We all know that qualifying prospects involves confirming BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe), but what about the more complex fit issue of “Bias”? Most sales people know that Bias is where the sale is won or lost, and most readily admit that bias is often the hardest to discover. It is just as important to know why you lost a sale as it is to know why you won it, and without accurate insight, your strategy and execution suffer. Confirming BANT just tells you the prospect is shopping. Understanding their bias helps you know what options they favor, and why.
Although some bias factors, such as technology fit, may be easily solved in the “lead scoring” process, which any inside sales rep or landing page/lead nurturing automation program can do, there are often deeper undercurrents – biases – such as relationships and capital flow that strongly influence buying decisions. That information, too, can be discovered, but how much effort can you afford to commit, and how systematic is your discovery process? Indeed, how much effort can you afford not to commit, and can you afford not to be systematic about it? Wouldn’t you like to improve your sales closure ratio, after working so hard nurture that prospect?
It seems some bias factors are not so obvious. In a recent conversation with a colleague, Fred Mikkelsen, a well respected sales engineer, Fred shared a few anecdotal examples illustrating how individuals and organizations are challenged to solve the hidden bias dilemma.
Example 1: Individual Initiative
“I was having lunch the other day with a friend who sells integration software into IT. She commented that the qualification of an account has most to do with the buying decisions companies have made in the past, such as platform choices – Microsoft, open source, etc. “Projects come and go, but you can’t wait-out major tech decisions a prospect has already made.”
“By researching the relationships between my customers and vendors,” she continued, “I can plan my account strategy better. A lot of this information can be found on the internet, or from my old account notes…but sometimes relationships aren’t easy to find until they’ve closed with someone else.” (In other words, the bias isn’t discoverable until it is documented somewhere, unless you’re dating that prospect’s office gossip – a potentially exhausting proposition if you have more than one prospect. Just kidding.)
“We went through the litany of sources: Hoovers, LinkedIn, sales CRM, FaceBook, press releases, committee memberships, posted resumes, required skills in job postings, news clippings and so on. There are many disparate sources of information that together paint a picture of the types of buying decisions a prospect may have made in the past.”
Due diligence on the part of the salesrep can go a long way toward building a composite profile of each prospect, which greatly aids account planning and accurate forecasting. The next logical challenge is storing, retreiving and mining this data to attain pivotal insight about trends among buyers and market forces – a “closed loop” intelligence gathering and assessment process that can be leveraged beyond the individual salesrep, across the organization.
Example 2: Interdepartmental Collaboration
“The salesrep conversation above clicked with a similar conversation three years ago with a salesman in a software company. That man’s product was sold about 50/50 between direct customers and ISVs (software resellers). His ISV’s customers were pre-disposed to be much better qualified than other leads in general because of highly compatible buying decisions. Also, his enterprise customer’s venders were better qualified to be ISV partners than other firms in general, YET the two sides of his firm’s sales house did not have a means to coordinate this information.”
That salesrep’s firm’s powerful internal systems and channels were not configured to expose and leverage this valuable informaton.
In both these cases, professionals are repeatedly confronted with the need for a closed loop, intelligence sharing process that can be leveraged across their respective organizations.
Charting Bias for Fun and Profit – Who’ll do it?
Plotting the history, texture and landscape of corporate relationships and buying decisions can influence the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and developing sales plans. This information can, to some degree, be worked into your SalesForce.com schema and your direct marketing efforts. The missing link, however, is an efficient platform that can mine disparate resources, aggregate data, and provide a means to assess, expose and report on prospect and customer relationships and decision processes to better inform your organization’s strategy for sales, service and support, product development, and human resources.
It’s Like Gas in Your Tank
In its most basic form, your organization’s internal and external sources of bias information are just data, like so much gasoline sloshing around in the tank, waiting to be consumed. It now needs a well tuned engine to maximize its potential.
Open questions: Is your outfit a data “gas guzzler” or a well tuned machine? How do you and your organization mine and manage bias information to inform your product, sales, support and human resource planning? How do you leverage systems effectively, and coordinate among multiple sources and inputs? What are you doing to innovate your systems to capture bias related information to improve results? Comment below using the handy Reply form. I’ll aggregate and report.