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Overcoming Sales Challenges (Part 1)

Sales Challenges are an inevitable part of the sale process. To gain control of sales challenges, you need to identify and tackle them early on.

If it weren’t challenging enough getting the client lead to begin with, you are now faced with any number of additional sales challenges during your sales process. The more you are aware of them upfront and address them as early as you can in the process, you will have more control over the situation than you would otherwise.

The Decision Maker

As much as you know better, it is easy to get caught up in working with someone other than the decision maker longer than you should. What their process is, who will be involved and who is the final decision maker should be on your list of questions for the first conversation. When working with larger companies, it is common to work through most of the process with someone other than the decision maker, for example, Human Resources. Get all of the information you can upfront on the process, combine it with your experiences in similar situations and decide if this fits your business model or not. Some executives know how to navigate the larger companies, the contracts, and the processes well and are willing to depend on the size of the contracts. Others decide not to take on these clients unless they are immediately connected with the decision maker and the process is fairly straight forward.

Sales challenges are also more likely to arise when you are sometimes working through your referral source rather than being quickly connected directly with the client. You are working through an informal intermediary and now reliant on second-hand information and follow up. We have seen executives be most successful in these situations where they work with the intermediary sooner than later for a direct connection. Schedule time and brainstorm on how to get you introduced as early as possible in the process. Usually, this is the case when the client has expressed some frustrations but isn’t quite ready to resolve the situation. Something tangible like an article you wrote that is pertinent to the situation, can be forwarded on to the client by the referral source and suggest an introduction. Continue to follow up with the referral source/intermediary but be careful of not providing too much information second hand.

Client is Non-Responsive

There’s a number of reasons clients become non-responsive from other priorities coming up to not wanting to make a decision to having made a decision and not having the courtesy to get back to you. If you have received no response after a few follow-ups, we have seen the following email be most successful:

“There is a fine line between being persistent and being a pest. To not cross the line into the later, this will be my final follow up. Please feel free to contact me when you are ready to reconnect.”

It is rare that we don’t receive a response of some kind, after sending this.

Budgets & Fee Structuring

The fees can easily be the most contentious part of dealing with sales challenges. Keep focused on what the client is looking to accomplish, their expectations and the budget they are seeking to work with. There’s some ways the contract can be structured beyond the usual project or hourly and daily basis.

  • Success Fees – If the company’s budget is contingent on some financial return or success directly tied to your work, this can be a good alternative. Executives will lower their base rate in return for a bigger upside upon accomplishing specific goals. Outline the parameters and client expectations clearly. Understanding that some success is contingent on the client and not everything is controllable. If you are willing to take a risk for a bigger upside, this could be a good option for you.
  • Sliding Fee Scale – In-line with the success fee strategy, starting at a fee below what you would typically charge given the circumstances then increasing based on deliverables, goals or time and progressing to a rate slightly higher than you would have otherwise received. There is more risk in this for you than the client in many cases. We suggest adding an extra clause if the contract is terminated prior to the opportunity for an increase, your normal rate would then be retroactive and due upon termination.
  • Deliverables – Some clients are very cautious of what value or deliverables they will get for their investment. They likely have had a prior bad experience. This is sometimes suggested by the client, but we rarely see it in practice since trust needs to be a two-way street and most executives are not willing to take on most of the risk.
  • Retainers – Some executives prefer being paid a month in advance and are willing to provide some flexibility with rates in these circumstances.

When establishing the fees and payment schedule, don’t diminish the impact of when you invoice and when the payments are due. The service you provide is not one that can be returned. Once you provide the work, particularly the deliverable, it typically can’t be ‘undone’ if the client doesn’t pay. This is why most consultants prefer to be paid prior to any work performance when in a new client relationship. Conversely, the client is in a similar situation. They are very cautious of paying for something prior to any work being performed and particularly before realizing any value from it. As we mentioned above, trust is a two-way street, and you decide what is right for you in each client relationship.

This is part one of a two-part series. Stay tuned for more on Marketing and Business Development for your interim executive business.

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