The 7 Step Process (Long Version)

From Hanson Marketing

How To Turn Prospects Into Clients: Peter Meyer's Seven Step Sales Process

The Seven Step Sales Process Peter has developed enables him to:

» protect his hourly rate,

» raise his price when asked to discount,

» avoid having to quote his hourly rate,

»charge double what others do, and

» uncover more sales opportunities.

The key parts of the process are the survey and the design session. This focus differs from what many people are used to because it removes emphasis (and pressure) from the Propose and Close steps.

By the time you complete the Design Session, the framework (and possibly the details) of the proposal have been developed.

Peter has practiced and refined this sales process from his experience as a salesperson and then as a sales manager and now as a speaker, writer, and consultant. Peter almost never shares this sales process with others.

Peter Meyer's Seven Step Sales Process follows Peter Drucker's lead. "My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions," Drucker said. Peter Meyer enlarges upon Drucker's statement: "He did not say 'pretend to be ignorant;' he didn't say 'be a little ignorant.' If you walk into a sales situation thinking you are anything but totally ignorant of your customer's needs, you will leave money on the table. I don't like to leave money on the table.

"The key component of the seven step sales process is listening," Peter said. "And the key component of listening is actively trying to discover the problem or problems that keep the potential client awake at night -- whether or not they are ones you can address. "And then you help them understand that you are helping them uncover these issues. Then you use this process to involve them in the solution."

Here are the seven steps of the process:
  1. Prospecting
  2. First Call
  3. Survey
  4. Design Session
  5. Propose
  6. Close
  7. Follow-Up
This process is proven in high-ticket items and intangibles. It is perfect for consulting and personal services.

We at Hanson Marketing have used the process in a variety of consulting situations, and we got significantly better results than with any other process we have tried.

Step 1 - Prospecting

The prospecting step is straightforward, and it is both reactive and proactive.

Prospecting is reactive, for example, when somebody calls and gives you a referral. And it is proactive when you help the prospect uncover his or her problems.

"You cannot create a need," Peter warned. "All you can do is uncover needs and get your prospects to understand them.

"If the need doesn't exist and you do create it, what you end up with is the customer coming back and saying, 'I didn't really have this need. You forced me into it, and I don't feel good about it.' And that's not good if you believe in building long-term relationships.

"If you are trying to convert somebody to a client whom you are already dealing with in another way," Peter said, "you don't skip the first step.

"Or if you are trying to prompt an existing client to sponsor new work, you would start with this step. You are proactive here, too. A prospect is created sometimes by changing his or her awareness."

During the first five steps Peter moves the process forward by asking high-gain questions. For instance, during the prospecting step he may ask:

"If you had a magic wand to wave over this problem, what would be the perfect solution?" or

"What keeps you awake at night?"

Peter's wife, Eva, who works with him, asks feeling questions such as, "What would make you feel better about this?"

Step 2 - The First Call

"The first call is much more than building rapport," Peter said. "It is the spot in which you set the relationship.

"If you want to be perceived as being self centered, talk about your own products and services.

"If you want to be perceived as offering value, do not talk about your products and services. Ask your prospects to talk about themselves. If they ask you for solutions, don't provide them yet unless they believe that you really know the problem. Since you probably don't yet, you would be doing a disservice by attempting to consult."

The first call is for listening. And it's for moving the process forward.

As he begins this step, Peter keeps three questions in mind:

1. Does your prospect have a problem that is important enough that he or she will take immediate action?

2. Can you help them to solve that problem?

3. Do you really want to work with this person?

If at any time the answer to one of these questions is no, you stop right there. If, for example, the important problem or problems are ones you can't solve, you could say something like: "I don't do that sort of thing, but Mary Consultant does it very well. I suggest you call her."

A good high-gain question to ask in this step is: When we are done, what will have changed? There will be both positives and negatives. Negative things may happen, and you have to allow for them to come up. It almost always causes people to stop and think because it moves them beyond the short term.

Here is Peter's example of how you can use high-gain questions to move from first call to survey. You can say, "Tell me about your business." You listen. Then you may ask a question such as "When you are done, what will have changed?" or "What makes you more competitive than your competitors?" You listen.

