In previous posts in this series on the B2B selling process – which, I’m sure you’re sick of reading, matches your customers’ B2B buying process – we covered defining and listing your addressable market and then defining the sales opportunity for you.

This third selling stage corresponds to the ‘brief’ buying stage and concerns the customer’s objectives. What are they looking to do? Your prospective customer is setting out its requirements for removing the barriers to achieving its objectives. The brief can come in many forms, from the ultra-short verbal brief – especially if you’re already a supplier to the customer –  to the more formal requests for information, quote, or proposal, through to the ultra-formal Invitation to Tender.

The really important point to bear in mind is this: if this is the first you’re hearing of a potential opportunity to do business with the customer, you’ve already missed a few stages in the customer’s buying process. They may have already done a fair bit of work researching their problem, and researching you. Worse still, they may have also received help designing and framing their requirements from – yikes! – a competitor. And if the competitor has helped them write the brief, guess what the optimal solution is likely to be geared to? Yep, the competitor’s offering. And what’s the success rate for responding to an unexpected invitation to bid for business? Zero to 5%. Yep, that’s not a typo, it’s 0 to 5%.

Let’s pull ourselves away from this gloomy scenario for a moment though. At this selling stage you have a couple of options. You can either assume the customer has a clear understanding of what they need or you can ask them a bunch of questions to challenge their assumptions, qualify their requirements in more detail and maybe highlight some additional areas that they might not have considered. The golden rule in a sales opportunity is ABQ – Always Be Qualifying, through the life of your active association with the opportunity, until you win it, lose it, or pull out. Use some of the following questions to help dig into the customer’s objectives:

– Who is involved in the decision? What’s the pecking order?

– What is their role in the decision? They will have different roles, from evaluators through to decision-makers and decision-approvers.

– Some of the people will have different things they want to get out of the project. What are they? Whose are more important?

– What is the process from here, all the way through to completion?

– Is the budget rock solid? There’s no chance of another project getting the funding?

– Is the budget enough for what they want to do?

– Why do they have to do this project?

– What happens if they don’t do this project? If nothing happens, you don’t have an opportunity. No-one you want to work with is going to spend money they don’t need to spend

After you’ve satisfied you have a clear understanding of the objectives, and the prospective customer has confirmed them, there are some additional things for you to consider yourself:

– What relationship do you have with the key people involved in this project? Most importantly, what relationship do you have with the person who is most impacted by the success or failure of this project?

– How are you going to win this business from the competitive alternatives, including an internal alternative, or the ‘do nothing’ alternative?

– What’s the fit like between your solution and their objectives. You need to be able to demonstrate you alone are the best fit for them

At the end of this stage you need to be able to articulate how you feel about this deal and why you think you should pursue it or disengage. From here it gets expensive for you to compete and so you need to be sure you understand clearly what is required and what your chances of success are.