What is the number one question I get in my mentoring sessions with salespeople?
“So I sent out the quote, and then my prospect goes radio silent. What happened?”
It does not matter whether it is a younger sales rep just starting out or a seasoned veteran. We all have experienced this. Why do hot prospects all of a sudden go cold?
The first time this happened to me was with one of my existing customers. It was my first job in sales, so when the customer called up wanting to learn more about our new product and get a quote, I obliged. I heard nothing back, so I called a few days after, then sent an email, and went through the same cycle over the course of several weeks.
My boss was making a swing out to the remote offices, so I brought up the case of the missing customer. Without looking up from his forecasting spreadsheets, he grumbled, “You were column fodder.” Sure enough, a month later I discovered they had gone with a competing product.
What was the lesson I took from this episode? When a prospect is calling you out of the blue to request a quote, you already lost the deal.
There are ways you can fight your way out of column fodder territory. You can certainly duke it out if you deem the business is worth fighting for. However I am more of a prevention guy, and it is way easier to win when you put yourself in the driver’s seat well before a deal is ever on the table. So let’s talk about avoiding these situations altogether.
There are two reasons why you get a request for a quote that then goes cold. The first is what I mentioned before, you are column fodder. That simply means you are filler in a competitive matrix used to justify the decision to proceed with another provider. The second reason is that a prospect is fishing for information but has no actual project. Often this happens because they have a need, but no urgency to solve it immediately.
If we dig more into “column fodder”, most assume that it is driven by procurement groups going price shopping. In reality, there are a host of reasons often driven by the need for companies and managers to cover the bases. No one wants to be exposed if a decision goes wrong. Adding a few vendors at the end of the buying process shows some evidence of due diligence and optionality in the event something goes badly with the chosen provider.
It is more often the case that there is no actual deal in play. That is when the quote request is exploratory. You are engaging with the proverbial tire kicker. We view this negatively because we think we just wasted our time. On the contrary, this is the best situation to be in because you can influence the deal before anyone else and then identify opportunities that shifts your prospect from exploring to buying mode.
There are three tactical ways to stay engaged so you do not get shut out in the cold:
Create a series of mini-commitments – These are small agreements to encourage your prospect to dedicate time and thought to the problem. You create these commitments by making small “asks” of the prospect; posing open ended questions, request that they invite their colleagues into the conversation, completing a document or worksheet, etc. Another common tactic is to schedule and send calendar invites for the next meeting before concluding the previous conversation. This is particularly effective when it comes to follow up calls after a quote is sent.
Build your credibility by engaging with value – You have little to no credibility with your prospect early on in the buying cycle, you are just another salesperson. You change this perception by providing relevant content, proposing useful introductions, and being someone that appears credible through your professional brand. Many buyers review profiles of sales reps online before engaging, so if you position yourself as being an expert in your field and industry, you build credibility with your prospects.
Broaden your engagement reach – The danger in any deal is relying too heavily on one contact. This leaves you exposed because you have no visibility into the organization other than through one relationship. You need to carefully expand your outreach to other influencers and departments without alienating your initial contact. You can do this by calling high into the organization from the beginning and introduced to the right people. Another approach is to explicitly ask your contact to invite their peers and managers by asking who else would need to be involved or would be affected by the new solution. This opens the door to other influences and decision makers.
At this point, you might ask how do I know if I am column fodder or not? You have to be willing to directly ask the question. This is where your qualification process matters. You begin to understand how far along the prospect is in their evaluation process or if there is even a process to begin with.
Do not be circumspect or hesitant in your qualification! Remember, you need to know as much about the prospect’s situation as they need to know about your product. Most people will answer willingly. Some may be cagey and hold their cards close to the vest. Whatever the case, you always reserve the right to walk away, and it behooves you to make that known to your prospect in a non-confrontational way if the flow of information is inadequate.
Be careful before you send that quote. Work with the perspective that the prospect will not get back to you and ensure you have a process to methodically engage your buyer in thoughtful ways. Be specific in your requests and in your qualification and never just assume things if you are unsure about something. It is critical to understand where in the buying cycle a prospect is, otherwise you are wasting the most important resource you have as a salesperson; your time.
As for being column fodder, it means the game is already set. But the game is not finished! The competitive positioning is in place, the rules of engagement established, and internal support has been built. The prospect is already invested in someone else. Because this route to the deal can get very complex and ugly, I will dig into how to increase your winning percentage in these situations in the next post.
Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum
Quick reminder that the Enterprise Sales Forum talks on Clubhouse have launched on our regular 5 PM ET / 2 PM PT schedule. We had a great discussion on biggest B2B challenges and will be talking about writing skills and working with your champion next week. This Friday will be about selling at startups. Come join us 👋
Also connect with me on the app for alert on new talks we will host. I realize that not every one has access, but if you have an iOS device, I will gladly send you an invite to join. And for Android users, good news is that Android is coming in May.
I am also looking for co-hosts to join me on the show. If you love to talk about sales and enjoy the Clubhouse experience, let’s talk! I am in the process of bringing on new chapter leaders for our city chapters globally, so this is an easy way to experience how the Enterprise Sales Forum works and help your colleagues!
The Enterprise Sales Forum is a professional community championing the practice of sales through monthly sales talks at chapters globally. Our chapters provide an open, collaborative and diverse environment to share new ideas, network and learn actionable insights for professional sales development.