (ROI), were left vague. You were thinking one thing; they were thinking something very different.
The more of these 14 signs you see in yourself, the more likely it is you're neglecting half your job. You're paying close attention to the selling, but scant attention to the buying. And you're paying the price in lost time, lost momentum, lost opportunity, lost relationships, lost sales, lost revenues, and lost income. Nothing on that list is the fault of your prospect or client—these 14 indicators point to the fact that you're not selling interactively.
For a great many of you, the lack of interactivity is the one piece you're missing. You're one of the legions of motivated, well-trained salespeople who continue to suffer fist-pounding frustration and lose billions of dollars in sales every year because everything you've been told about selling is still only half the game. No one told you that you could or should insert yourself into the buying process—or that you could and should invite your prospect into the selling process. This is the master stroke of the salesperson's craft. This is what makes buyers and sellers into true partners, interdependent players who help each other get the job done, not because they're such nice people but because it's by far the best way to get their own jobs done.
The two fundamental practices at the base of interactive selling are contracting and partnering. Contracting is the management of expectations. It's a fancy word, but it's easy to grasp the meaning. Contracting is what's happening when:
The dentist, a long, shiny needle in his blue-gloved hand, warns you that you'll feel "a slight pinch" before he gives you a shot of Novocain.
You tell your friend, before you leave for the game, that you want to be home by 10 o'clock to tuck in your daughter.
The boss at your new job tells you what the business hours are in the office and what is considered appropriate office attire.
The menu at the Thai restaurant places a little pepper icon next to items that are spicy, and then you notice some dishes have two peppers and others have three!
Contracting happens every day in myriad unconscious and mundane ways. So it's particularly surprising how often contracting fails to happen between salespeople and their prospects. And it's remarkable how a process as simple as contracting can have such profound impact on your success in sales. You're about to find out how.
Partnering is the sharing of control and responsibility. When a truly interactive salesperson is on the case, the sharing is ratcheted way up. The partners—yes, they're feeling and acting as partners even before the first deal is done—share expectations, share agendas, share information, share enthusiasm, share resources, share goals, share energy, share limitations, share control, share decisions, and share responsibility during their first meeting and during every subsequent meeting—whether those "meetings" take place face-to-face, over the phone, or via e-mail, instant messaging, or collaborative software. Partnering is the process that makes the business relationship truly interactive, that synchronizes selling and buying to the advantage of both seller and buyer.