Mostly you will start off not being in control of the Sales Process. Buyers will ask you for prices up front, solutions straight away or for presentations to people you don’t know. All perfect common sense for the customer. All potential disasters for you.
The great thing about a Mutually Agreed Action Plan (MAAP) is that it helps your customer take an informed investment decision while putting you in control of the Sales Process. Everybody is happy. Especially if it helps you win the pitch.
So easy to get it wrong
Let me tell you about a new customer who recently fell into just such a trap. They are a prestigious international law firm specialised in the energy sector, especially mergers and acquisitions. Their potential client was a large energy firm with a track record of acquiring other businesses. Seemingly a perfect fit and our customer had a strong relationship with the General Counsel – the head of the legal department.
When the potential client wanted to strengthen their panel of legal advisors – a preferred list of law firms – our customer was asked to make a presentation. With the knowledge they had of the company, their own relevant expertise and a strong relationship with the General Counsel they thought they had the Sales Process under control.
So they went along taking all their top mergers and acquisitions lawyers but as it happened, leaving behind some of the best regulatory compliance lawyers in the business. Big mistake.
The presentation was not just to the General Counsel, a number of Senior Managers who the law firm had never met before were there. It was a perfect example of shooting-in-the-dark. Unknown to our customer, the Senior Managers had decided to stop acquiring new companies for the moment and consolidate. What they needed from now on were legal advisors with expertise in regulatory compliance. The very experts our customer had left at home. Our customer didn’t get on the panel and in fact several other law firms already on the panel were removed to make way for compliance experts.
If our customer had presented a structured Sales Process, in a format which made sense to the General Counsel, they most probably could have got things under control before the presentation.
So tell the customer about your Sales Process?
Yes. With a few changes here and there. The thing to remember is that a Mutually Agreed Action Plan (MAAP) must come across as your step-by-step approach to help the customer make an informed buying decision. So the first thing to change is the language. You cannot use internal terminology such as Opportunity Qualification or Buying Centre. Here are a few tips to translate your Sales Process into customer talk.
Let’s start with the name. If you talk to your customer about your Sales Process they will think you are off your head, so start by calling it a Customer Engagement Model. And Opportunity Qualification can become Initial Meeting where the customer-side actions are explaining their goals, timing and decision criteria. While your actions are understanding their objectives and requirements, assessing your capability to fulfil them and showing a sample solution to demonstrate your capabilities.
Instead of Covering the Buying Centre talk about Needs Analysis, which emphasises your commitment to understanding all key stakeholder requirements before you present a solution. And to disguise your Sales Process further, you could include the initial project implementation activities that normally come after the buying decision.
A customer-friendly document like this for a specific opportunity is what we call a Mutually Agreed Action Plan (MAAP). It positions your sales process as a professional project plan designed to help the customer make an informed buying decision and achieve their goals.
But my customer just wants a solution and a price
Yes, but they want the right solution at the best price and it’s your job to show them why your Customer Engagement Model will help them get just that. If they ask for a price up front you can say that the Solution depends on a good Needs Analysis. You could use a sample solution to demonstrate how your Customer Engagement Model led to an effective solution that was better than what the customer initially envisaged.
The same applies when a customer asks for a premature presentation. Remember that the Buyer you are speaking to also wants to avoid shooting-in-the-dark presentations. If you can show him or her that exploring the needs of the Buyer Group and making a presentation that answers those needs, will achieve buy-in across the Buying Centre, you are helping the Buyer. And of course, taking control of the Sales Process.
So Customer Engagement Model and Mutually Agreed Action Plan are alternative customer-friendly names for Sales Process – they allow you to gain control of the situation and win the right to present the best possible solution to your customer.
Ask yourself these questions
Are you (or the customer) usually in control of the Sales Process?
Do your customers think you are helping them to make a decision or selling to them?
Have you ever thought about presenting your Sales Process to a customer?