You have gone through three stages of the Cognitive Marketing Process. First, your customer is now aware that they have a problem and that they need help solving it. Second, they have spent some time contemplating their options and have narrowed it down to a specific solution. You have provided the right information that emotionally aroused them into what their future may looks like by partnering with you. Third, you have gone through the planning stage by supplying data to your client to aid them in their rational reevaluation process, and they have made a private and then public commitment to work with your team.
Now you are ready for the fourth stage: action. You have used the helping relationships process through consultative selling and introducing the prospect to other satisfied customers. They are satisfied that you can do the job and have successfully helped similar customers in the past. You are close to closing the deal, but it's not quite done yet. You are entering the countering process where a small pivot project may emerge. This guide will talk about the action stage generally and the countering process specifically, and how you can use this process to begin to close your sale.
How creating a rough plan can help.
The old way of doing business was to ensure that your plan was polished and ready before presenting it to the customer. However, in the age of the internet, the customer expects, and has, a lot more power, as discussed previously. Therefore, at this time, it is helpful to allow the customer insight into your thinking process by supplying them with a rough outline of what actions you are planning to take to complete their process.
By showing them the rough outline of your plan, you are allowing yourself to be vulnerable to their feedback and allowing them to retain the power they crave. Instead of telling the client how you will solve their problem, you have created a collaboration where their input drives the project. They can see the early stages of the process and suggest amendments to the plan, which can be more easily made than it could be if you were further down the line.
The power of selfishness
Now is the time when your client is really wondering what you can do for them. More specifically, what you can do for them that couldn't be done better by your competitors. And you have to deal with this question by allowing the customer into your process. Your customer can then see the effort you are putting forth to put their needs first and how you are customizing your solutions to their problems in real-time.
By allowing them this type of access and giving input into your plan at every stage, they can clearly see that you are putting your maximum effort into addressing their specific pain points.
Expectations + Performance = Satisfaction
The first three stages, to some extent, have been all about managing the customer's expectations. Your marketing efforts should have given your customer clear expectations of what to expect. The final stages are your sales team taking those expectations and showing that you can fulfill them through performance. When all of this comes together perfectly, as it should, you close the deal and subsequently enable advocacy.
The power of alternatives
If you are following these processes correctly and you are listening to your client, it is possible that they will not like your ideas as they are. In the previous process of helping relationships, you were offering yourself up for criticism. You were trying not to do most of the talking and actively listen instead. If you did that correctly, there might be some things your customer will want to change in the plan you presented to them, which is what countering is all about.
You want to show that you have listened to your their input and that your team is creative enough to take the plans they had and rework them with your customer's comments in mind. The alternative plans that you present to your customer reassures them that not only did you listen to their concerns but that your team was agile enough to pivot and deliver a plan with those concerns covered.
Always look for a better situation.
Sometimes a customer backslides. They want you to participate in a stage two or stage three negotiation when you are at stage four. It is disheartening when that happens but remember the client ultimately has the power. There is something that you can do, however.
Earlier on in the journey, your prospect admitted they have a problem that they can't solve on their own. Your goal is to help guide an agreement on a better next step than the path they are prescribing. Think about it this way: You've been fighting off a cough for well over a week. Now you're experiencing a loss of appetite and it's getting increasingly difficult to breathe. Your colds typically go away in 3-4 days, so you decide to go to a specialist. After the doctor conducts their diagnosis they determine it's pneumonia and recommend you take antibiotics. Do you tell them "I know this is your realm of expertise, but I really think it's just a common cold. Can't I just take some over the counter medicine I have at home?"
In this same way, your prospect may think they need a new website, but their real barrier to closing lucrative deals is a lack of proper sales training.
All sales processes should have some built-in structures that are prepared to offer the prospect positive substitutions / alternatives. Your salesforce should always be prepared to offer an alternative that, while meeting the customer's needs, also moves the stages forward like they are supposed to and prevents backsliding.
Another example of this applied to B2B is if you are invited to an RFP (request for proposal) process with several other firms. This offer is what you'd expect to see in stage two or three but not in stage four. By stage four, they should be set on selecting you. Instead of immediately turning down the invitation, offer an alternative. Instead of using the money to come to the session and answer the questions, you could take those same resources and apply them toward furthering the goals of solving your clients problem. In that way, you are not backsliding, but your customer is still receiving services instead of just "thinking".
As you enter the action stage, you tend to think the sale is closed, and it isn't. However, you still need to show that you understand your customer's concerns, are agile enough to pivot your plans around those concerns, and deliver an actionable plan with those concerns covered. The closer you get to the end, the more you begin to think about money. When you think about money, there is a tendency to try to push your ideas forward. Now is not the time for that. Using the countering process shows that you have heard your customer's concerns and care enough to address them promptly.