Get into Your Customers Next Years Budget Now
Right now you may be in one of these two situations:
- One of your prospects has no budget left for this year. You have tried every tactic you know to get them to reallocate money from another project over to where you could provide a solution to a challenge they`ve been facing for a while. Time is running out.
- Your customer has no budget left for this year. They can`t tell you what the situation will be on January 1, but you see an opportunity to sell your product. You sketch out a plan...
...Several weeks later, you get the word from your trainer who works for the real buyer. The budget item has been approved for 2006. You still have work to do, but the path to an order is clear.
Here are some key strategies that will enable you to position yourself properly. Planning and execution will get you there.
First, Free Up the Time
The first thing to do is to allocate a portion of the time remaining in the year to working on securing a place in your customer`s next term budget. Although you still have numbers to deliver this year, you must discern which of the deals in your pipeline to pursue now, versus which you should no longer focus on in order to to free up that time.
Here are some questions to ask to see where you stand in deals for this year:
- Are you still planning to invest in this piece of equipment before the end of the year?
- What happens if you don`t?
- Is the funding still in place?
- If those funds were to be re-allocated to something else, what might that be?
- Is there anything else going on in your company that might distract management from going forward with this purchase as planned?
- Has anything changed in the importance of this purchase during the last month?
- Has anything changed in the buying process?
- Would you tell me again, what your buying criteria are in order of importance?
- If you had to make a decision right now, which supplier would you choose?
There are more questions to ask, of course. But what you need to do is focus more thought, effort, and resources on the deals that are winnable. Spend less effort on those that will not happen this year.
The most important thing to do is to unemotionally flush the deals from your pipeline that you can`t win or that aren`t any longer real opportunities. (Maybe they never were in the first place.) If you don`t go through this exercise, you won`t have time to do what it will take to get into your customers` next year`s budgets.
What is Your Customer`s Plan for Next Year?
Your customer`s goals, objectives and strategies may have changed for the remainder of this year due any number of internal or external circumstances. That`s why you may be looking at a pipeline with inactive opportunities.
But what about next year? If you are working within a department, business unit, agency, or division, find out where they are in their planning and budgeting cycle.
- What are their goals, objectives and the strategies to achieve them for next year?
- Are they the same as this year? If not, do you have any customers that you could reference who have accomplished what your prospect is attempting to do?
- How can your product or service specifically contribute to their getting the job done and by how much?
- What are their Critical Success Factors and how can you and your offering assure your customer that those CSFs will be attained?
- Have you already built relationships with managers who are responsible for some component of the overall corporate business plan and budget and do they believe you can help them build the part of the plan where your product or service will deliver the most value? If so, now may be exactly when you bring in your domain experts, consultants and professional services people. Again, be careful before you expend those resources, but this may be a way to lock yourself in for next year.
Find That Budget Holder
From whose budget will the investment in your product or service come? That person may not be making the technical recommendation or decision, but they are the one you need to make contact with in order to set the plan in motion.
Your best tool is an organization chart. When you uncover an initiative, see a need, or strategically create customer demand, look at the org chart and find the likely budget holder. That`s the person who will be paying for your product and getting the value from it as well.
Ideally you`ll want to build you relationship with the budget holder, but that isn`t always possible. You will want to stay in touch however, briefing them regularly, and making sure that they know that first on your mind is helping them meet their plans and objectives for next year.
You`ll need to find creative, value-laden ways to get in front of budget holders, key buyers, decision makers and business managers. It`s a lot easier to get a meeting now with a real buyer than when an evaluation is underway next year.
- Employ Webinars or individual web-based discussions/presentations.
- Go to investor and industry conferences where you can not only meet your customers` CEOs face-to-face, but also get to hear them describe their own industry, companies, the challenges they are facing, and the strategies they will employ going forward.
- Visit existing customers and get referrals and introductions to people who hold the budgets and make the buying decisions in your prospects` companies.
- Get people within their company to introduce you.
- Cold call them succinctly stating their issues as you see them and your value proposition.
Wiring Next Year`s Deal
Best-in-class sales organizations invest the time perfecting an RFP foundation document that they will provide certain key prospects so those prospects can better define their requirements for future purchases. Needless to say, those "sample RFPs" include unique value and capabilities that the supplier can deliver, along with a recommended, proven process for a customer evaluation.
This isn`t new. I learned about this the hard way years ago when a competitor of mine gave their prospects (who were often mine as well) a compelling, content-rich "Requirements Definition Manual with Examples" document. When a prospect finally showed me a copy, I was floored. Opportunity missed. Lesson learned.
The challenge for you, if you don`t already have a tool like this to help lock in requirements and a budget, is to get one or, if you have no resources at hand, create one yourself. It`s busy work, not requiring a great deal of creativity. You take a handful of RFPs that you have received and
- Merge the questions together by category
- Add in the unique capabilities that you have
- Remove questions that relate to capabilities you don`t have and don`t believe are critical for many or most customers
- Get someone--in marketing, your cousin, or a professional--to do this up in a very professional stylized format.
Pros who win the big deals create a custom document like this for potential clients. They focus in on capabilities that they know the customer will need and they they uniquely provide.
The point here is to get your stuff into your prospect`s hands now, when their thoughts are being formulated, and biases aren`t yet in place.
There is no better time than right now to select a customer or two and begin setting their agenda for next year`s evaluation.
Q & A
Here are two questions that salesreps pose with my responses:
Q: How do I know if my prospect is just blowing me off, or if they really do have the money?
A: Here are some indicators of probable funding:
- A history of them buying what you`re selling, from you or someone else.
- Being told by a real buyer that the funds are there, and having that confirmed by another executive.
- Having someone who holds budget confirm that they see a solid linkage between your product or service and a key initiative of theirs.
- A team has been formed around the evaluation, purchase, or use of this purchase.
Q: How do I get my product or service positioned as a higher priority?
A: There is really only one way to do that: Work with your customer until they are convinced that investing in your product/service will get them closer to achieving their goals and objectives than investing in something else.
Winners talk a lot about controlling deals, influencing customer buying processes, and grabbing mindshare. If you want to get your product or service into your customers` next term budget, you`ve got to start now--even with everything that`s on your plate. Tomorrow is too late.
Dave Stein, Author of How Winners Sell