Article 5 – Success Criteria - Ask So That You Can Sell

This is one article in a series. For the entire series on one page, please see Proven Enterprise Sales Process, Steps 1 to 10 inside this site's Blog Articles pages.

By Peter Meyer - Excellence Essentials, 2016

Would it help you to know what your prospect would prioritize to make happen the most quickly with the least concern about price? This is about using Success Criteria to speed the deal and increase the revenues and margin.

That happens when you know exactly and in detail how your sponsor defines success for this project. There is a one best way to find what your prospect values highest: Ask, don't assume. Here are two steps to do that.

Success Criteria in Two Steps

Step one is to find out what the key issues are. It could be as simple as following your U.S.P. (see Sales and Service Excellence XX/YY/ZZ, Page A) with: "Does that problem keep you awake at night? If not, what does?"

Don't assume that you know. Consider: Even if you are right, if you assume your key influencer may think you arrogant. That is not what you want. Just as bad, you are likely to be wrong. For instance, most CEOs do not prioritize cost savings. (For the survey results to that question, see below.) But even if you are right, ask and listen. Listening is what earns you the right to go to the next step.

Step two is to ask how your contact will measure success for the resolution of that problem.

Why do you care about how they measure success?
1 - Again, put yourself in your enterprise sponsor's position. Would you prefer to deal with a salesperson who cares about their commission or a businessperson who cares to understand your business needs? You can use success criteria to position you to be that businessperson.
2 - If you know how the enterprise measures success, you can see how much value you will help the sponsor build. This increases the chances of you getting full price and margin.
3 - If your customer is focused on his or her most important problems, your price becomes less important. They may bicker over price when you discuss a problem that matters less, but for the top three priorities the enterprise will want to get to solution as soon as possible.
4 - With Success Criteria, you will know what would be extra but un-needed work or product. Dropping off extra material or service cuts the prices, speeds the path to success for them and improves the margins for you.
5 - You can use this later to get more business at a higher profit from the same customer.

How Do You Ask?

The words to ask about success criteria are quite easy. You can ask questions like:
- How will you know when you are done with this project?
- How will you know when to celebrate?
Or my favorite:
- What defines success for this project?

The answer might be as simple as "Beating the XX market's return each quarter" or as complicated as a contingent technical or regulatory specification. However, a good answer will always be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and most of all: Important.

When you ask the question you might experience a period of quiet. This is good, don't rush it. Let the silence continue until your sponsor understands the answer. If your influencer has not yet thought this through, he or she needs to do that. If you give space, you are helping them to run their own business.

Once you have the sponsor's criteria, make sure you understand them by repeating it in clear words.

Pause, Become Invaluable

At this point it may be tempting to ask - "If I can do that, what's it worth to you?" Don't. Instead, ask: "To who else would this be important? Who else is important for making this success happen for you?"

These are likely to be the key stakeholders. Without them, the project and your sale are much less likely. Get this list from your sponsor. Then ask: "Do they have the same definition of success? Can we ask them?" Usually, your sponsor does not know, but a smart internal contact will agree to find out.

What you have now is invaluable. You have the list of key stakeholders in the decision. You have an idea of how your sponsor measures success. You probably have the right and support to ask the other stakeholders what keeps them up at night. You can go to them to get their success criteria for the project.

Your role has changed, and you're no longer just a vendor. You are key to the success of the enterprise, the person who asks the right questions. By asking the right questions you've earned the right to become part of the enterprise planning process. You want to be this person.

Now, increase your value to the stakeholders and to your sponsor by volunteering to do a survey. We'll explain what that means in the XX/YY/ZZ edition of Sales and Service Excellence.

Meanwhile, take a look at the article What Keeps the Company President Up at Night? from the Business & Economic Review.

Originally commissioned by and published in Excellence Essentials, Copyright 2016 by the Meyer Group, all rights reserved. To redistribute, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.