In previous posts, we’ve explored the reality of significant uncertainty today in any complex B2B sale, such as “What Is Causing Uncertainty?”. As we’ve discussed, we will almost never have perfect information – and, in truth, we can’t have perfect information. This would require all of the customer’s buying influencers to be perfectly aligned on the outcomes they want to achieve and to basically be experts in what they are buying – meaning they can easily “connect the dots” between those desired outcomes and the best solution to deliver them. Think of the risk we’re taking on!
Add to that, the dynamic of being “sold to.” How many of us can’t wait for another telemarketing call during dinner when we are at home? How many of us appreciate hard sell tactics when we are at the car dealership or shopping for a major appliance? I would bet not too many (my experience is salespeople as some of the hardest to sell to – just saying). Don’t we all want to feel we are making an informed decision? Aren’t we more willing to part with our money when we get to participate in the buying decision? And yet, too often we act like these aren’t important considerations to our B2B customers. The inevitable result is lower conversion rates and extended sales cycles with a heavy emphasis on price/discounts.
When we give a customer our proposal with one option, we are essentially telling them here is the best answer for you. If you care to read it, we will tell you why we are the best solution. Furthermore, if you flip back to the pricing we will tell you what you’ll pay for it. With all the uncertainty inherent in any B2B sale, how can we be so sure we have the right answer? Are we sure that nothing has changed over an extended 4 to 6 month sales campaign?
Often, the result is the customer feels they are being sold to versus being afforded the opportunity to buy. As a result, aren’t we forcing them to make a choice between our offer and their most likely alternative? Instead, what if we let the customer have more choices and let them tell us what they believe is the best decision for them? The concept I’m describing is called Multiple Acceptable Options (MAO) and, when done correctly, it is one of the most powerful concepts in effective B2B selling I know.
Multiple Acceptable Options are two or three bundled offers we will use to manage uncertainty and allow the customer to buy. They can be described as the following:
- We are prepared to accept any one of them, however…
- We expect the customer will value each very differently
- Titled to be meaningful to the customer (Outcomes / Value Proposition)
- Tells us what is really important to the customer when they select one of them
- Allows the customer to “Buy” versus us “Selling”
- Encourages the customer to take ownership of “their deal”
- Makes it so much easier for them to sell internally when they own it
- Minimize single issue such as “price only” negotiations
I know we all want to sell a $5M deal right out of the gate to a new logo, but would we be willing to accept a $500K deal to get our foot in the door? Of course, and that’s what I mean by acceptable! However, by titling each option by the outcomes or value proposition it will deliver, we expect the customer to value them very differently. As soon as a customer gravitates to one option, they are telling us what is really important to them after all. And we are letting the customer “buy” versus us selling to them. With the right buying influencers in the room, my experience is you’ll learn more in 1 hour of their “cross talk” than you did the entire previous 6 months of selling.
A word of caution. In nearly every case, the final deal the customer really wants is some combination of the options you present, so we must be prepared to negotiate and trade. Therefore, the best practice question I coach my clients to ask once the buying influencers home in on one of the options is “How can it be improved?” How different would that feel if you were the customer?
Because each option is a bundle, we are minimizing single issue negotiations, such as “price only.” But what is really happening is the customer is participating in constructing the right deal for them. In other words, they are making an informed decision they feel comfortable is the right decision. And now it becomes “their deal.” All the internal hurdles and issues they told you would be problematic in getting a deal closed, seem to suddenly get taken care of, because they are closing their deal they helped construct – and they are motivated to sell it internally. This significantly shortens sales cycles.
Mathematically, what have we done to our odds of winning? It is now our Option A, against our Option B, against our Option C, against the competition. We have increased our odds of winning! Once you’ve adopted this approach, don’t be surprised the next time something changes at the customer they don’t call you up and say “Here’s what’s new or has changed and here’s what’s important to us. Why don’t you put together some options so we can figure out the best way to proceed?” That’s a cadence I bet we all would love to have with our existing customers…