How to take control of a sales process

Peter Whent

August 1, 2020

The meeting

Jennifer crossed the restaurant tentatively, her heart pounding. It had been a long time.

She saw him wave. She assumed this was Terry, her blind date.

Terry was on his feet in a flash striding towards her with outstretched hand:

“Hi Jennifer? I’m Terry. Lovely to meet you”

He leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek. Jennifer was greeted by Terry and a cloud of Paco Rabbane. She approved, although was less taken by the crease ironed into Terry’s jeans.

They sat down at their table and ordered a drink.

Jennifer took a deep breath. This was her first date since her disastrous three-month relationship with Pablo. She was determined not to have a repeat.

The contract

“Terry, before we start our evening, would you mind if I asked you a few questions?” she asked

“Of course” replied the ever bushy tailed Terry

“Firstly, what time do you have to leave?”

“Oh” stumbled Terry, taken by surprise. “Well no specific time I guess”

“OK, understood” she paused and fixed Terry’s gaze.

“Let me ask you another question Terry. If you decide during our date that you don’t think I’m right for you and that this won’t work, will you be OK to tell me that?”

A slight frown crossed Terry’s brow. He wasn’t sure where this was going, but it didn’t sound like a conversation that was going to end in snogging.

“Well, er, I guess so yes. Why?”

Jennifer was on a roll and kept going: “And similarly, if I decide during our date that I don’t think I’m the right person for you, are you OK if I tell you?”

Now terry was worried. He’d never been dumped before the starter on a first date.

“Yes. OK.” He said stoically. Like a man going to his death.

“That’s great” smiled Jennifer. “And finally….”

Terry sunk further into his chair. What sort of pyscho blind date was this?

“…..if we get to the end of the date and neither of us has said we want to end it, then is it OK for us to assume we are both interested in taking things further?

A confused but more hopeful Terry answered: "Yes"

"In that case" replied Jennifer, "shall we set aside a few minutes at the end of our date and before we get up from the table, shall we get out diaries out and agree a date, time and place for our next date”

Terry looked out from behind the sofa. That sounded more like it.

“That would be great” he enthused.

Jennifer was smiling on the outside. But on the inside, she was doing a forward roll straight up into a double fist pump. She’d just taken control of this date.

OK let’s leave Terry and Jennifer in peace. I’ve got a good feeling about it. We’ll pop back in and take a look at the end.

Your rules or mine?

For now, let’s think about sales.

If you’re a salesman embarking on a sales process with a new buyer, you’re heading out on a blind date.

Top tip: leave the Paco Rabanne at home.

Your first meeting with your prospect is going to be run based on someone’s system. Yours or his.

Most buyers aren’t aware that they have a system, but they all buy in a remarkably similar way. They assume because they have the cheque book, that they have the power and they abuse it.

They release information on a need to know basis, they suck up free consultancy like a sponge, they make promises which they break and just when you think things are ready to close, they disappear as if they’ve been taken into the Witness Protection Scheme.

But they only do that because you let them. If you allow someone to behave badly, they continue to behave badly.

You don’t want much from them, but you do want them to play by your rules using your system. So just like Jennifer, you have to strike a deal with them right from the start. And if you do it well, your buyer won’t see what’s happening.

Jennifer’s pact with her beau achieves the same as your pact with your buyer needs to achieve.

First Terry has committed to tell her if it’s a non-runner. She now has full scope to call him out if he goes wobbly and non-committal on her at the end of dinner.

More important, she has got Terry’s permission to tell him if she isn’t up for this. But by doing that, what she’s really done is to tell Terry (and Terry has agreed) that we are conducting this process as equals. Saying no isn't just Terry's (or the buyer's) prerogative. In this process Terry or Mr Buyer, we have equal rights to say no. Jennifer has laid down a marker that this process will be conducted between two people who have agreed parity.

The very worst that will happen now is that Terry will tell her over the coffee and petit fours that he’s out. In sales, learning that your buyer is out is not a bad thing, so long as it happens early in the process. The problems arise when you finally work it out six months in. That’s six months of telling your boss that you’ve got a winner here. Awkward.

But the very best that will happen is that he will say he’s interested and commit to another date.

There are no other options.

There is no option for them to leave not knowing what's next. There is no option for Terry to leave without committing and then not phoning her. Why? Because he committed to tell her if he felt that way and she has his full permission to hold him to account. At the end of this meal, they're both in or the whole thing's dead.

So there's no extended sales cycles, no customers not returning your call, no buyers saying it's year-end can we speak in a month. There's no uncertainty. He's either in, or by default he's out. It's not some freaky power play, it's just a very simple and efficient way of using your time on serious buyers and not wasting it on tyre kickers.

The consequence of not setting some rules at the start is that you allow the buyer (or Terry) to fire up his own system.

The buyer’s own system will have you waiting for information, calling when he feels like it, not hitting deadlines and not promising to share your proposal with the competition. A fly tip clogging up the middle of your funnel. Or in Pablo’s case, sleeping with Jennifer’s best friend.

Speaking of Jennifer, I’ve just taken a quick look in. They’ve got their diaries out and are heading to bingo on Wednesday. A win win sitch.

If you liked this article...

Then you're going to love my sensationally arsey newsletter, 

Dear Misfits

Nearly 2,000 cool kids inject it directly into their veins each week to learn how to write stop and stare messaging like Don Fucking Draper. Sign up below.