Planning for Sales Collaboration
In our latest book, The Collaborative Sale, Keith Eades and I explored what sellers need to do to sell successfully to today’s well-informed and empowered customer, whom we call “Buyer 2.0.” In our research, we discovered that even if buyers agree on the estimated value of a proposed solution, they may still delay making a purchase decision. Their hesitancy arises from concerns about fully realizing the value of a potential solution, or even worse, about the potential for failure.
The sellers who recognize this hesitancy as natural, and who make it easy for buyers to overcome their fears, are those who now close business the most consistently. We call such sellers “Value Drivers” – they rarely lose deals to the most significant competitor facing sales professionals today: buyers who choose to do nothing at all.
How Buyer 2.0 Buys
Buyer 2.0 would not need sellers at all, if they could prove to themselves with certainty that a solution solves a problem or capitalizes on an opportunity. In fact, for products they view as a commodity, buyers often complete transactions without sellers. For example, they routinely make online purchases for airline tickets, hotel reservations, automobiles, clothes, books and other commodities, without the help of a seller.
For purchases of more strategic solutions, Buyer 2.0 typically conducts their own research to understand the “what” – the capabilities they think they need. However, they need more help on the details of the “how” – the way a solution delivers value. For this, they seek expertise to verify the specific impact of potential new capabilities, and on the likely timeframe for achieving their desired results. They want to work with sellers who can provide this expertise, and who can address their concerns about any potential risks.
Value Drivers can demonstrate their expertise and also help Buyer 2.0 to allay their concerns, by providing a clear and methodical path for evaluating a potential solution – a Collaboration Plan.
A Collaboration Plan serves to align buyers and sellers by identifying the procedural steps in an evaluation process. For more transactional sales of smaller or limited solutions, a Collaboration Plan may simply be a short list of recommended actions by the buyer and seller, with responsibilities and suggested dates for each action. For more strategic or enterprise-level solutions, the Collaboration Plan may require a more comprehensive list of buyer and seller actions, resources, and anticipated dates for completion.
Example of a Strategic Collaboration Plan
Components of a Good Collaboration Plan
Regardless of the length or brevity of any Collaboration Plan, it should include recommended actions for addressing:
- Operational Risk Issues – actions that prove the viability and applicability of a proposed solution to address an identified problem or to fulfill an opportunity
- Transitional Risk Issues – required actions for a successful solution installation, implementation, or conversion
- Financial Risk Issues – actions for arriving at a mutually agreed upon statement of value and return on investment, and for identifying and tracking the desired business results for the buyer
- Buying Process Issues – organizational procedural requirements including legal, administrative, technical, and purchasing department reviews, and approvals by managerial or executive decision-makers
A Collaboration Plan addresses both buyer and seller risks, equally. It is not just a plan to sell, ending with a signature on an agreement. Rather, it is a jointly agreed upon series of events for charting a course through the evaluation and all the way to successful business results for the buyer. A well-constructed Collaboration Plan serves the mutual interests of both the buyer and the seller, by making the entire evaluation and decision process open and transparent.
The Myth of Control
A collaborative selling approach recognizes that the path to success is not based on trying to control buyers. Control-oriented thinking is a throwback to selling practices based on outdated buyer behavior assumptions. Today, Buyer 2.0 is an empowered buyer, reluctant to give up control of their buying process. A Collaboration Plan demonstrates the seller’s alignment with Buyer 2.0 behavior. Complete collaboration between buyers and sellers is now the only reasonable approach.
When a seller offers a Collaboration Plan, the preferred outcome is to have the buyer make changes and additions to it. If a buyer changes the plan, then the buyer takes an ownership stake in the plan. A buyer who ignores a Collaboration Plan proffered by a seller, or who responds only with a perfunctory acquiescence, is not really committing to joint exploration of a potential solution. A buyer who amends and improves a draft Collaboration Plan in conjunction with a seller is showing that they are willing to work actively together.
For this reason, mutual agreement on a Collaboration Plan is an important indicator of alignment with Buyer 2.0, and is a verifiable outcome that indicates positive progress. It is proof to the buyer that their concerns about operational, transitional, and financial risk will be addressed – and that a purchase decision can be made with confidence.
Download a useful template for developing your own Collaboration Plans with your buyers, and dramatically reducing losses to “no decision” and buyer inaction.