Then you ask the magic wand question. You listen. You may respond, "I'm not sure we can do all of that. If you want to work on that we need to get more information." You schedule the time and move along in the process.

Step 3 - Survey

"Here you are working inside the prospect's organization to understand what needs to be done. That might include a day or several days of interviewing employees and even customers. If there is a problem to be solved, this is the time to make sure you touch each stakeholder and get them to tell you what that problem is from their own perspective.

"You need to earn the right to make suggestions and ask money for it. You earn it by listening and understanding.

"The survey is an important step. You can't skip it," Peter said. "If you do, you can't do the next session."

We sometimes stumbled during the survey phase. Until we began to learn and follow Peter's Seven Step Sales Process, we threw out ideas right and left during the survey. It didn't seem to work, but we didn't know why.

The law of reciprocity is a powerful one that almost always works, but you need to keep it in balance. "If you flood people with idea after idea," Peter explained, "they start losing their sense of responsibility for solving their own problems. You need a balance. You need to ask and make sure they understand that you've given them something. Then they need to ask themselves what am I going to do with it?

"If you tell yourself you have a problem because of questions I ask, I become a hero. If I tell you that you have a problem, I become a jerk. I am discounted.

"It is not until you say it yourself that it has weight."

Your prospects may ask during the survey phase, "What would you suggest?" Here's one way Peter would answer, "There are a lot of things we could do. I don't know yet. It's too soon to talk about them now." You can continue, "I have heard this.... Is that right? We'll talk more about that later." ("Later" refers to the Design Session.)

If you mix the survey and the design session (by providing solutions as you ask questions), Peter explained, "People lose track of what they are supposed to be doing and they don't do anything."

Step 4 - The Design Session

The design session is a group process. It works best if all the relevant decision makers in your prospect company are present. "As a group you prioritize the problems," Peter said, "and as a group you decide what the best mix of solutions will be. Rarely will you have the total answer. Whenever you think you do, you are probably headed for a disaster. The customer will need to be an active player in the solution.

"The design session is very informal. Often you fill the entire white board with gibberish before you get to anything useful. It's part of the process." Peter reflects back to his prospect what has occurred so far, "Here's what I think you said to me. Here are five options we have to fill those needs." Then it becomes your turn to do a good job of explaining the options to them.    "Based on what I heard, it sounds like option two is the one that will meet your needs. You tell me what you think."

As Peter said, "You can never know every- thing. Don't make recommendations without understanding distinctions."

Also, keep in mind that in going over the options with them you may get new information that can lead them to choose an option you don't think is optimum. Find out the reason why they are making that choice. You may be able to move them along to think in broader terms with a statement, "I don't know all the parameters. In an ideal world is there a way we can do both _________ and _________?

"Often your outside perspective, tempered with what you learn from the survey, results in your coming back at the design session and stating something that should be clear to everyone, but only you saw. You are providing, in the design session, the flash of the blindingly obvious. This is normal."

Here's how a design session can work. In the survey phase by active listening you may uncover a list of five, ten, or fifteen different issues. In the design phase you prioritize them with the potential client in some sequence.

"The sequence I always choose," he said, "is to start with the most painful problem with the worst downside, then the second worst downside, then the third.

"It's rare that you get much farther than that without something happening because people get so excited about this one dramatic problem they sort of beg you to please fix it. Maybe you can, maybe you can't. You do not try here. You get back on track with this long list of things to work on.

"Once you have gone through the list, you discuss solutions. Each one includes a price in time, people, and money, and that price needs to be identified. Then you and those in the design session tear the solution apart to build a better one. Everyone in the group has a stake in it...and in helping to make it succeed.

"Then with the list you say we can do this on this one and we can do that on that one. Would you like me to work on it?

"And if the answer is yes, then tell me before we get started the definition of success. Then tell me what it would mean to have that definition of success. And tell me what would happen if you don't have that success.

"What would happen if we don't get success is important because that tells people how much they can afford to spend. A part of the design session has to be dollar trade-offs.

"And then you say O.K., now if we get success, what is it worth? How much if we win and how much if we fail? If it is worth that much if we win and that much if we fail, then your prospect may ask how much will your work cost.

