Mind the Gap: Build a Roadmap

I love driving on scenic winding roads, the type of roads that have squiggly line signs and ‘slow down’ warnings. I have even bested the hairpin turns of the formidable Tail of the Dragon…and Utah’s Highway 12…

My love for winding roads and backcountry byways is the unexpected vistas and stunning mountain views you get via The Blue Ridge Parkway or a state scenic route. The destination may be the same, but the route is more interesting.

While, winding scenic roads with detours and pit stops may be perfect for driving The Blue Ridge Mountains – it is a bit of a nightmare for sales professionals.

We like to order our deal cycle from start to finish…Step 1 – discovery, Step 2- demo, Step-3 Contract Negotiations, Step 4-Close

In theory the road from lead to a successful deal should be that easy – if you follow the right steps and build a good roadmap…

That is why we use methodologies like BANT, MEDDIC, BNAPR and my FOCUS on How to get you from point a to b.

That being said, each deal is unique and subject to unexpected speed bumps, detours and road closures that impede your ability to close a deal.

As I was driving the mountain roads of Georgia, en route to a team event in Atlanta, I realized my GPS went out. I had a map in the backseat, but I was on a random road (a GPS shortcut) and very confused about my location. My first instinct was to pull over and review the map, I started driving east towards a connector road in hopes it would get me to a major highway and signs for Atlanta. I felt relief as I saw a sign for Atlanta and made a turn. I quickly realized, that while the sign said ‘This way to Atlanta’ – the route was filled with road construction and additional detours that at times made me feel as though I’d never reach my destination.

Do you ever feel like is in your sales process – the constant roller coaster of ups and downs from successful demo to a client ghosting you? Add in pressures about quarterly attainment and monthly quotas – we can quickly get overwhelmed as we drive our sales process forward.

As I meandered the backroads of Georgia, I found parallels between a road trip and a sales cycle…

We start with an end goal in mind and assume that if we follow the steps we’ll get to the final destination in x amount of time.

We do need a plan (a method) for tracking and moving deals forward, but we also need to be attentive drivers. Working with a customer to implement technology is not a straight highway – it is a winding mountain road with twists and turns. The good news if you pay attention and stay agile in the moment, focusing on how to navigate changes, without changing your end destination – you will get to the purchase order.

We can prepare for twists and turns by shifting gears without changing the end destination:

When you are driving a winding road, you shift to lower gear and don’t accelerate beyond the speed limit, because if you do then you will crash. Be mindful of the client’s expectations and timeline. Do they actually have budget to get them to the end of the road – or are they going to run out of gas? Who is the champion? Is the decision maker involved early on, or are you going to have to hit the brakes late in the sales cycle and dangle from an unexpected cliff because you didn’t have a path to power.

Focus on HOW is a method that keeps you agile throughout the sales process so you can anticipate the next turn, but are also fully in the moment so you can shift gears and manage the deal with each mile.

It starts with WHY: if a decision maker is not involved in the process as you begin to reveal pricing – WHY? What is the motivation? Are the champions truly able to sell up the chain to convince the DM to sign the PO? Figuring out the overarching ‘why’ of the project builds your a to b, but also focusing on ‘the why’ in the moment helps you to anticipate roadblocks and navigate switchbacks on the deal highway.

Make data driven decisions: Driving a mountain road, you find a rhythm of going with the flow, but also being very vigilant in handling the road. You don’t simply accelerate on a whim – you strategize in the moment so you can maneuver every bend and break effortlessly.

Data Driven – don’t be afraid to ask for transparency about the clients perspective. They may originally have said that they planned to ‘go live’ in January, but given some supply chain issues they now are pushing their start date to March. As sales professionals it stings to ask the tough questions and look for the data, especially if it doesn’t align with our perfect close date – but you need to be aware of all the data and real time insights in the deal to ensure you and the customer are on the same page. This can allow you to drive strategic urgency and also slow the pace as needed to better align with your customer’s timeline.

Focus on HOW you can respond to the deal in the moment, while still driving towards the end destination (closed/won).

Discovery is not something that ends on the first ‘disco call’ – it is necessary to continue to probe and qualifying throughout the sales cycle – not with repeat questions, but rather meaningful questions geared to better understanding if the original insights still align after deeper discovery and ensuring that you and the customer have a firm mutual success plan.

Closing the Loop: A mutual success plan or Discovery Agreement are critical from the early stages of a deal to ensure that you and the customer are aligned on BANT, and the end goal – working to implement the project in a way that benefits the client and closes new business for your company. Mutual success plans hold you both accountable to ensuring transparency in the path to PO

Ex: While I figured out a way to Atlanta without my GPS, if I had simply downloaded the directions via Google Maps before my adventure, I wouldn’t have gotten off course. The offline map would have continued to guide me without hassles and detours. A Mutual Success Plan does the same thing – it ensures that if details change in the deal (say a close date), you can refer to your discovery agreement to prevent unnecessary roadblocks. “In our mutual success plan you said that your company wants this launch to go live in January to ensure you can streamline your renewals process – why are you suddenly wanting to push this to Q2?” – the close date may still change, but you and your client are both held accountable to timeline and implementation, etc…

Distractions on the long winding road to PO:

It is important to be mindful of where you are in the process…mind the gap of what you need to do to get to the PO. Don’t assume that you have a done deal simply because the CEO liked a feature. Why did they like that feature? What gap does it fill? What value is bringing to their table. Is it a nice to have (that’s cool) or a need to have to transforming their business and yield ROI.

When working with multiple decision makers and champions we can often get into the weeds and go on a wild goose chase trying to get answers for questions that are not relevant to the final decision making process. Always qualify – why? How would this be helpful? I know that I spent two weeks getting compliance documentations for a champion thinking it would convince the CEO to purchase, but the DM cared more about integration with their ERP system.

Don’t let one thorn prevent you from seeing the rosebush. This may sound a bit cliche, but it is easy to get distracted and frustrated when we have a gatekeeper, false champion or board member who piles on a mountain of pressure and objections right before the deal closes. Don’t panic! Instead mind the gap and focus on what you can control to get the deal back on track and answer their objections.

  • A pro tip here is to always do a service close on the deeper discovery call and demo (outside of cost, does this meet your requirements) – this will not always nip every last minute objection in the bud, but it will help to offset last minute ‘distraction objections’ that delay you and your customer from transforming their business.

The past week, I’ve been traveling on the road and I realize that we need to constantly be mindful of our surroundings and the gap to hit our quota, but we also need to be able to tune out the roadside distractions and focus on the road. Focus on the immediate road again, but also ensure that you are mindful of your destination. Agility and the ability to tune into the moment without being paralyzed by unexpected roadblocks will ensure you are able to navigate the winding deal cycle with agility and strategic perseverance.

Quick note:

The technology world feels like a winding rollercoaster to the top of Mt. Vesuvius the past few weeks. While we all can mentally reign ourselves in and focus on how to prepare and respond to shifts in the business, it is also extremely dizzying.

Remember it is okay to take a moment to breathe. Sometimes we have to recognize our original path and destination (career, promotion to new role, etc…) might have to completely change because that road is closed. It’s okay – you have a right to be stressed, but mind the gap – recognized you can get over this rough patch and God always has a better plan ahead. The key is to stay in the moment, but not be controlled by the moment. This upheaval will not determine the final outcome and if anything it is just rerouting you to a longterm future success that you might not have otherwise explored.

Thanks again for following – I’m in the field, cold calling and meeting with clients every day…I am always learning and love to hear your feedback.

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