A consistent thread connects hundreds of workshop discussions I've had with sales teams over the past 20 years: how to generate and foster a sense of urgency in a channel where there are no closing- or air-dates? It's a huge issue, to be sure. Without urgency, deals drift, pricing erodes, pipeline visibility becomes cloudy and your forecasting turns to mush. The absence of urgency presents itself in many ways; here is one of the most common - and puzzling - scenarios.
You meet with a client directly - or perhaps with someone very senior at the agency. They express strong interest in "working together" and perhaps are even "very excited" by what you've had to say. In fact, they're even going to recommend you go and see someone in the buying group. (Let's call him "Steve.") Maybe they'll even send you on your way with an email referral or introduction.
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Many of us would be delighted by such an outcome - at least initially. But 95 times out of 100 you either don't get the Steve meeting scheduled or, if you do, Steve has zero alignment or concern for the idea you're there to discuss. What felt like positive progress toward a sales was actually a deft bit of redirection.
The client chose not to stay engaged in the deal. He chose not to keep his hand in. Why? No sense of urgency was created. So what would create that much needed sense of urgency?
Attaching the Idea to Hard Sales Goals: Mostly we speak in the clinical, antiseptic language of advertising, media and digital. We're peddling impressions and clicks and the cotton candy of "branding." How will your idea actually drive sales, or the incremental outcomes that lead to sales? Nobody wants to be the one who says "Those incremental sales aren't important."
Humanizing It: Along the same lines, instead of "users" or "page views" or impressions, how many actual people will your program speak to? Where do they live? How important will they be to the success of this brand in a given market? Losing interest in the latest complicated digital advertising idea is understandable. Turning away potential customers? Not so much.
Putting It On the Clock: What's the critical launch date of the product? What holiday will make or break the brand's profit this year? How long is their special offer valid?
Weaving it Into the Competitive Dynamic: How often do we talk about the specific competitive advantage our idea will provide over Brand X? (That being, of course, the brand they truly dislike.) Will this give them a competitive head start? Will it help them exploit the competitor's weakness?
Asking for Personal Commitment: This one sounds overly simple, but when was the last time you "personalized the close?" When you asked the customer, "I know there's a lot more to be done, but is this something you want to happen? Do you think this is a good idea and can you help us make it real?"
It makes no sense getting to higher level decision makers and then leaving satisfied that you had "a positive call." The great sellers are the ones who will think deeper about the business, challenge, and remain fearless about pushing the customer a little out of his comfort zone. And that's really all urgency is about.
In its original form, this post first appeared in 2012. I'm reposting it this week while I'm on a short vacation. Happy summer to all of our readers.