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January 24, 2013   Posted by: Dale Underwood

B2B Selling, How to handle "I’m not ready to talk to sales yet" (Part 2)


handsoverearsIn my last post B2B Selling – How to handle “I’m not ready to talk to sales yet” – Part 1 we talked about asking a compelling question to quickly qualify and engage a new prospect. Our intent is to quickly establish trust and begin our process of influencing the end-user’s decision criteria to favor our solution.

For those who have not read the post, here’s where we left off:

First, the initial follow-up should ask the Golden Question – via Phone or Email

“Mr./Ms. Prospect,
I completely understand you are in the early stages of your project so may I ask you a question (builds curiosity)?

Have you defined the requirements for your SAN Storage project, or no?

If not, I’d be happy to send you our “Top 20 Customer Requirements for a SAN Storage Solution”. This list was compiled from dozens of our storage customers and could be a starting point for your project.

I’d be happy to send you an electronic version to use however you wish, just reply with “send me the requirements doc” and I’ll get it out to you, no strings attached. Then, you can contact me when you are ready.

Thank you for your interest.


Top Sales Guy”


At the end of the post (after asking the Golden question) I mentioned that you should be prepared to send a “Top 20 Customer Requirements” document to help set the decision criteria. I offered to provide an example document in both Request for Proposal (RFP) and Request for Information (RFI) form. As promised, The RFP version can be found below.

First, some background.

I’ve spent the majority of a 15 year B2B selling career providing technology solutions to large companies and the US Federal Government. In that complex sale environment, you are usually working over a 6-24 month process that includes project awareness, criteria definition, budgeting, procurement and implementation. It is a long, long process with big risks – and big rewards for those willing to work smart and patiently.

Various groups are involved in the decision making process including End-Users (the ultimate customer), Executive decision makers and Procurement Specialists (professional buyers). And don’t forget your competition will be trying their best to displace your solution with theirs.

The key to winning a complex deal with this many people involved is to engage with the end-users early and define the decision criteria so that as others become involved they are less likely to derail your proposal. That is the whole purpose of this post is to outline how you can help your customer create the documents THEY need to sell your solution internally and keep it on track through procurement.

Customers will never understand your value proposition like you do so stop expecting them to.

Most marketing and sales people understand their product’s value proposition well. Where the process falls apart is that we expect our end-user customers to digest our marketing materials (whitepapers, webinars, demos, etc.) and understand it just as well as us. Unfortunately, they don’t. It’s not that they don’t have the capacity to understand it, it is just that your project is likely only a small part of what they do. To coin a recent phrase, “they’re just not that into you”.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Let’s say that your company sells high-end computer related hardware and/or software. You have developed a new product called the NetMaster 5000 and it is a network security appliance that plugs into a corporate network infrastructure.

How does your current marketing material present the NetMaster 5000? Does your material talk all about how the NetMaster 5000 finally puts you in control of your network usage? Compare the following 2 statements and tell me which you think helps a potential customer more:

“The NetMaster 5000 is a state-of-the-art network monitoring device with packet-level inspection capabilities.”>

or this one….

“The network monitoring device we choose must be capable of packet-level inspection so we can filter embedded virus transmissions.”

The second statement is much stronger and easier to defend from the customer’s perspective. It does not name a specific product, but rather, a required feature of whatever product is chosen. If you analyze your existing customer base and competition then you can probably create a Top 20 Customer Requirements List that will essentially lock in your solution.

This approach relies on a couple of things to work. First, your product or service must be a reasonable fit for what the potential customer is trying to solve. Second, you need to honestly analyze what reasons were important for your current customers; don’t make up requirements. Third, be careful not to make the list so restrictive that no other products can fit into the project. End users know that they have options so don’t make it too one sided. The goal here is to present your strongest features as important.

It’s not just features that matter.

When putting together your document, analyze and summarize all the reasons your current customers purchased your solution, including technical and financial. Do you provide more value over 5 years than your competition? If so, then build-in a statement that says “Each potential vendor must provide cost projections for a minimum of 5 years.” Checkmate.

I’ve prepared a sample document to handle 2 different customer situations. The first is for a customer that wants to define their requirements without the aid of outside vendors (Request for Proposal or RFP). The second format is known as a “Request for Information” or RFI for short. It has a slightly different format because the potential customer is asking vendors to describe how their solution solves a specific problem.

Revisiting our original example above and adding an RFI format, we now have 3 ways to present our information.

From the typical marketer’s point of view:

“The NetMaster 5000 is a state-of-the-art network monitoring device with packet-level inspection capabilities…blah, blah, blah”

From the RFP writer’s point of view:

“The network monitoring device we choose must be capable of packet-level inspection so we can filter embedded virus transmissions.”

From the RFI writer’s point of view:

“Please describe how your solution filters embedded virus transmissions.”

Now that you see how simply rephrasing your competitive features into something a potential customer can use will help you, let’s tie it all together.

When a new B2B lead converts and you send the initial follow-up email stating that you have a “Top 20 Customer Requirements” list that you would be happy to share with them, be ready. They will ask for it.

When the prospect asks for the document, have your sales team send your version of this:

Top 20 Customer Requirements for a SAN Storage Solution (RFP Version). If you need an RFI version you can simply modify the requirements by substituting “Describe how your solution…” for each bulleted item.

Once the document has been sent, it is up to the sales team to follow-up and firm up the requirements, not marketing. Whether the prospect is considered short term or not, marketing should proceed with it’s nurturing processes to help move the deal along.

I know this process seems very specific and I intended it to be so because to win large, complex deals takes focused action. If your company fits the profile of selling complex products and/or services but does not have a document like the sample above, it should be on your short list of things to do. Meet with your trusted sales contacts in your organization and collaborate on this document. It will pay off.

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