Sales Tactics: Avoiding the Dark Stage

Don’t forget: This  Thursday April 17th from 8:30-Noon is the Funnelholic Virtual Sales Summit feat. Jill Konrath, Jill Rowley, Matt Heinz, and Dan Waldschmidt. Please click here to learn more. It will be the most fun you will have all week (or month)…

Back to regularly scheduled programming:

Today’s post is about the dark stage. The dark stage = when we don’t hear “boo” from them. Today’s buyer only responds when they have something they want not what you want. This is why the “checking in” voicemails and emails that go unanswered. Fair enough…but to make it worse: Many buyers don’t even say “no” anymore, they just never respond. The problem is: They also don’t respond if things are still moving along. If there isn’t a profound update or information they need, they still don’t respond. It’s painful. It’s hard enough to get people on the phone in the first place…and now this. Alas, the dark stage.

sales tactics, lead followup, sales tactics

Let me set you up with a quick story: I was working with a client who had a horrendous post-demo fall-off rate. In other words, sales was doing the first call or even second call where they presented the solution and often presented a demo of the solution. After those calls, 80% of their buyers were going dark. Here is the scene: I am on a “ride-along” with one of their better reps which means I was listening, recording, and analyziing the call with a prospect. He had 4 stakeholders including the decision maker on the call. He had an hour — He just went right into the demo and finished the demo with 3 minutes left in the hour. At the end of the call, here is the dialogue:

  • Buyer: “Okay, well we need to go talk about this”
  • Seller: “Great, why don’t I follow up later”
  • Buyer: “Great, thanks!”
  • Hang-up
  • Seller: “Any feedback Craig?”
  • Craig: “Oh boy”

You just guaranteed to make your life harder. You will never hear from them and will have to make 20 calls and emails just to get them back on the phone. I love you, but if that is the data you collected from the buyer and how you end calls, we gotta work on this.

Stay with me here, I love when a series of events happen at the same time. And then Dave Brock wrote a great post: “How Much Follow Up is Too Much?” Dave’s post is very much like this post — Let’s avoid having to call 20X to get the buyer back. As Dave points out the problems are often:

  • We didn’t understand the buyer and their buying (aka decision making) process
  • We didn’t mutually agree on next steps

At the end of the day, the dark stage is really difficult to avoid. Buyers will respond when they want to respond. But for many, the dark stage can be avoided by having more meaningful conversations as part of the sales process. Here are some tips:

  1. Understand the buyer, their process, and where they are in the process — Asking the right questions are so key to your sanity later in the process it’s not funny.
  2. Figure out what they need to move to the next step — A conversation with a thought leader, content, a primer on the market, demo, etc. Recommendation: You can and should recommend the next step based on what you heard.
  3. Mutually define and agree on next steps — Keep in mind, the next step has to resonate with them. For example, tell them you will check in two weeks later is guaranteeing darkness. Figure out WIIFM (what’s in it for me) when defining why they need to be on a call with you again.
  4. Set time/date and send calendar invite while you are still on the phone — Don’t leave a call without setting the next conversation up.
  5. Send follow up email immediately after call — Deliver what you said you would deliver and remind them of next steps. Use a sales email application like ToutApp, YesWare, or ClearSlide to track if they opened or forwarded. Or use MyDocket to see if they engage with the content.
  6. Share great content while you wait for the next call — Send your prospect other valuable content depending where they are in the buying process. It doesn’t have to be an ebook. I remember pre-social media (2005) and Jill Rowley was selling Eloqua to us at Tippit. In the time between our first and second calls with each other, she sent me a simple email with a VentureBeat post of a potential competitor that just raised money — “Is this a competitor of yours?” was the body of the email. No pressure, just trying to offer me value. Use your sales email application to see if they open or forward.
  7. Connect with them on LinkedIn — Really? What does this have to do with the dark period? Well, if you must ask…I share 6-8 pieces of content a day on LinkedIn. On numerous meetings with prospects or customers, they will mention a post I shared. I didn’t see that they liked or shared and it’s okay…They saw it and/or read it. That is good.
  8. Send them a reminder the day before your call — Share your excitement about the upcoming call in the message.
  9. Rinse and Repeat

Sales leaders, just a couple notes for you:

  1. Make sure reps understand your target buyer — Train them on the buyer. In many cases, it’s more important than anything you do.
  2. Develop plays for each step in the buying process — Sales leaders typically focus on upfront messaging (what we say first) and closing (what we do last). This leaves the reps exposed at the end of calls when they need to develop a next step based on what they heard versus pushing buyers to the next sales step or “send content, call later”. This takes training, coaching, and conversation.
  3. Arm reps with the questions that help them understand the buyer and their process — I always get the list of “questions” and they are BANT. Not just BANT — lets dig deep to understand everything.
  4. Arm your reps with content — It works. One size does not fit all. Content should be based on who the buyer is and where they are in the process. If sales can’t help buyers move to the next step in their process, they will only work low-hanging fruit.

Beware the dark stage. Many times it can’t be helped as that’s the reality of today’s buyer but you can save yourself the wasteful dial/emails it takes to get people back on the phone by following these steps. Oh and to answer Dave’s blog question: How much follow up is too much? It depends. (:

8 millionth reminder: This  Thursday April 17th from 8:30-Noon is the Funnelholic Virtual Sales Summit feat. Jill Konrath, Jill Rowley, Matt Heinz, and Dan Waldschmidt. Please click here to learn more. It will be the most fun you will have all week (or month)…

Photo by: ROSS2085

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic and a co-founder of Topo. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter