You Win Some, You “Luge” Some
A client recently came to us with the following question: What do we see other B2B companies doing to help their reps accelerate late-stage deals? Their reps often struggled to “cross the finish line” and close opportunities at the bottom of their funnel, so the client wanted to know what content and tools they should develop. What training might be useful? What offers should be extended?
The truth is, there are probably several factors contributing to this problem. Maybe their reps are weak at negotiating. Maybe they are unable to sell effectively to senior-level decisionmakers who often play a role late in the buying process. Right now, we are helping the client to diagnose the exact problem, and then we’ll explore the possible solutions to address them. Perhaps they could leverage tools like ROI calculators or client reference systems.
Of course, this discussion got me thinking about the Winter Olympics – particularly the luge competition. Perhaps this client’s problem wasn’t a “bottom of the funnel” problem at all.
In Olympic luge competition, the sliders race down a track of ice, riding sleds that are essentially two steel blades and a piece of plastic, with no brakes, flat on their backs, barreling into corners at speeds of up to 90 MPH and experiencing fighter-pilot-like G forces. If you’ve ever watched this event with other folks, eventually someone will make a comment like “these guys are crazy.”
What makes this year’s luge competition even more special is a slight personal connection with one of the racers. At 18 years old, Tucker West – who hails from my hometown of Ridgefield, Conn. – is the youngest slider to qualify for the U.S. Olympic luge team. Tucker and my son were in the same Cub Scout pack, and I know I speak for everyone in Ridgefield when I express how proud we are of him (he has been working toward this goal since he built a luge track in his backyard with his dad at age six).
While I am no luge expert, I do know this: You win or lose the race at the top of the course. The sliders start at a gate, rocking back and forth while holding two handles. For approximately the first 10 feet, they are in a sitting position, madly paddling the ice with spiked gloves, trying to overcome inertia and maximize acceleration. The slider then lies back (when riding Tucker’s homemade luge course, I liked not being able to see where I was going) and lets gravity take over. The key is to run a clean ride, staying in the middle of the track and not hitting the sides. The slider also must gain enough momentum at the top of the course to carry through to a strong and fast finish. Any mishap at the top of the course is tough to make up at the bottom.
This concept of building early momentum holds true for sales funnels – a problem I often saw as a sales trainer and consultant. While the VP of sales would articulate the issue as a rep’s inability to close at the end of the sales cycle, the real problem was that the reps had not built enough “sales momentum” at the top of the funnel. Simply put, if a rep is building value with the buyer at every stage in the sales process, the close should be a natural outcome.
If you have a late-stage sales problem, start by diagnosing what your reps are doing at the early stages. Are they identifying key business drivers that they can link to your solutions? Have they identified all the key personas involved in the decision process and mapped out how each will define value? Like beauty, value is in the eye of the beholder – technical buyers define it differently than economic decisionmakers.
Are the reps creating a plan of engagement with their buyers, outlining mutual next steps and setting clear expectations on when and how to engage with the various personas (e.g. if the contract needs to be reviewed by the legal department, better to get them engaged earlier rather than later). Most importantly – are they building the case to close at each step by identifying and demonstrating differentiated value at each stage?
So, if you are looking for pipeline acceleration programs, think of a luge course. Don’t just look at what you can provide your reps at the bottom of the funnel, but what you can do to enable them at the top of the funnel, when they sled first leave the starting gate.