By Sharon Drew Morgen

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What, Exactly, Is An Opportunity?

opportunityThe hot new sales tool is Opportunity Management automation. Just another in a long list of New New Things that seem like THE answer to THE way to efficiently close more sales. But is it? Over the past 10 or so years you’ve tried Buyer Personas, Understanding Need, marketing automation, Relationship Management, Trusted Advisor, Challenger, Sandler, SPIN, and lots of technology to push content. All hoping hoping hoping that THIS is ‘the one’ that will help you close more. But you’ve ended up with the same 5% close rate you’ve had for decades (It used to be 7%, remember?), regardless of the approach or the way an opportunity is managed.

Don’t get me wrong: opportunity management apps help sellers optimize their time and track results. But to what end? The tools can’t close more sales if the opportunity itself is flawed. What if you could find more viable opportunities by expanding your definition of ‘opportunity’?

WHAT’S AN OPPORTUNITY?

As I’m sure you’re aware, an ‘opportunity’ is often not an opportunity at all, or has only a small chance of being one. What if buyers aren’t your target audience? What if the larger opportunity is in a different place along the buying decision journey?

With the sales model based on entry points of ‘buyer’, ‘need’, Buyer Personas, and ‘need/solution’ match it’s impossible to close anyone but the low hanging fruit – buyers seeking a solution. This definition

  • restricts your close rate to those people or groups who have gotten themselves ready to bring in an outside solution (5% with sales outreach; 0.00059% of online marketing outreach) and are ready, willing, and able to buy;
  • assumes that those with a seeming ‘need’ is a prospect (They’re not. ‘Need’ does not equal ‘Buyer’ – but you know that by now);
  • focuses questions, content, and relationship-creating skills with a bias toward placing a solution (ignoring the vital non-solution, systemic, change management, Pre-Sales steps that have no relevance to, but precede, buying anything);
  • doesn’t sort for differences between someone who is strategically en route to becoming a buyer vs someone you’ve determined SHOULD buy and has a 95% chance of NOT buying;
  • uses tools to pushpushpush what YOU want to sell (into a prospect’s private, personal, closed system of cultural norms and givens that outsiders aren’t part of), and closing merely 5%;

and restricts you from finding those who WILL close, aren’t quite ready, and could use your help efficiently getting there. The confusing part for sellers is that these folks – these real, potential buyers – are off your screen: they aren’t buyers, aren’t seeking a solution, haven’t determined they want to buy anything yet, haven’t yet fully determined the scope of their need, aren’t attracted by your content.

And therein lies the rub: before people become buyers they merely want to resolve a problem in the most efficacious way and their route to competence is initially not directly related to what you’re selling. Before people become buyers, before there is a sales opportunity, they must first conclude there is absolutely no route to resolving their problems with known resources AND have a route through to congruent change – internal adoption, buy-in, Systems Congruence, and change management. The last thing they want to do is go outside their system to buy anything – they never start out as buyers until they run out of options to fix a problem themselves. By putting on a wholly different hat, we can find and facilitate the ones who will BECOME buyers and vastly increase our pool of opportunities. But we can’t use a ‘sales’ hat to find them.

CHANGE MANAGEMENT PRECEDES BUYING

A buying decision is a change management problem first before it’s needs- solution-based. Buyers are merely people who have gotten to the point in their change management procedures when an external solution (i.e. making a purchase) is their only viable alternative to Excellence. The fact that people have a ‘need’ that your solution can resolve does NOT mean they are, or will ever be, ready, willing, or able to buy. There is a 95% chance that those who seem like buyers aren’t buyers at the point where your content finds them. And sadly, your content won’t get them there: they won’t even notice it because they’re not yet looking for it even though they may eventually seek it.

It’s possible to shift the ‘opportunity’ criteria to people who WILL be buyers but aren’t ones yet – and know how to recognize real buyers from ‘tire kickers’ on the first contact; there are far easier entry points into a buyer/seller dialogue than what might seem to the outsider like a ‘need’.

