Within most sales organizations there is a tendency to slap ourselves on our backs each time we win over a new customer. After all, a new customer for us means one less customer for our competitors; however, this is the easy part of selling. I have come to understand that the hardest part of selling is keeping this “new” customer the next time around.
Let’s run through the high-level process from our sales team’s perspective to understand why this may be the case.
The first time around, it should be straightforward for our well-trained sales professionals to have an efficient process to acquire new customers and oust incumbents. Simple research can show customer-competitor alignments and surface weaknesses in how the competitor (the incumbent) has handled a particular customer. We, the challenging company, will then position our relative strengths and, all else being equal, go on to secure this “new” first win.
Now, we have become the incumbent. We are fully embedded in the proverbial sales “quote-to-cash” cycle and feel comfortable; however, sooner or later the customer mentions that they are planning their next phase of investment. This is the second opportunity.
This second “win” should be straightforward and secure—there are no reports of failure in the way we have supported this customer; however, it is precisely at this point that red flags should be raised. The odds of us winning or losing this second opportunity are probably no different to the odds that the previous incumbent had at the same stage in the first sale—remember, we took away their business.
I say this because unless we have done something significantly different to the previous incumbent, then we are bound to end up in the same position as the previous incumbent, with all the same risks. Any small incremental improvements we may have introduced such as improved delivery, enhanced technical performance, better reporting and so on are mostly inconsequential and easily replicated by competitors.
We need to have changed something of importance to the customer such that they effectively commit to us the second time around. Incumbents who win the second time have usually done something that their competitors can’t do easily.
Instead of sales focusing on the quote-to-cash cycle only, we should extend focus to what I call the “quote-to-cash-to-commit” cycle. Winning the second time around is usually a sign that we have done something very different and so beneficial to the customer that they effectively committed to us.
This is why I am really happy to hear when we have won anything the second and even third time around. The recent Readers Choice Awards fromComputerworld Singapore and Computerworld Malaysiain the category of Hardware, Physical Infrastructure—Networks—which we have now won three years consecutively—are positive indicators for our business in the region. We are truly grateful for these awards and the recognition from the readers.
When you win anything for the first time, you should immediately ask yourself what you need to do now to earn a win the next time around.