Urgency: The Difference between a Sale and a Fail

Among prospective customers, urgency is the difference between a sale and a fail. Many people incorrectly assume selling requires creating urgency in the prospective client’s mind. This mindset is both hubristic and harmful: Manipulating someone into altered priorities is a speedy way to make them resent you. In subscription sales, especially, it’s a recipe for churn.

You can’t create a new priority for someone. You can uncover someone’s current priorities and find ways that your product helps. 

Buying software is a high-risk activity. Customers don’t buy because of your product’s efficiency, intuitiveness, or simplicity. They buy because it solves a problem that they need solved right now. 

Seeking Urgency Triggers

After decades of experience leading go-to-market teams, I’ve noticed that customers only feel urgency for one of three reasons:

  1. an authority shift,
  2. a mandate, or
  3. personal drive

Closing a sale quickly requires one of these three. You have to find potential buyers experiencing a trigger moment – you cannot invent the trigger.

Authority Shifts

Authority shifts are changes to an organization’s power structure. They bring the need to work differently. Typically, these come in the form of a new boss or key hire – sometimes when your prospect becomes the new boss. They can also arise after a merger or acquisition when the “dust settles”.

Mandates

Mandates are required changes on a timeline. They can be external (such as a new governmental regulation with a deadline) or internal (products that must be shipped, formerly-active teams laid off, or leadership planting a stake in the ground to address a public problem or opportunity). While mandates are less common than authority shifts, they can be even more powerful because they make change a necessity.

Personal Drive

Ambitious employees identify opportunities to improve the organization and incite change. Not all employees have sufficient ambition to risk driving change, but those who do might use product purchases to accelerate that growth. This urgency trigger is a buyer thinking, “This product can launch my career.” 

If you’re aiming to harness someone’s personal drive for your sale, be honest with yourself: can your product really accelerate their career? The first Salesforce administrators, for instance, launched their careers through the platform (LinkedIn has 4,497 open Salesforce Administrator jobs posted). The first people who used product management software did not.

A personal drive is the rarest urgency trigger, as it combines precise buyer psychology with powerful potential in your product. When found, however, it naturally turns your buyer into a motivated champion for your product.

Using Urgency Triggers

If a prospective client isn’t experiencing one of those urgency triggers, your product is a “nice to have” for them, not a necessity. Time is the most precious resource and your sales team cannot waste it chasing people who do not have both the problem and urgency to solve it. These clients should generally be kept at a comfortable simmer until an urgency trigger erupts.

To leverage urgency triggers to focus your sales and marketing, start by noting the triggers that typically power your sales. While every urgency trigger will likely be an authority shift, a mandate, or a personal drive, your company will have its own commonalities and sub-types. For example:

  • If your industry is highly regulated, shifting government mandates may power your growth
  • If you sell to early-stage startups, you may find personal drives abound
  • If most of your customers are large enterprises, authority shifts may be your best bet (and easier to research)

You can find your most-effective urgency triggers by interviewing current and lost clients. Ask, “What was happening in your company that made buying our product such a high priority?” or “What are the most pressing priorities that outranked the problem solved with our solution?”.  Listen. Don’t sell – the buyer will talk if you respect their choice. The answers become a list of triggers to close new opportunities and inform questions to ask during discovery. You want to identify buyers without urgency triggers as early as possible – to focus your sales and marketing time on the most probable buyers.

Ask Directly

When talking to new prospects, ask directly about urgency. Some salespeople avoid asking, “Why is our product important to you right now?” because they’re afraid of hearing that it’s not. Salespeople are incentivized to believe each opportunity is closable, so they are often hesitant to ask questions that will disqualify customers.

Simply fantasizing that a prospect will become a customer doesn’t mean they ever will and wastes precious time.

By asking every prospect what urgent need your product solves, you’ll either learn that you’re a helpful fit or that you should pursue them later. Learning “not now” is not a disappointment: it’s a liberation. The less time you spend on non-urgent leads, the more time you can spend on leads that close fast.

Beware False Triggers

Not every company transition creates urgency for your product. In the middle of a merger or acquisition, for instance, nobody has the authority to make new buying decisions. Immediately after the acquisition settles, urgency often abounds.

To avoid false triggers, ask yourself “Does the person with urgency have the authority and influence to buy?” and “Is it extremely clear that our solution will address their actual urgent issue?” Be willing to conclude that those answers aren’t sufficient, and that you should learn more or circle back at a later date.

Rigorously Disqualify Leads

In sales, focus is the key to success. Focus means pursuing the opportunities that have the highest likelihood of success while spending minimal resources on those that fizzle.

I recently advised a sales team with a top-performing salesman who had burned out and was considering leaving the company. After looking at his numbers, I proposed he should take fewer meetings, not more. Over the previous quarter, he had met with 81 new prospects, from which he had created 37 opportunities. The seller with the second-highest number of meetings on his team held 47, which had resulted in 35 opportunities. The first seller had taken 34 unnecessary new meetings, each of which required prep, research, and follow-up. This salesman had been tilting at windmills, driving himself to burnout. He would have performed better by disqualifying more leads. 

A customer’s urgency changes over time. Buying a product requires budget, authority, confidence, consensus and urgent need. Some prospects simply won’t be ready. In these circumstances, consider telling them honestly. Especially if your product is a subscription, they will appreciate the small cost savings and significant avoidance of headache thanks to delaying the purchase for a few months. Instead of earning a few months of revenue from a dissatisfied client who may feel disgruntled and churn, you’ve found a trusting relationship with a client eager to recommend you to peers and who will become a buyer when the urgency trigger inevitably hits.

The best sellers are curious. They are maniacal about forming relationships. In many cases, this priority means leaving some leads on a simmer, and following up later when the need is more urgent.

Looking Forward

Every sale happens in an instant. At that instant, the customer must need your product enough that the financial and time is more important to spend with you than on their dozens of other priorities.

Urgency enables you to use your sales resources more efficiently.

When you meet a new customer, find out why they need a solution now. If you can’t answer that question, ask them directly and be willing to circle back if the need is not urgent enough. The customers who need you now will happily buy, while those who don’t are costing you too much time.

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