Before becoming a buyer, or having a fully defined need, people traverse a specific path (I’ve spent decades coding and defining, training and testing, the 13 steps in a buying decision path, as explained in www.dirtylittlesecretsbook.com) between recognizing a problem, assembling the proper stakeholders to buy-in, managing any negative consequences of change, and deciding to make a purchase; they become buyers only at step 10 once they agree that making a purchase is their best option.

In other words, there are 9 non-buying change management (Pre-Sales) steps people take as they figure out how to congruently solve their problem and manage the change an external factor will cause. Using a Change Facilitation lens, with a bias toward the steps of congruent change, we can enter earlier to efficiently facilitate real prospective buyers and be part of their system as they begin the buying process. It’s possible to expand your criteria and tool kit to connect along different stages of the decision journey and recognize/facilitate exactly who WILL become buyers but aren’t there yet. But your initial focus must be systemic change, not selling. Different questions, different listening.

Using ‘need’ and ‘solution placement’ criteria, the only way to attract an opportunity is to find those relative few who have gotten to the point of recognizing they cannot resolve their own problem. Until then, they cannot buy: they haven’t fully defined a ‘need’, don’t have their full Buying Decision Team (BDT) in place, haven’t gotten buy-in, and aren’t actively seeking to buy anything. Selling is tactical: buying is strategic.

WHO IS A BUYER?

Think along with me for a moment. A person or group doesn’t become a buyer unless they’ve determined they cannot fix their problem themselves with familiar resources AND they are set up (environment, culture, technology, implementation, buy-in) to manage any fallout from having a foreign element (a purchase) enter their system. Maintaining Systems Congruence is vital; the last thing, literally, that a person wants is to buy anything due to the possibility of disrupting their status quo that is functioning ‘well-enough’. Indeed until they

  • have a plan to manage their strategic, idiosyncratic, private activities and are convinced they will end up with Systems Congruence;
  • have assembled their full complement of stakeholders and understand their full complement of buy-in and change issues (including ‘need’);
  • are congruently ready to seek purchasing options;

they’re only ‘people’ meandering through a confounding route to Excellence, facing political issues, personnel/personal issues, buy-in issues, tech integration issues, etc. They’re not buyers regardless of what you consider to be an ‘opportunity’, how many appointments you make, or how well the folks like you. And the way sales is implemented and biased toward solution placement, the questions posed, the answers sought, you’re only seeking and attracting those who have already reached step 10 and consider themselves buyers.

What’s the difference between an ‘opportunity’ and one that’s NOT an opportunity?

  1. There’s no opportunity to place a solution with a prospect until they’vea. fully assembled their entire BDT including ‘Joe’ in the back office who you never get to speak with but who’s a huge influencer,
    b. tried workarounds to fix the problem themselves with familiar resources,
    c. fully recognized the change management issues that would potentially cause a breakdown should they bring anything in (buy something) without appropriate change management and
    d. determined that the cost of a purchase is less than continuing their status quo.
  1. With a bias toward placing a solution, you try to ‘get in’, ‘find a need’ and ‘have a relationship’  based on your desire to sell, gathering biased, wrong or incomplete data, leading to false assumptions of Buyer Readiness. Until they’re buyers, they haven’t fully defined their need or what it would take to fix (although BDT members might research your solution or reach out to you to gain knowledge).
  2. When you make an appointment to ‘begin a relationship’ and the full BDT is not present, you are neither connecting nor starting a relationship. What portion of the BDT does the person you’re meeting with represent? Where are they along their decision path? How do you know the rest of the full BDT agrees with that assessment?  How will they use, or convey, the data you present? Are you pitching what THEY need to hear to address their internal change problems?
  3. Until the prospects recognize they cannot fix their problem with known resources AND have a strategic plan to implement any necessary change that a new solution might cause (even for a cheap, or personal, or small, item), they’re not buyers. Just because you think there’s a need doesn’t mean they will end up buying anything.
  4. On route to fixing a problem with known resources, people often have a plethora of choices that you’re not familiar with that may provide them with a congruent outcome that does NOT include a purchase. I can’t say this enough; the last thing people need is to bring in an unfamiliar vendor/product: the cost of disruption may not be worth the price of a fix.

