Play Until the Whistle Blows

UPDATED: January 9, 2013
PUBLISHED: January 9, 2013

Tom was stunned when his dream client called to inform him the company was buying from one of his competitors. He had been certain the account was won. Still reeling from the shock, Tom asked the client why he lost out. They “just felt more comfortable” with the other option.

Tom is a solid salesperson. He has an excellent command of the fundamentals of selling. He also knows his product and how to help his clients. So it was no surprise he could make a connection, develop relationships and gain an opportunity to compete for this client’s business.

He did an excellent job throughout the whole process, delivering a great presentation and a solid solution. Tom’s dream client was impressed and said so. The decision-makers just needed time to talk things over; they would get back to him with their answer. That sounded reasonable, so Tom waited.

But the truth is Tom quit playing before the whistle blew.

The Buying Process

Buyers go through stages. They start by discovering some challenge is preventing them from getting the results they need. Then they identify what they need to produce a better result. Once they have ideas about what they need, they look at the options available to solve their problems. Tom delivered his proposal and solution during this stage of the buying process, the evaluation of options. But the buying process doesn’t end there.

In a final phase, buyers resolve their concerns: Is this the right solution for us? Are we spending too much money? Are we investing too little? Do we trust this salesperson and his company to get us results? Are we going to be embarrassed by this decision?

This stage comes late in the game, but the game is still being played. It isn’t over until a decision is made. Effective salespeople know their roles don’t end after the presentation and proposal.

Let’s look at another salesperson.

Playing Until the End

Karen had just delivered her pitch. Afterward, her client said the decision-makers would review more proposals, make their choice and get back to her. Her prospective client was engaged, polite and complimentary. But Karen understood the game wasn’t over just because she had finished her presentation.

She listened carefully while her buyers explained their process and then asked to be part of it. Karen said: “I understand you need time to discuss your options as a group before you make a final decision. I’d like to ask you for the opportunity to meet with you as you work through that process, so I can answer questions that come up, clarify anything in our proposal as needed and resolve any concerns you might have about choosing us. I want you to be 100 percent confident in your decision even if we’re not the right fit. Can we schedule a follow-up call for next week?”

As it turned out, her dream client did have concerns. Karen met with the decision-makers a week later because they wanted a better grasp of her pricing model, which was higher than that of some competitors. They also wanted to clarify differences between her solution and those of her competitors. Karen resolved their concerns, demonstrating how and why her solution was different, why it cost a bit more, and how it would deliver better results. She offered three references who would attest to her results.

Karen’s story has a happy ending because she stayed involved—answering questions and giving explanations—through the end of the process. She didn’t leave it to her clients to come to the right conclusions unaided. The clients would never have resolved the pricing concerns or the differences in her solution on their own. They would have chosen someone else.

Karen won because she continued to play.

Ask to Stay Engaged in the Process

Selling doesn’t end when you’ve presented your solution and pricing. Because the buyer’s process hasn’t ended, you still have the opportunity to create value for your clients by helping them make a smart decision. That means you have to be there when they struggle with fears and concerns. You have to stay in the game to help them deal with risk.

Schedule follow-up meetings specifically to resolve your prospective client’s concerns after your presentation. Ask to participate in their decision-making process, explaining how you can be valuable by answering any questions and resolving any concerns.

Fire Every Weapon

Opportunities are precious. They can’t be taken for granted. Some salespeople leave the playing field early, before they’ve even fired all their weapons. There are always game-changing options available as time is running out.

Can you invite your dream client to tour your facility and meet your team after the presentation? If there are concerns about your team and its ability to execute your solution, meeting your teammates can resolve the client’s concern in your favor.

Try to bring in your management team to meet with theirs. If there are concerns about your company’s commitment to serving their needs, your managers’ presence can tip the balance in your favor.

Can you have a prospective client visit an existing client who will share the positive results of working with you? A strong reference can eliminate your prospective client’s fear of making a bad decision.

Imagine What Your Competitors Are Doing

Some salespeople believe when a prospective client asks them for time to decide, the best thing they can do is give them that time and space. But while these salespeople are waiting politely, their competitors are taking the actions I describe above. They haven’t heard the whistle, so they know the game is still being played.

If you struggle to act after your presentation, imagining the actions your competitors are taking can be a powerful motivator.

If you’ve ever lost while believing you deserved to win, you probably lost at the end, when your buyers were trying to resolve their concerns. Your absence allowed their concerns to linger and led them to choose someone else.

 To win your dream clients, you have to push until a final decision is made. Stay engaged, and when the whistle finally blows, you’ll be awarded the victory you earned. 

Anthony Iannarino is an Ohio-based business owner, sales coach and blogger.