One of my clients was recently in the market for a new software platform. Like most buyers, this executive did extensive online research and pretty much knew what he wanted. He asked his peers for a vendor referral and connected with Karen, a knowledgeable rep.
On the first call Karen asked a few questions and requested some basic information to further assess the needs. On the second call, Karen introduced Jim as the technical expert, and together they conducted more discovery. They offered vague answers to my client’s pricing and timing questions.
On the third call, Karen led with an insights presentation, and sought to elevate the discussion to the client’s larger business goals. At this point, my client’s frustration reached a boiling point. From the first call, he had let Karen know he was ready to make a purchase. He needed the software to solve a very tactical business problem. He had engaged the rep at the end of his purchasing process, and wanted to move forward quickly.
But Karen had poor situational awareness. Instead of closing the sale, she was pushing my client back. Karen was diligently following her sales process aimed at positioning a bigger solution, which meant deep discovery and dialogue.
But when – on that third call – Karen and Jim asked to schedule yet another meeting to discuss additional business priorities, it was game over. After that call, my client sent an email letting Karen know he was going with another vendor.
The deal was lost because the rep couldn’t – or wouldn’t – pivot.
In our business, we teach sales organizations to adapt to the specifics of a deal: the stakeholders, where they are in their decision journey, and their business priorities. The best sales reps use strong situational awareness and then sales pivoting to the right plays as the sales process unfolds.
The linchpin between the rep’s situational awareness and selection of the right play is the pivot point. The only way situational awareness works – the only reason it matters – is the ability to perform sales pivoting. Pivot points let reps adjust their actions so they stay aligned to the buyer and responsive to new information.
We see athletes pivot all the time. Heading in one direction, they quickly pause, adjust their course, and then continue forward toward their goal. In the same way, reps must manage their opportunities through a series of pivot points. Pivots points are the pauses that matter, where the best reps assess the current situation and define the next selling action – what to say and what to do.
In the software deal, Karen and Jim simply didn’t pivot. They were dutifully executing an insight-driven sales process. Their approach isn’t necessarily bad, but it didn’t fit this particular deal. It wasn’t aligned to the buyer’s situation.
Blindly following their sales process from start to finish resulted in one very frustrated prospect. It was the unforced error that lost the deal. In fact, not only did they lose the deal, but they lost time and money pursuing the deal. Sales pivoting failure results in massively high costs of sales for organizations.
Pivots points are a rep’s navigational waypoints along the deal journey. Taking the time to pause to determine the next selling action has three critical advantages in opportunity management:
1. To assess ever-changing situational factors. Deals don’t unfold in static environments. The influencers, their view of the problem and the solution, the competitor set, and other deal variables are in constant flux.
It’s the sales rep’s job to stay tuned into the changing factors. They must also stay aligned to the buyer on these factors. In our consensus buying environment, it often means keeping multiple influencers aligned on the factors. You can’t move a deal forward without alignment. Even if the deal appears to be moving forward, but the rep and buyers are not aligned (or multiple influencers themselves aligned) the deal will ultimately die.
Pivots remind reps to pause and check their situation. If Karen had paused to assess her alignment to my client’s situation, his growing frustration would have been apparent.
2. The flexibility to have a more dynamic, buyer-driven focus. It’s not enough to have good situational awareness. The rep must use pivot points to define the best next step.
Maybe Karen and Jim had some awareness that my client wasn’t on board with their selling approach. But they stayed on course with their process, not adapting. They didn’t understand how to perform sales pivoting when situational awareness told them things weren’t going well. Perhaps they pushed on, hoping it would self-correct somewhere along the line.
A comfort with sales pivoting would have given them the flexibility to stop and adapt to my client’s expectations and needs.
3. Pivots are the only way to account for the complexity of modern deals. The buyer purchasing journey is anything but linear. And the rise of consensus buying creates a multiplier effect. Reps aren’t just tracking situational factors for one buyer; they’re tracking these dynamic variables for as many as a dozen influencers. Each stakeholder has his or her own unique decision path, and it’s the job of the rep to wrangle them together.
Today’s opportunities are won through a series of steps. In most cases, the deal journey path will twist and turn, potentially reversing course at times. When reps follow a linear sales process blindly through the journey, they can end up lost.
A pivot mindset keeps reps on track, equipping them to move deals forward with the best next action. Sales pivoting is key to maintaining alignment with the buyer and across the multiple influencers in the buying organization.
Reps need a new toolset, skillset, and mindset to execute modern opportunity management. This all starts with an adaptive methodology based on pivots.
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About The Author
Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.