Have you ever said, “The prospect has gone dark?” Or have you ever complained that your dream client “ghosted you,” engaging with you through some part of the sales conversation only to cut off all communication? Maybe the call didn’t go as well as you believed, or maybe your dream client had a new priority take over their time and attention.
But perhaps there is another cause of their disengagement that you may have caused or that you could have prevented. Maybe you didn’t sell the prospect the value of going through the process. If you want to stop your dream client from going dark, you have to sell the process.
What Do You Sell on the First Meeting
Sadly, there are still salespeople who believe they need to sell themselves and their company during a first meeting, pitching their company and their solutions to create an opportunity. They think they are selling their prospective client on buying from them based on factors like their company’s history, their big important clients, and their full range of products, services, and solutions (yawn).
Others believe a successful first meeting is a discovery meeting, something I would broaden to Explore, as one of the best outcomes is helping the prospect discover something about themselves, and not answering the question, “What’s keeping you up at night?” While a good and productive conversation that includes exploring change is evidence of progress, it isn’t the only—nor it is the most important—outcome.
The most important outcome is selling the process, gaining the commitment to what comes next (something that’s easier to accomplish if you create real value for the prospect in your first meeting) and the one that follows.
How You Lose Control of the Process
“But wait,” you say. “Iannarino, I did create value, and I did ask for the next meeting, and the client told me to call them next week. Now they are ghosting me.”
When the client asks you to call them next week, they may or may not actually intend for you to call them, even though I am skeptical that right now there are thousands of heartbroken prospects sitting next to their phone and mumbling to themselves, “I wonder why Johnny didn’t call me this week. I thought we agreed he would call. Where is he?” Whether or not your dream client really wanted you to call, one thing is certain: the prospect did not commit to any next step, even if the salesperson believes they committed to a phone call.
This is how you lose control of the process. You cede control to the prospective client, and you end up calling, leaving voicemails (some of which sound desperate), and relentlessly emailing them in attempt to get them to reengage.
How to Control the Process
There isn’t much disagreement about how to open a sales call. You say thank you, you establish an agenda, you share what next steps might be, and you ask the client to share anything they want to add to the agenda. Some things are so fundamental that they don’t change much over time. What you might have missed is the part where you “establish what next steps might be,” should this meeting be valuable.
Saying the words “next steps” is an indication that there is a process, that there are other items you need to discuss and things you will need to do together to help your dream client move from their current state to the better future state you can help them create.
You can use words like, “Can I share with you what tends to work best for the clients and companies we work with?” Or you can say something like, “What we have found to be most helpful for making the change we have been exploring is to schedule a meeting with the people who are doing this work to get a better understanding of how we might help them.” Whether it makes sense to share the whole process or the next step, the way you help your client is by helping them commit to the process.
From Commitment to Commitment
The sales process and buying process are often drawn on PowerPoint decks as a linear process, starting on the left side of a slide and ending on the right. There is nothing wrong with an orienting generalization that helps one locate themselves in space. However, just like a map isn’t the terrain, the process shows you some things while deleting others; too much detail can be as harmful as too little.
In the Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales, I outlined the ten commitments most prospects seem to make in a B2B sale (even though this framework is visible in B2C sales, even if it takes fewer meetings and fewer stakeholders).No more pushy sales tactics. The Lost Art of Closing shows you how to proactively lead your customer and close your sales.
Here is what these commitments look like:
- You gain the Commitment for Time so you can gain the Commitment to Explore Change.
- You gain the Commitment to Explore Change so you can build the case for the Commitment to Change.
- You gain the Commitment to Change so you can obtain the Commitment to Collaborate on the right solution and the Commitment to Build Consensus around that solution.
- You gain the Commitments to Collaborate and Build Consensus so you can justify the Commitment to Invest, even though you may need to do this earlier in the process, as all of this is non-linear. You can gain any of these commitments and need to go back over ground you have already covered.
- When you have gained the Commitment to Invest, you next gain the Commitment to Review your solution to make sure it is perfect, and then the Commitment to Resolve Concerns, the commitment you need to prevent your client from going dark when you hand over your proposal only to hear, “We are going to talk this over as a team, and we’ll get back to you in a couple of weeks.”
The ninth commitment, if you are keeping count, is the Commitment to Decide, meaning you ask your dream client to buy the solution, having done all the work to have earned the right to ask and the right to a solid “yes.” This is the commitment necessary to the Commitment to Execute.
Always Be Closing
The directive to always be closing is still valid, but instead of closing for the sale, you are closing on the process, the next step your dream client needs to take to be able to move closer to the better results they need.
If you want to be a consultative salesperson, it is your responsibility to know what—and why—the client needs to do what comes next, successfully selling them on the process. Without having the necessary conversations, your client isn’t likely to find their better future. This is why they need your help.
If you can’t sell the next steps, you won’t have any next steps.