Even after you’ve convinced your prospects that they would benefit from your product or service, that yours is superior to your competitor’s, and that the price is acceptable, salespeople often face a final barrier that might be articulated this way: “We’ll definitely place an order, but now’s not the right time.”
In this situation, salespeople often find themselves reiterating, in vain, the same benefits they already explained earlier. What many find more effective is helping the prospect understand the unique problem created by waiting. DataServ’s Tiffany Lopez offers an instructive example.
In late 2013, Tiffany closed a sale with a prospect she’d been working with for almost two years—or so she thought. They agreed to buy DataServ’s accounts payable software solution, but they didn’t want to begin implementation until March. They explained that December and January were very busy months for the payables department when they’re closing the books, and February is audit season. So March would be the earliest the A/P staff would be freed up for an installation project like this. “Come back in January and we’ll sign all the paper- work, and then start work in March,” they said.
January came, and Tiffany called the client. And called. And called. No response. Then she figured out why. She saw a news report that the company had just announced an acquisition of one of their competitors and were beginning work immediately to consolidate the new company. She knew what that meant. As she explains, “Typically in an acquisition, the acquiring company takes over the accounts payables for the acquired company. That means they might double the volume of payments they have to make, but with the same staffing. Plus, there’s a big one-time effort needed to set all those new vendors up in their A/P system.”
That’s why Tiffany’s calls weren’t getting returned. They were swamped, working overtime on nights and weekends to keep up. In fact, to make matters worse, she found out that one of their key A/P managers had quit in the middle of it all, probably as a result of her excessive workload. That just increased the burden on the remaining staff. They had to hire more than one person to replace her, and training them was a job in itself. It’s a vicious cycle Tiffany has seen before. Workload goes up, morale goes down, people quit, so workload goes up, etc.
When Tiffany finally heard from her client, it was no surprise that they couldn’t even begin to consider taking on the implementation of the new A/P software now. They were just too busy and had no relief in sight.
The unfortunate and ironic thing about this story is that if they’d implemented Tiffany’s solution when they originally discussed it the previous year, they’d be in a much better position now. The new system is much more efficient than their current system, so when the acquisition happened, they wouldn’t have had to put in nearly as much overtime to keep up. That meant their best A/P manager might not have quit, which also meant they wouldn’t have had to hire and train any new people. Delaying was a decision they were certainly regretting now.
Tiffany shares this story with prospects when they start to drag their feet. It creates exactly the sense of urgency you might expect it to, and not just for prospects that see an acquisition looming in their future. They know that any unexpected project that drops in their lap can result in the same series of unfortunate events, and that they’ll be happier if they install the new system now and not wait.
Whatever your product or service is, there’s likely a similar example of the unfortunate consequences of delay for the buyer. Find it, and create your own “sense of urgency” story.
[You can find this and dozens of other examples and lessons on storytelling in sales in my book, Sell with a Story.]
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story, Parenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.
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