Sales people have to close deals. The VP of Sales has to make sure to hit her quarterly target. Everyone hates the deals that are stalling, that seem to be stuck.
As a board member, I have to be strategic. Slow-moving deals are a unique opportunity to uncover systemic problems in the sales motion, reveal a bigger problem, or even unearth a better buyer and customer profile.
Do you understand your customer’s pain?
- Are you perhaps only addressing a symptom of something deeper, instead of a pain?
- Are you addressing a nuisance or a pain? Maybe the pain is not painful enough.
- Is the pain chronic or acute? Chronic pain solutions will move much slower: “Everyone has this problem.” “We’ve had had this problem for years, and we’re fine.” “Yeah, it sucks. We’ve looked at it a few times, always with the same result.”
- Maybe other pains are bigger.
- Maybe doing nothing is still an option in the mind of the prospect.
- Maybe it’s a pain that no one in upper management wants to hear or talk about.
- Maybe it’s a pain that will make the customer look bad (I once had a startup that was trying to sell a platform to middle-management of systems integrators that would uncover actual skill levels versus advertised or staffed skill levels. needless to say that no one in middle management wanted to report back to top management how mediocre or lacking their hires were ;))
- Maybe you’re solving a pain that should be the (future) core competency of your customer. They are more likely to invest themselves and use a DIY-approach than to buy a solution without any know-how transfer.
Who owns the business pain?
Who is getting fired if this continues, if no action is taken, or if someone selects the wrong solution?
How are we different from our competitors?
Is that differentiator something the customer cares about, something that will make her look better if we address it better? Or are we just different? “Different” can be good if your sales motion requires a certain customer approach, or a certain attitude, or a certain existing ecosystem of other solutions. But let’s discover those aspects early, before the deal becomes a SQL!
Tell me about the Customer’s validation process. Now tell be about the decision process.
Customers need to verify your claims in a validation process — are you capable of delivering what you say you would deliver.
The outcome of the decision process is driven by resource scarcity and risk aversion: Do I have the budget, given other areas of competing spending, and am I willing to take the business and personal risks of this buying decision? Don’t underestimate the power of career-making decisions. That can cut both ways.
These are two very different processes (though not necessarily at different stages of the sale — they could be parallel!). Deals get stuck when messaging for these two processes get mixed up.
Tell me about some other startups they are working with.
Good luck if you’re the first startup that has to educate your customer and your buyer (see what I did there?!) how to work with and partner with startups. That might be an uphill battle — operationally and politically.