Your identification of an ‘opportunity’ is currently based on your biases, assumptions, conversations with a fraction of the full BDT, assessments, research, etc. based on the fit that YOU perceive between what YOU’VE determined (or that one outlier from the BDT) they need – and your solution. What you think is an opportunity most likely isn’t. Otherwise you’d be closing more than 5%. Data collected from my control groups when I train show it’s possible to close about 5X more than you’re closing now by entering earlier along their change path and using a Change Facilitation skill first. More on this in a moment.

WHAT AN OPPORTUNITY SOUNDS LIKE

Here’s what you’ll hear when there is a real opportunity (and yes, even on the first call, using a Change Facilitation skill set focus):

  1. All stakeholders are on board already. When you speak with someone who still needs approval, or hasn’t assembled the full complement of stakeholders yet (and even your prospects often don’t know the full complement of stakeholders). Note to sellers: you cannot ask someone specifically if their BDT is fully on board – they won’t know , and can’t offer, an accurate answer until near the end of their journey. But you can help them assemble the right people quickly – just not with the sales model. They always forget ‘Joe’ and HR, for example, and then must go back to the beginning;
  2. All change management elements are recognized with a plan to move forward. I.e.: the users are developing their criteria for a new piece of software, and the techies have a specific integration and implementation plan; participants for a training program are ready to interview you to see if you meet their criteria, etc. In other words, they’re aware of their stumbling points and are already in the process of handling them;
  3. The prospect wants to set up a meeting with you and the rest of the Buying Decision Team to discuss their expectations and criteria for choosing you.

When you make an appointment with only one or two people you don’t have a real opportunity. If the person you’re speaking with thinks s/he has a need but hasn’t gotten team buy-in yet, or doesn’t know the complete set of potential disruptors that need managing, there’s no opportunity. If your prospect is going to take your information back to the boss/manager, there’s no opportunity. If a prospect calls you for information, there’s most likely no opportunity (although you can use this time to begin the Change Facilitation process).

I don’t consider a 95% failure rate success; you’ve just convinced yourself that this is the way it is for your industry. Let’s change it to be more successful. Instead of running after people once they become buyers, why not find those who are already en route to buying, use a different focus and new skill set such as Buying Facilitation® (the model I’ve developed to handle Pre-Sales Change Facilitation) or some change management tool to enter earlier in their change/decision journey, quickly facilitate them through their change, and THEN sell.

It’s not rocket science. You’re current selling/solution-placement modality restricts you to fighting for those who have defined themselves as buyers. People really need help determining how to change congruently. But the time it takes them to do so is the length of the sales cycle. You’re wasting your time chasing the 5% and ignoring the 80% of prospective buyers who WILL buy within two years of connecting with you but can’t until they’ve got their ducks in a row. But you can hasten their journey by first becoming Neutral Navigators doing a Change Facilitation process and THEN wear a ‘seller’ hat. Then you’ll stop wasting time and resource with those who aren’t buyers and truly serve those who WILL buy become buyers much quicker. But no amount of content, relationship, or Opportunity Management will force those who aren’t, or who will never be, ready. You’re waiting while people do this anyway. Help them. Close more. And have more opportunities to manage.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is the developer of a Change Facilitation model used in sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, healthcare, and management. She’s been running Buying Facilitation® and How Buyers Buy training programs in global corporations since 1985. She is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell,and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew has trained over 100,000 sales people globally, and is currently running Listening programs to facilitate unbiased listening. Her blog is consistently ranked in the top 10 of all sales/marketing blogs. Sharon Drew is considered an original thinker and thought leader, doing keynotes, coaching, and consulting to enable servant leader skills. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

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