I was at a conference a year or so ago and got talking with a VP of Sales at a quickly growing marketing software company. We were talking about sales strategy in general and she told me something I immediately took on board: The importance of risk management when selling. It was one of the most significant ‘off the cuff’ pieces of advice I have ever received.
The interesting point that she made was that risk isn’t just about your exposure as you try to sell a product and invest a lot of time, effort and cash into it. Risk is about the buyer not wanting to make a risky decision that will negatively impact his or her career. If you can make that decision less risky, your chances of getting a positive decision greatly increases.
So I looked back at a lot of the deals in my career that didn’t go my way. Some of the time we hadn’t done our research well enough and the product I was offering probably was not the best fit. But some of the time the product absolutely solved a problem the buyer was experiencing, the problem was on the buyer’s list of objectives to resolve for that year and budget existed. But for some reason the decision didn’t go our way and the buyer decided not to move forward with our approach to the problem.
So I went back and asked: why? As enough time had passed and frequently the main buyer had moved on, there was little reason to be shy. An answer that came back a lot was some derivative of ‘I just thought it was too risky’.
There are risks in any business decision and buyers have to take them every day. They also have to balance the risk of something going wrong with the deal or the product against the risk of not doing anything at all. Where you can make a real difference is making it easy for them to spread that risk around their organisation. That way if something does go wrong, the finger won’t be completely pointed at them. So engage more stakeholders early on and spread that risk. Engage secondary stakeholders who hold the keys to various phases of the buying journey as soon as possible so that when your primary buyer sticks his head above the wall and says ‘we should do this’, he isn’t met with resistance. Just make it as risk free as you can and you’ll see more decisions go your way.