What does the alignment-based sales approach look like on the ground level? It’s one thing to conceptually understand the theory, but it isn’t always obvious how to take that 10,000 foot view and apply it to your sales process. How do you start an alignment-based sale? What do you say to make sure both parties are still in alignment? How do you walk away when there isn’t an alignment?
Let’s roll up our sleeves and dig into some real-world techniques for implementing an alignment-based sales process. There are three basic steps: The Alignment Statement; Qualifying; and Continuous Testing. Let’s take a look at how each of these work.
1. Create an alignment statement.
The alignment statement is your initial hypothesis about how the relationship between your company and your client might come together. It’s your best guess about how this client would benefit from buying your product or service. It also introduces the prospect to the alignment process itself, starting your first email, cold call or conversation.
The alignment statement is entirely focused on the prospect’s needs. It also references how your business was able to achieve the desired results for a previous client in a similar situation. It helps to set the tone for the more detailed discussions to come.
Let’s say you were selling an energy-efficiency technology to a big-box store. Your initial alignment statement might be something like this:
“Our customers work with us because we make recovering cash flow from your existing buildings profitable and painless. I believe that we could do the same for you … if you share the same priorities.”
Not only does this turn the sales pitch into something more conversational, but it also makes it clear from the start that the prospect is being qualified. There are great results to be had, but only if both parties interests are aligned. I’ve used this exact approach — practically verbatim — to launch deals worth millions of dollars.
Ideally, the prospect will want to know more following the alignment statement. They will want to know who else you’ve worked with, and how those people have benefited. The more information they have, the easier it is for them to understand how their needs and your solutions can work together.
Of course, not every prospect will share those priorities. Maybe they aren’t worried about their cash flow, or they have some other solution in place. Whatever the case, the real reason they are opting to pass is because they already know that their interests aren’t aligned with yours. This is the best-case scenario, because it allows you to quickly and efficiently disqualify them and move on to the next prospect.
2. Qualify by confirming your interests.
To be truly aligned with your buyers, you need to know what they want. What’s the best way to find this out? It’s simple: Ask them.
In an alignment-based process, asking the prospect what they need feels like a natural part of the conversation. It also demystifies the process for both parties, building trust and helping to grow conversions.
How does it work? It might start with a statement like this:
“Our sales process is different than most companies. We only want to do business with clients whose interests are strongly aligned with ours. We’re only interested in creating win-win relationships, so we’re very careful to make sure that this is the right fit for both of us. We like to start this process by discussing what success would look like for you. Does this sound like an approach that makes sense for you?”
Coming off of the alignment statement, this kind of qualification can be very powerful. The prospect now has some context for why this sales process is different. Compare this is a more traditional, pain-point focused approach that might start with a handshake, and is immediately followed by “Let me ask you, what keeps you awake at night?” It’s a completely different kind of interaction.
By asking the prospect to outline what a successful relationship would require, you’re really asking would take for them to give you their business. If you can provide the results they need for the price they can afford, you’re within a stone’s throw of a completed deal. In a traditional sales approach, it wouldn’t even be possible to have this discussion until you were very deep into the process, perhaps two or three meeting in. In an alignment-based process, it’s a conversation that happens naturally, often during the first meeting.
Not every prospect is going to be comfortable with, or interested in, this process. They might prefer the win-lose dynamic of traditional sales negotiations, keeping their cards close to their chest in the hopes of getting a better deal. In those cases, it’s better to walk away. There are other opportunities out there, and you could close several alignment-based deals in the same time it would take to even get to the closing stage of a traditional approach.
3. Continually test and disqualify confidently.
This is a natural technique for making sure that both you and the prospect are still on track throughout the sales process. It allows both parties to raise concerns quickly, allowing you to either address those concerns or move on. It prevents you from wasting a ton of time on unqualified opportunities, and it makes it much easier to pull the plug on those opportunities that don’t work out.
It may sound strange for me to advocate walking away from a sales opportunity, but there are plenty of situations where this makes sense to do. Obviously, you’re only going to pull the plug when the probability of closing the deal is very low. Obviously you’re not going to go into a sales meeting hoping for an excuse to walk away from the table.
Here’s an example of using this approach properly:
“You’ve told us what success would look like for you, and here are the solutions we can provide to meet those criteria. Is there any reason for us not to move forward?”
If their answer is yes, there are some reasons not to move forward, it doesn’t mean the deal isn’t going to work. The whole point of this step is to find these rough edges in the alignment, and address them before they become huge problems. As long as you’re both still in alignment at the end of the process, minor bumps in the road shouldn’t be an issue.
Yes, sometimes there will be problems that can’t be resolved. You’ve realized that there isn’t an alignment between your business and your prospect’s needs. If that happens, the alignment-base approach allows you to gracefully exit. All you need to say from here is “This doesn’t look like it’s going to be a good fit, but I wish you the best of luck finding the solution you need.”
While you always hope to find a great alignment and make a profitable deal, pulling the plug on an ill-fitting deal isn’t a bad thing. The less time you spend chasing after a bad deal, the more time you have to focus on good ones. Opportunity costs are a big factor in any business, and the last thing you want to do is waste your time, or the prospect’s.