Sudden obstacles seem to arise during negotiations and negative surprises keep popping up in many customer-orchestrated meetings, more information is constantly being requested and a growing amount of unclarified details keep appearing out of nowhere. After a couple of meetings we still have little idea of buyer's true intentions. Worst of all, we cannot completely determine if this customer is worth continuing to spend our prescious time on?

Have you ever found yourself stuck in what sales professionals call the "buyer-seller dance"? It is unbelievably easy for a buyer to keep asking questions, gain free consulting and never form an actual buying decision. Left unaddressed, while sometimes being beneficial to the buyer, it often turns into a time-wasting mess for the seller. Worst case the customer's money ends up at another provider and the salesperson can not even understand what happened.

It's the sales professional's job to bring in the deal with a well-predicted amount at a reasonably estimated date. There is no single trick to stay in control of any given sales process, but many good and mutually beneficial practices exist to progress complex deals more predictably. Let's take look at one very practical tip that sellers can use to advance common goals and efficiently move towards a close, be it a standard deal or a mutually beneficial partnership.

Core aspects of the upfront contract

After an introductionary conversation, initial interest is identified with the prospect. You continue 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:

  • Purpose of the meeting
  • Buyer's or prospect's agenda and expectations for the meeting
  • Sales professional's agenda and expectations for the meeting
  • Location and duration of the meeting
  • Expected outcome of the meeting

It might seem a bit rigid to go through above points at the beginning of each meeting, but it is important for the sales professional to eliminate unexpected factors. Surprisingly, it often happens that buyers find such an efficient approach to conducting interactions valuable and often respect you for employing this approach.

Remember that there should always be an easy way out available for the buyer if any discomfort is felt at the start or during the meeting. Pressuring others more than is necessary hardly brings a desired outcome. If "push strategies" by salespeople worked earlier, in this day and age it is all about the pull-approach and helping an all-powerful customer in their buying process.

If customer is uncomfortable with a goal-oriented approach laid out by the seller, your time can be better focused somewhere else where an actual need exists or a more serious intention can be 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... Are we still good to have our meeting for the next 60-minutes?" - Appreciate the time and remind your objective

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

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

"Typically by the end of our meeting I understand well enough the following things... This will let us progress towards discussing the technicalities of our solution and set up a follow-up meeting that will help us build a solid proposal..." - Intended outcome

By setting-up a mutual upfront contract, you set the framework for the meeting.

Upfront contract as part of the sales cycle

Note that upfront contracts may not be the best way to start your cold-calls. When getting in touch with a prospect for the first time there are better suited tools for the job. Nonetheless it remains a good technique for ensuring deal progression in your later consecutive interactions.

I think this tool is relatively easy to put in practice. At least it's well worth a try and I promise that after a couple of attempts it tends to get way more natural bringing along some considerable results.

There are a multitude of things that sales professionals need to take into account to be efficient and result-oriented with their work. Upfront contracts remain just a small part of the whole process. I will be discussing other best practices at different stages of the sales cycle in later articles (initial contact, prospecting, qualification, negotiation, closing and post-sell).

Have you tried using the upfront contract approach in your work?

The upfront contract is a term coined by Sandler Training