So you've done everything right and you've set a meeting with a huge prospect.
This is a massive opportunity with multiple potential decision makers so you secure the team necessary to make the first meeting a valuable one - for you and the client. You bring your sales manager (maybe a director) and sales engineer or sales offering specialist - after all this could be your "year quota" in one big swing and you need the right people there.
So you walk in, introductions are made and you engage the prospect in a conversation - everything is going swimmingly...the client even says something the could possibly be vaguely construed to be connected to something that is parallel to one of your solutions or offerings...
And that's when IT HAPPENS.
Hearing something that they think could lead to a quick deal (the marshmallow in question) your sales manager/sales director/sales engineer/sales offering specialist forgets what the first word in their title is (HINT - it's SALES) and blurts out a hackneyed value-prop about how your company's widgit or whatsis can solve the all prospect's problems.
Ducking that lead balloon, you prospect looks at you with the old If I knew what the term "non sequitur" meant I would probably use it right now look.
Oblivious to your customer's quizzical expression and seemingly unable to hear you telepathically screaming "STOP TALKING", this sales expert launches into an incredibly contrived sales pitch - complete with upfront closes, Sales 101 objection handling and offers of discounts if "we can get something done this quarter."
The whole experience is surreal - as your sales killer keeps talking, on the inside of your brain you're like Tom Hanks watching your deal drift farther and farther away - WILSON! I'm sorry! I'm sorry, Wilson. Wilson, I'm sorry! I'm sorry! WILSON! I CAN'T! WILSON! WILSON!
The client (or non-client as it were), sensing your despair, says nothing as you are escorted out of the conference room. Once you're gone, your ex-prospect turns to the rest of the people around the conference table, sets your "leave behind" brochure on fire and says "We will never speak of this again."
The icing on the cake comes in the parking lot when the author of your misery says "Well that wasn't a real opportunity anyways. You should have validated it before bringing me."
Yeah, we've all been there. It's a hazard of the sales profession. So why did your teammate - your partner in the sale - scuttle it? It's not that they are a bad person, or that they hate you, or they are Kevin Spacey - it's just they couldn't resist that marshmallow on the table.
And as you know, boy-howdy there are a lot of people in sales organizations that love them some marshmallows.
Alright - what is it with MARSHMALLOWS?
About a billion years ago - in the 60s and 70s - some big brain at Stanford tested a bunch of kids by offering each kid a choice between one marshmallow NOW or two marshmallows in about 15 minutes. They recorded which kids gobbled up the first marshmallow and which kids waited for the promise of more marshmallows.
It's called delayed gratification. And at the end of the day, about a third of the kids waited for the second marshmallow.
Here's the kicker - in follow-up studies on the same kids in the 80s, 90s and 00s, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the second marshmallow tended to have better life outcomes later on. Better SAT scores, college grades, better body mass index and higher average incomes.
All because they didn't take the first marshmallow! Well maybe - but one thing is clear: waiting and working for the promise of a larger outcome ended up being something they did the rest of their lives. They worked toward longer term results in school, at work, at the gym and in relationships. And it paid dividends for them later in life.
We all know complex sale requires many meetings, many people and many moving parts. Unfortunately many sales people are interested in the Here and Now - as in I am Here so buy from me Now. Add to that people like sales engineers, sales support and sales managers (all of whom are compensated on CLOSED BUSINESS) and you get a meeting that can be a recipe for people falling over each other trying to get that single marshmallow that's been lobbed up on the table by a prospect.
Here are four things I do to make sure nobody (including ME) in my sales meetings pick up that first marshmallow:
- Have a clear goal of the meeting; What the the best outcome of our meeting in our example? In my opinion it would have been to get executive buy-in for another series of meetings with Line Of Business Directors. I'm writing a whole series of articles on selling to groups (Part 1 here) but before you build consensus you have to get the the DM to trust you enough to talk to his/her people. And while your mileage may vary as to what the next step should or could be, I think we can ALL agree that the outcome of this type of intro meeting is NOT going to be signed paperwork. There is no "one call close" in the complex sale.
- Get internal buy-in from the team: Since you have a goal, you need to make sure everyone in the room on your side of the table is on-board. I do this by asking and then telling. I ask "what do you think we should be able to get from this meeting?" and then I tell them what I think. Amazingly enough, when you ask, you usually get the answer you need. Your team members are there for a reason - and when given the opportunity to succeed they most likely will. However you are the quarterback so you call the play. For example - If I were bringing in some sales engineers I would say something like "What do you guys think the next step after this meeting should be?" From Sales Engineers, the answer will almost ALWAYS be something to the effect as we need to talk to the client to know more about the status-quo. So I would say "So we need to meet the LOB directors. Once we talk to the LOBs, we will have what you guys need - a thorough understanding of the status-quo - which will allow you to author a viable solution and a road-map as to how we get there with the client. So that's why I need you guys to follow my lead and let's all try to move the client to agreeing to the LOB meetings."
- Plan and Practice: Call a strategy meeting with all the people you need at the client meeting. Go through the deck. Talk about who is going to say what. And don't pull a William Shatner and hog up all the oxygen in the room - it's less important that you deliver the killer lines and points and more important that the client hears and accepts them. Give some killer dialogue or some great value-prop bombs to your sales support team. Let them shine in the meeting. It will help solidify their buy-in and will lessen the possibility that they say something wrong. Sales support people who feel engaged in the meeting and are trusted with a major or important part to play in that meeting will be less likely to nervously say the WRONG thing in an attempt to validate their reason for being at the meeting. It will also, funnily enough, show the prospect that they're dealing with a top-notch organization.
- If it's EoQ, leave your sales manager home: Yep, I said it. End of Quarter, Month, Half or Year is the absolute worst time to bring your sales manager to client meetings. The second to absolute worst is "any other time" but that's another postentirely. Unless you're selling ice cream in the dessert, your sales manager is most likely behind the eight ball in projections and forecasts. Anything that's closable needs to close. They are scouring the pipeline for any transnational business that will help the number. They are looking, every moment of every day, for deals. And they aren't worried about next quarter - so many of them are willing to kill your whale to eat a few guppies. They always need more, so unless the meeting is at the beginning of the quarter, beg off bringing them along. I know this may be controversial and if you have a great sales manager, who actually mentors and coaches you, kudos for you and bring 'em along on the 25th of March if you want. But I would much rather take a verbal beating in a 1:1 and close my year's number in late Q2 or early Q3 than risk my sales manager killing my sale like Tommy Callahan kills dinner rolls. It's not personal, it's business.
In the world of trying to convince people to buy your thing instead of the other guy's thing, it's hard to leave that first marshmallow on the table - I get it, as I've carried a quota and managed teams that carried quotas. Many of us have lived the old axiom "a marshmallow in the hand is worth two in the bush."
In today's complex sale, it's not that easy to catch a bird in the hand - almost impossible. But if I'm patient and exercise some professional restraint, by leaving those marshmallows on the table, we can catch those birds in the bush.
And if that's not the most hackneyed analogy you've heard all week, I would be disappointed
As always, let me know what you think. Happy selling.