Keeping the Ball Rolling With Prospects

Most of our clients offer complex software products, frequently in combination with some amount of consulting services. Their sales are not the results of credit card transactions but a complex orchestrated sales process. Frequently their prospects need to see a custom demonstration or a benchmark that relies on their own data, not just the standard demo our customers routinely perform.

Prospects are often very busy and it can be difficult to determine if they are slacking off or overwhelmed, at least temporarily, with other priorities.

Here are five steps we try to get out customers to include in their sales process to keep the ball rolling with busy prospects.

  1. Get a commitment for when the prospect will send the data or other inputs that they need either for a custom demo or custom proposal. For example “so do you think you can get that to me by next Tuesday?”
  2. Get permission to call them back or follow up: “so if I don’t hear from you is it OK if I call you back on Thursday to make sure this doesn’t fall through the cracks.” Notice that you give the prospect some slack from their committed date.
  3. Understand what the ultimate deadline is that they are working to. That way in the call backs you can mention “I just want to be clear; you indicated you wanted us to finish the evaluation by the end of October to meet your deadlines. If we can’t get your specs and input data  and get started we can’t meet your date.” Be especially wary of “we need this yesterday” as  due date. It may mean that they have been living with the problem for while and have no firm plan to proceed. Worse that that, yesterday is not a day that will ever come.
  4. Always put an expiration date on any quotation or proposal. This gives you two more chances to follow up, once a few days before it’s due to expire to remind them, and once a day or two after it’s expired to give them one last chance to buy and to determine, if possible why they delayed or decided not to buy.
  5. There is a temptation when a prospect slows done to push for near term dates or to try and pull the timetable back in. The prospect is really in charge of the sales timetable so these efforts are often useless or even counter-productive.  Instead you should offer a date that is even farther out and see if they pull it back in. If they tell you that they plan to get back to you in four weeks after you have been “playing ping pong” and iterating rapidly over earlier requests, suggest that you will check in in three months if you don’t hear from them. This pushes the date out even further, if they are serious about buying it’s better to let them pull the date back in instead of pushing for an earlier date if they start to feel overwhelmed.

Lack of response is not the worst outcome for a startup.  The worst outcome is that you first invest time in a detailed customized demo, perhaps followed by  a detailed proposal, and then find that the prospects are maintaining radio silence. Before you invest a lot of your team’s time,make sure that there is a strong business reason that will force them to make a decision.

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