The Challenger Customer: Chapter 10, section 3 (part 10 of 10)

Opportunity Planning

The best advice that we can lend is to use a method and use it consistently. … That being said, there are some important implications that today’s consensus purchase highlights, which we think you should consider incorporating into your opportunity planning approach. … Done well, it should be hard for your sales team to distinguish between the process and the plan.

So what then isthe difference between the two? Why have an opportunity plan at all? The answer is quite simple, though frequently overlooked: if the sales process captures the what, the opportunity plan captures the how. A sales process inherently is meant to capture what happened – particularly if it’s based on customer-verified outcomes to track progress. As we just discussed, those are hugely important milestones that inform deal progress, forecasting, and resourcing, among other things. The opportunity plan, however, helps prompt sellers to critically assess how. How will they get to that next customer verifier and continue deal progression?

That brings us to the third principle of good opportunity planning, which is to base the plan on a series of such questions about the customer organization, the dynamics within the organization, the Mobilizer, and commercial opportunity itself.

LEARN STAGE: What need shouldthis customer be learning about? What should be keeping this customer up at night?Here, sellers are encouraged to understand how the customer is currently mismanaging their business. In this stage, it’s also important to understand whether or not the customer is aware of this need – that likely informs whether or not they’ve already conduced their own research. Will the seller have to initially shape or reshape the customer’s demand? The thought process here encourages sellers to truly prepare for the initial sales calls with the customer.

UNDERSTAND NEEDS STAGE: How shouldthe customer respond to this need? This is the stage where a disruptive insight challenges the customer’s thinking – it’s critical for sellers to plan for that conversation. Here, sellers are encouraged to consider a variety of ways to position their insight and tailor it for customer consumption. What might go wrong in the initial sales conversation? What reactions might the customer have? Good sales planning is just as much planning for the ideal as it is planning for the unexpected. Sellers also need to consider what the customer’s reaction to the Commercial Insight meant and consider the next steps based upon that initial sales call. Was healthy skepticism observed? Did potential Mobilizers reveal themselves? Did a potential Blocker tip her hand? If so, what does that mean as the sale progresses?  This is key – it’s not just that the customer responded, but is asking “What do I take from that? What should my next step be?”

DEFINE PURCHASE CRITERIA STAGE: How shouldthe customer define the purchase criteria? Here, the opportunity planning heavily factors in the Mobilizer. Naturally, your Commercial Insight will have significant bearing on how the customer views the purchase criteria, but the Mobilizer will need to ensure that the nuanced details of the purchase criteria truly reflect that insight. Thinking through the best course of action for the Mobilizer’s support here is critical. Sellers should be reflecting upon the purchase criteria that the competition will likely advocate and how the Mobilizer can then explain how that view is flawed or insufficient.

EVALUATE OPTIONS STAGE: How shouldthe customer evaluate and reach consensus? Here, planning for Commercial Coaching interactions with your Mobilizer is the primary focus. Sellers should be considering what they’ll commercially coach their Mobilizer on, how to tailor that coaching guidance, and how to arm the Mobilizer. This phase is all about considering how to get a “Collective Yes” from the customer stakeholders.

VALIDATE AND SELECT STAGE: How shouldthe customer reach a final decision?  Here, you’ll want to consider how to arm the Mobilizer for any final objections he or she may encounter. In this final stage, as we already discussed, planning for the negotiable and non-negotiable aspects of the purchase must happen. Taking stock of how to achieve the ideal customer reaction is important, but almost always there will be a late objection or challenges in the negotiation. So taking stock of the negotiable aspects of the purchase well in advance matter tremendously.

Notice the key theme throughout these questions: how shouldthe customer make their purchase. Each phase of planning encourages sellers to think through the ideal customer interactions, while realistically planning for the unexpected. These questions force sellers to think one step ahead. In this way, each customer interaction moves the deal forward – it’s not merely an “information-gathering” interaction. Even in the face of limited information, the point is to critically assess what should happen and how to best make that action happen.