Perhaps the most important piece of information in devising a successful sales strategy is knowledge of what the client's decision-making process is for their evaluation committee. And yet this is the most difficult thing to determine because quite often the client doesn't know what it is themselves! And it can change dramatically during the sales cycle.

In competitive evaluations, the first steps are usually a logical process of gathering information and perhaps narrowing the field down to a shortlist. Then comes the hard part - now they have to pick a vendor. This is when their process breaks down and often becomes an emotional and political power struggle because they have failed to arrive at the hoped-for consensus that they sought. This is the phase of the sale that we refer to as the "crucible".

As one of our clients said, "They don't know how to decide when they can't decide." They don't have a Constitution, any bylaws, Roberts Rules of Order or any other process predefined at this point. The real process can take several forms during this phase.

Consensus - this is what they hoped-for but rarely happens. Quite often after gathering information and seeing presentations, there are divided camps that prefer different vendors. This can result in intense power struggles. At this point you'd better be riding the strongest horse in the race - a politically powerful sponsor that prefers your solution.

Autocratic - this means that there is really only one vote that matters. Perhaps the owner or department head to whom the entire committee reports. Everyone else is the recommender or influencer.

Straw Vote - these are not really votes. They are individual recommendations which are not really counted. One person will make the decision to seek the opinions of others.

Algebraic Democracy - this is an informal description of a political decision. Some people's vote counts X, some 5X, and some 10X. And someone may be powerful enough that their vote is the sum of the parts +1. They can override the whole committee.

Power Struggle - we have seen shouting matches, resignations, blackmail, horse trading, sabotage, and frozen decisions in the crucible. Sometimes the salesperson has no control except through their sponsors at this point. You should've gotten the most powerful people on your side and demonstrated that you can solve the most strategic business problems by this time or you just take chances.

Sometimes there are scorecards or matrixes for the evaluation. But they rarely last. Good competitors can raise issues that the buyer has not yet considered. Clients change the weights of items to fit their decision. And executives rarely stick to the list - they are looking for solutions to strategic problems which can gobble up all of the technical issues.

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Published on May 21, 2012 12:21 • 78 views

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