"At that point you can set a price and a prospect can consider a price without the pressure of price negotiations and the hassles with it.

"In the design session you may uncover things that are best done by outsiders other than yourself. If so, don't be afraid to say, 'Look, I am not the right person to do that. Who would you want?' Or you can recommend someone if you trust them."

"And that is the risk in this step. You may wind up with a solution that does not include you.

"This is hard for many of us to consider, and we tend to want to do things to keep the discussion from heading there. I tend to push it there. One of two things will happen: The prospect will decide to do it without you, or he or she will make a strong commitment to work with you.

"The first of those two situations happened recently. An exec with a large software company decided that he could do the work internally as well as we could. I congratulated him and encouraged him to replace me with internal resources. This made him feel better.

"It made me feel better, too, because I give an unconditional guarantee for my work. If I do not add value to what his internal team can do, should he pay me?

"The second one occurred the last time I pushed that idea with the same exec. He said loudly and clearly in front of his people that they could not do it and that he absolutely wanted me to. The idea of my not doing it frightened him. It was not until after he had made that loud and public declaration that we discussed price. He never questioned my fee and neither did his team."

Peter sees the design session as a change for most sales people. "They will go from prospecting to qualifying to closing, and during closing they will do a demonstration of their product. After years of experience I tend to stop doing demonstrations. It's counterintuitive, but the results are usually very good."

People who are selling a consulting service may want to do a demonstration. In Peter's terms this means "an explanation of what you do and how wonderful it is." Peter often advises against it. What does he replace it with? A design session.

The design session succeeds because you and the prospect interact and together work out what the solution might be. "They have a sense of ownership," Peter said. "And it is more likely to work. And it is more likely to be implemented."

The design session becomes a series of steps, and as you are going through the process you are, in fact, demonstrating your skills and ability.

Your prospect may ask, "How does option two work?" And then you respond, "Here's what happens . . . ." In this case, it is your prospect asking for a demonstration, instead of you setting up a formal demonstration.

Step 5 - Propose

"If you do a design session really well, the proposal can be matter of fact and anticlimactic," Peter said. He has seen it become a "nuisance" with the customer saying, "Come on, come on, give it to me so I can sign." The prospect has designed the project and agreed on the payment. All you need to do is reflect accurately the outcome of your design session in your proposal.

Step 6 - Close

The closing is organic to the design session, too. The client may be ready to sign. Maybe not. If not, you need to ask "What else do you need to do before you sign?" If he or she has to talk to someone else, you will have to work that person into the process now. Even better is to find out much earlier in the process who the decision makers are and to bring them into the design session.

Step 7 - Follow Up

You make certain you have a happy customer or client to create the opportunity for your being involved in future work.

"Look at the cycle this way," Peter said. "If most of your profit comes from clients who repeat, and you live by the guarantee, why would you not sit down with your clients after you are done and ask them if they are happy. Then ask what the next steps are.

"If they have none, whose fault is that? Define and integrate a process into your work so that two things happen whenever you finish a project:
- the customer is planning the next step and

- you have a set of questions designed to focus the customer on his or her success."

Both the survey and the design session require a commitment of time on the part of your prospect to participate. And if you have worked well with your prospect, he or she has made a major commitment towards generating an acceptable solution to a nagging problem. And you are well placed to become part of that solution.

The Seven Step Sales Process focuses on your prospects, not yourself and your services. By not approaching your prospects with preconceptions and ready-made solutions, you are open to their unique situations and true needs. By following Peter's sales process step by step you will uncover more needs and generate many more opportunities for consulting jobs. And it will help you convert more prospects to clients.

That's exactly how it worked for us.

The framework is extremely flexible -- the steps unfolded in a form that each of our singular prospects felt comfortable with. (And that happened because of our active listening.)

Guided by the seven steps, we were able to develop with one prospect, for example, an innovative marketing pillar and an intricate financially rewarding results-based agreement. To arrive there we engaged in a lengthy survey and an intriguing (almost as lengthy) design session. The propose and close became a matter-of-fact result of the strategy we generated together and the relationship we built in the process.