In a previous post on improving sales pipeline efficiency for vendors of complex B2B financial products, I discussed how to use strategic content to get raw prospects to commit to lead qualification meetings or phone calls. This post covers the next stage of the sales pipeline, namely the contract proposal, and the employment of content to increase closure rates. There are two steps to this, one that takes place before the proposal is sent, and one afterwards. I will discuss them in order.
Time spent in preparation is never wasted
Once a prospect has made it through the qualification stage, a sales organization’s usual next step is to send a thank-you email, shortly followed by a contract proposal. But if nothing is done to prepare the ground, the contract can land on the prospect’s desk with the proverbial thud.
So before dispatching a proposal, vendors should first provide bespoke content that addresses issues and objections that came during the qualifying meeting. The most effective approach is to demonstrate how their product relieves the client’s pain points and/or solves an identified problem, ideally with quantifiable results. Many readers will recognize this as a form of objections-handling. It forms the “1st Follow-up” step in the pipeline schema.
The goal is to create an impression in the prospect’s mind that the vendor “gets” their needs and will go the extra mile to solve them. It also helps the prospect envision how they’ll use the product in their workflow. Both will go a long way to ensuring that the contract, when it arrives, gets the focus and attention it deserves.
In terms of format, an email often suffices. But sometimes it’s worth creating bespoke content in the form of a brief case study or presentation deck involving an entity, sector, or region that’s important to the prospect.
Crafting and delivering a contract proposal is a matter of salesforce execution, so there’s no role for strategic content at this stage to help advance the prospect through the sales pipeline. That all changes after the contract has been reviewed.
Handle the objections, provide the details
The reception of a contract triggers reactions on the prospect’s side, ranging from budget discussions to an in-depth analysis of the workings of the model and data. Other groups, such as the legal department, are now part of the assessment process. The involvement of a larger number of people and functional areas inevitably increases the volume of issues and objections, all of which need to be addressed by the vendor if he wants to keep the sales process on track.
Providing the responses is a labor-intensive exercise, but it’s also a familiar exercise for experienced vendors. Thus, for the 2nd Follow-up Step I focus on the sorts of thoughtful, solutions-focused content that can really makes the product stand out and that increases the chances of closing a contract.
As with the 1st Follow-up Step, the key is to focus on the solutions that the product delivers, rather than on the product itself. Another similarity between the two stages is that the issues to be addressed come from the prospect.
The greater number of stakeholders means that the level of knowledge about the product will vary. Also, the diversity of the group evaluating the vendor solutions means that the types of information they require are more diverse as well: the demands of quants are quite different from those of senior managers/wallet holders.
It all points to the need to create a variety of responses in a variety of formats, ranging from detailed emails to customized presentation decks and case studies. One point is that the usual stricture of keeping content short can be relaxed: given that the prospect is invested in the product, there’s less of a concern that longer documents won’t be read.
Prospects want to know what they’re buying, so the Proposal stage is where vendors typically have to provide additional details of their models and datasets, as well as a full description of the product’s functionality. These requirements can be met by standardized content in the form of white papers, data file descriptions, and detailed product specifications. Creating such documents represents a significant investment of time and expertise, but they have the advantages of being reusable. I’ve found that specific questions or issues arising from reviews of such documents can be addressed efficiently in meetings (in the pre-Covid era), on calls, or via email.
Protecting intellectual property
The need to reveal product details naturally leads to vendor concerns about the loss of their intellectual property. However, as noted it’s also understandable that prospects need to understand the product that they are buying. Indeed, banks and insurance companies are required by their regulators to do so. Vendors who cannot find a way to satisfy both requirements will end up losing sales.
The first line of defense is that old stand-by, the non-disclosure agreement. While this offers some level of comfort, it’s often not sufficient, so I would like to offer some further suggestions.
The first concerns model white papers. The trick is to provide enough insight so that prospects can understand the model, but not so much as to reveal details that would allow readers to reverse-engineer it. Finding the right balance is an art, and prospective buyers always want as much insight as possible. But at the end of the day most clients will respect a vendor’s need not to reveal all of a model’s details.
Prospects often want access to the product and related historic data so they can test the efficacy of the model or the data themselves – so-called “free trials” or “trial subscriptions”. One way a vendor can protect its IP in such situations is by only providing a slice of the data, for example, covering a limited region, number of sectors, or time period.
The second is to have a no-dollar contract in place that puts limits on the use of the data during the trial period. It can, for example, be limited in use to a certain department, and only for research or testing, e.g., not for developing other products. And if the prospect has obtained any of the vendor’s data in file format, or downloaded it, then he should be required to purge it if he doesn’t sign a contract.
Such actions take further time and effort. Indeed, as I noted in the post introducing this series on strategic content, selling to large complex organizations is a frustrating process. But it’s also one that leads to big rewards in the form of chunky renewable contracts. The key is to increase the sales organization’s success rate in doing so. Strategic content, properly used, is one such way.