One of the most important parts of the sales process is validation. In Stop Selling, I liken the sales process to building a fire. The validation in that process, I compare to the oxygen that breathes life into the fire. We have all witnessed when a client has been validated in one form or another, how they come back to life or go to a higher level of excitement. Likewise, we have seen a bad conversation or something that they witness seem to take the process in the opposite direction. Almost like water being thrown on the flames. So, if we all agree that this is an important step, how can we accomplish it? More importantly, why is it one of the most skipped steps in the process? Let's focus on the latter first.
When I see a process stalled, one of the questions I ask is, "who have they validated with, and how long ago?" For managers, another problem I have witnessed is that this step, like many others, must recur from time to time. A process like this is not a checklist where we can say, "covered that." It, instead, must be tended, like the fire I compared it to earlier. In some cases, as the client learns more and has more questions, they may need more validation or different kinds of validation. Maybe their initial questions had to do with price or value. Now that the individual is past that concern, they may need more information on implementation or support. They may have a concern on their ability or challenges they may have to overcome. The point is that the process takes twists and turns, and as it does, the salesperson/consultant must adapt to what is needed to continue to advance or move the sale forward.
So, why is this step skipped at times? The number one reason is that the salesperson doesn't believe it is needed. The client has such a high level of interest that the salesperson doesn't believe it to be necessary. Have you ever had the client who was asking all of the right questions, seemed ready to commit and then disappeared? There could be three reasons for this:
1. Something happened such as a death in the family, illness, or life simply getting in the way.
2. The salesperson failed in the interview stage to uncover the real needs and has yet to address the things that are most important to the client.
3. The client needs somebody to validate their interest, or someone has validated their concerns.
Another reason for skipping this step is because the client deems it as unnecessary or they don't follow through. Seldom have I seen closure if validation has not taken place. When no validation occurs, the process goes off track. I've found that validation can get the process moving again once the issues have been addressed. However, this can be more difficult once the client is moving in the opposite direction. The final reason I see it skipped is because of this familiar scenario I call the "comebacker." The client comes back to life. They have come back after a long absence of interest. Now, they are back and ready to make a decision or are reengaged. The salesperson is so confident that they have returned that they assume interest is real closure. They may have validated with somebody before, but they didn't take action. There was something missing at that time. It could still be missing now, or there may be something else missing. So, don't skip the validation step now! Do not over-estimate the situation. More important, if they hadn't completed that step then, they need to now.
When we talk about how we accomplish this step, first let us look at some people that do it better than any other. QVC, without a doubt, is one of the best at validation. They have a host who is trying the product or show the end result of the product. He or she works for the network. Do you think he or she will say, "Hey, this stinks" or "this tastes awful"? Regardless of the obvious conflict or interest, it works. These are people who have developed some type of trust with the viewer. Then, they often show how many of the items have been sold or have sold out of a certain color. Then, if that isn't enough, they take callers who have called in and already have the product. These rave reviews continue to push people who were on the fence to get off and commit. Another example is infomercials. They are filled with people who have experienced success with whatever the product is supposed to do. Next, we have movie critics. A movie critic often influences a person's decision to see or not see a movie. There are things like Yelp, Angie's List, and product reviews on websites such as Amazon. Today, more than ever, information is out there and readily available. So, you might as well build validation in and make it a critical step. If you're not providing the validation, the client will get it from someone or somewhere else. Let's hope it's somebody that knows what they are talking about. Validation can be exactly what we have discussed in these examples. It can be customer reviews, live conversations, letters of satisfaction, surveys from sites like Survey Monkey, pre-product testing or experiencing the event. The restaurant Culver's used to, and may still, have their potential franchisee come work in a Culver's before they talked "turkey" or should we say talked "ButterBurgers." Discovery days in franchising can be a great step. Sometimes, another part of the validation is what happens after you? The client may need to see what happens after the sale or meet who you are passing the baton to. If you have a website, there should be validation within the site. Another part of validation can be leadership. They may need to meet with leadership to get a better feel for the direction of the organization.
Another part of validation is the salesperson and things that take place within the process. The client is soaking up things that the salespeople may not be aware of. If the salesperson is always late, it may represent the perceived client's value they believe you have placed on them. In other words, how valuable is your business to my company? It can send a message that delivery of service may not be prompt. Remember, to the client you are the company or the product at this stage. They may not even be aware of it consciously, but they're taking it in. Poor follow up on commitments can send the same message. The words you use can also be telling or creating concern. As an example, I hate the word prospect. Who wants to be called a prospect? This can send a message that the client is only viewed as a sale. Another word is account. I don't want to be an account. What we do, say and dress speaks to who and what we represent. Saying something about a past customer can make a current customer worry about what you may say about them. So, be aware of your thoughts, actions, words, and body language. It could be speaking volumes to the client.
One observation about validation that I almost never hear people talk about is validating to stay in neutral. Some people who are hesitant to make a decision or move forward will actually seek negative validation to remain in the status quo. Sometimes, this is when the craziest things come into play. The person is avoiding a decision by bringing in information to stay in neutral. How can you determine this? If they have made up their mind not to do something, they would move in reverse to "not doing it." If it had little or no effect, they would be going forward. If they are in neutral, it's probably because of fear of moving in one direction or another. The piece of information, concern, or challenge in question should either be something they can get past or stop the process. It shouldn't keep them in neutral. This stall can also be known as "paralysis by analysis." The client is so desperate to not make a decision that they grab everything they can to justify staying in neutral. There is a whole chapter in the book dedicated to head, heart and stomach, which can be going on as well.
In closing, if you don't think validation is important, consider these three situations:
1. You drive by and see people looking at something. What do you do? You look to see what everyone is looking at. What others do catches our attention. No different than a person screaming at their child in public. It doesn't mean we condone it, but it catches our attention, and in some cases, it dictates our actions in the future.
2. There is a crowd around something for sale. You have to see what is on sale. This is why retailers use dump tables or bins. It gets people digging and others to dig as well.
3. You walk into an unfamiliar restaurant, and it's not busy during prime time. You look at the person you are with and wonder, how bad must this place be? Crowds or lack of crowds has an effect on us. This is not to say that when we arrive at our favorite eatery, we don't enjoy being able to grab a table and have the restaurant to ourselves. It does, however, speak volumes to us if the restaurant is unfamiliar to us, and we see an empty parking lot.
If you're still not convinced, have you ever asked, "how does this look on me?" If you get complimented on what you're wearing, you feel more confident in your choice of clothing and will probably wear it more often because you were validated. We may believe we are completely independent thinkers, but just how dependent are we really?