When you were a kid, did you ever want a puppy? Imagine what it would be like to have a real puppy! Playing fetch, running together in the park, snuggling on the couch. Nothing more awesome than that, right?!?
So what did you do? You got all fired up and with iron-clad resolve, waited until your parents were in a good mood, and finally asked (or perhaps begged) your parents for a puppy.
But rather than the open-and-shut case you were hoping for, what likely followed was a barrage of heated questions intended to shut you down:
“Do you even know what it takes to take care of a puppy?”
“Who’s going to walk it every morning?”
“Who’s going to take it to the vet?”
Or perhaps the dreaded…
“A puppy? Do you remember what happened to the [hamster | goldfish | turtle| insert other deceased pet ] we bought you last year?”
Bottom line: if you didn’t have good answers to these questions, chances are you didn’t get the puppy!
Unfortunately, puppy conversations aren’t just relegated to our childhood. In the world of sales, puppy conversations (disguised as business conversations) take place ALL the time within the walls of our customer’s organizations. Here’s what I mean.
Suppose you’re a salesperson talking to a customer about your software solution. You’ve described the benefits of your offering using powerful questions to discover how it will solve their specific problems, and perhaps even crafted a compelling business case. Your customer is now completely convinced that your solution is the right one for them…but that may not be enough to get the deal done!
In many cases, the person you’ve been working with isn’t the ultimate decision-maker or the keeper of the budget. Even if they are, oftentimes purchasing decisions need to be vetted through planning, financial, or executive committees. This means that at some point, your champion is going to end up having a puppy conversation inside their organization — a conversation where the recommendation to buy your product is going to be met with all sorts of questions:
“Have we explored at least a few alternative solutions?”
“Why do we have to sign up for a year? Can we have a free trial first?”
“Why is it so expensive?”
“Are any other companies like us using this product?”
“Have we spoken to any references?”
Complex Sale founder and author Rick Page described these last few yards of a sales cycle as the crucible; like its chemistry analog, the sales cycle crucible represents a confined, pressure-packed space where explosive reactions rooted in emotion, politics, risk, uncertainty, and fear can occur.
The good news is that if your champion is prepared for these questions and has solid answers ready to go, you stand a fighting chance! Unfortunately, when most sales professionals hear “yes” near the end of a sales cycle, we put on our happy ears and prefer to drift blissfully towards the finish line. It’s almost as though we hope gravity will take over and effortlessly close the business for us. Salespeople are rarely that lucky.
So how can you prepare your champions to have a frictionless puppy conversation? Here are two techniques:
1. The Direct Approach
Just ask! (and bake asking into your company’s sales process)
“It sounds like our solution is the one you feel can best solve your problems…”
What happens now?
Is there anyone else who needs to sign off on this?
What type of questions do you think they’ll have?
When you’ve made similar purchases in the past, what did the process look like?
Do you think anyone will raise any objections at this point?”
Getting more insight into the steps to close and the challenges your champion is likely to encounter is the best way to prepare for the puppy conversation.
2. The Educational Approach
This approach works best when your champion is junior or new to the organization, because in these cases they themselves may not know what it’ll take to get the deal done. My advice: leverage the challenger mentality outlined in tip #3 of my previous post on building massive sales credibility to drive the conversation and reveal hidden land mines. When engaging your champion, the approach sounds something like this:
“We’ve worked with many other organizations to buy and deploy our solution, and what we’ve found is that at this stage of the process, your executive/purchasing/planning team may have questions about the cost structure, our approach, the technology, etc. Do you sense your key stakeholders will have these questions? Of course, we’d love to do anything we can to help arm you with the answers you need as you work through the final steps, etc…”
While your champion still may not know what puppy conversation questions are in store for them, raising potential blockers early (and even forecasting the existence of the conversation itself) will prevent them from being blindsided, enhance their credibility within their organization, and result in a more frictionless and timely conclusion to your sales cycle.
Counterpoint: Of course, you’d rather not create roadblocks that don’t exist by surfacing unnecessary uncertainty in the mind of your champion. So how aggressive you should be in preparing your customer for the puppy conversation? Well, that depends on the nature of your business.
Ask yourself, as you get to the final few yards of your sales cycles, how often do certain questions or objections seem to surface? If you hear the same ones come up most of the time, you’re better off attacking them head-on and uncovering them early. In these cases, being proactive rather than reactive will help you reduce the risk of having your sales cycle consistently derailed and improve the accuracy of your forecasting.
Here’s a video that outlines this approach:
As your parents told you as a kid, owning a puppy is a serious responsibility. That responsibility is just as present in business when companies take ownership of products, services, or process changes. No matter what you’re selling, taking a few extra moments to prepare your customers for the tough questions they’ll get from their own organization will no doubt help you close more business, quicker!
BONUS VIDEO: Putting the puppy conversation principle into action