A successful sales professional has proper visibility into the decision-making process of the buyer and should be able to control, as well as reliably forecast the time-related aspects of a complex deal. There is no single trick in order to stay in control of a sales process, but many good and mutually beneficial practices can be employed in order to progress complex deals more efficiently.

Many sales professionals know the feeling of getting stuck in what is called the "buyer-seller dance" at some stage in the sales cycle. It is unbelievably easy for a professional buyer to keep asking questions, gain free consulting and never form an actual buying decision.

Sudden obstacles seem to arise during the negotiations and negative surprises keep popping up in the meetings that are orchestrated by the customer. More information is constantly being requested, a couple of more particularities need to be addressed, budget needs to be proposed and additional internal meetings need to be had on the customer side, etc.

After a couple of meetings and conversations we still have little idea about the actual intentions of the buyer as well as their priorities. The worst of all is the fact that we cannot completely determine if the customer is even worth to continue spending our prescious time on.

While all of this can be very beneficial for the buyer, it can often turn into a time-wasting mess for the seller. In the worst case the customer's money will suddenly go to another provider and the seller will never completely understand what happened. It's the sales professional who is responsible to his or her organization for bringing in the deal with a predictable amount and within a predictable time-frame.

Let's take look at a very practical tip for the seller that can help with advancing the common goals and efficiently moving towards a decision and consequentially the closing, be it a deal, agreement or a mutually beneficial partnership.

Core aspects of the upfront contract

After the introductionary conversation an initial interest has been identified with the prospect. You and the customer aim to continue the discussions by setting up a meeting or scheduling a longer phone call. In order to carry out the meeting efficiently, an upfront contract should be set by the seller at the start of each and every interaction.

An upfront contract should include these five elements:

  • The purpose of the meeting
  • The buyer's or prospect's agenda and expectations for the meeting
  • The sales professional's agenda and expectations for the meeting
  • The location and duration of the meeting
  • The expected outcome of the interaction or the meeting

It might seem a bit rigid and stiff to go through these points at the beginning of each meeting, but it is important for the sales professional to eliminate the unexpected surprise factors from the sales cycle (of course there are much more robust tools for adressing that too). What usually happens though, is that the buyer finds the efficient approach to conducting interactions very valuable and actually respects this approach that is being carried out by the seller.

There should also be an easy way out for the buyer if any discomfort is felt at the start, or during the meeting. Pressuring the buyer more than is absolutely necessary hardly brings the wanted outcomes and rarely results in carrying-out solid and mutually beneficial business. Push strategy by the salesperson might have worked earlier but in this day and age it is all about the pull-approach and helping the all-powerful customers in their buying process.

In the case that the customer is actually uncomfortable with a goal-oriented deal progression approach by the seller, the seller's time should be better focused somewhere else - somewhere where an actual need exists and a more serious intention is observed.

Practical approach: ANOT

There is an easy way to implement the upfront contract approach in practice, and that is the ANOT memory helper:

A | Appreciate - Time and objective
N | Naturally - Prospect's agenda
O | Obviously - Your agenda
T | Typically - Intended outcome

"I Appreciate that you have invited me to discuss the problem that we are trying to solve now... Are we still good to have our meeting in this one hour timeframe that we scheduled last week?" - Appreciate the time and the objective

"Naturally you may want to ask us some questions. Feel free to do that and clarify things up if something comes up in your mind. Is there anything else that you would like to cover today?" - Prospect's agenda

"Obviously I will also need to understand your company and business a bit better and possibly ask about some of your strategic objectives in this regard. Would that be OK for you...?" - Your agenda

"Typically by the end of our meeting I understand well enough the resources that we should attach from our side. Thus we usually progress onwards to discuss the technicalities of our problem and set up a meeting that will help us build a solid proposal..." - Intended Outcome

After setting the mutual upfront contract, the framework for the meeting is ready and and the discussion can move onwards to the core topics of the meeting -> That is of course all about asking open ended/directional questions and listening with a 30-70 ratio (more on that in another post...).

The upfront contract as part of the sales cycle

Note that the upfront contract may not be the best way to start the initial cold-call. When calling or meeting up with the prospect for the very first time there are other frameworks/approaches that are to be used, and as such the UFC is only a good tool for later consecutive interactions and the ensurement of deal progression.

I will be discussing other approaches and best practices at different stages of the sales cycle such as the initial contact, prospecting, qualification, negotiations, closing, post-sell, relationship management and others... There is a multitude of things that a sales professional needs to take into account in order to be efficient and result-oriented in his or her work. The upfront contract remains just a small part of the whole process and should be considered as a practical tip.

Nonetheless, I think that the UFC is a tool for a sales professional that is relatively easy to put in practice. At least it is worth a try and after a couple of attempts it usually gets more natural and brings also some considerable results.

Have you tried using the upfront contract approach in your work? - The upfront contract is a term coined by Sandler Training and is definitely worth getting more familiar with if you found the topic of this post interesting.