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In US culture, the expression "ready, willing and able" has long been used to describe the pinnacle of receptivity for an endeavor. In selling, "ready, needful and willing" defines the opportunity ideal.

A huge body of sales literature and training emphasizes the importance of learning the buyer's needs and selling only against priority needs. But readiness and willingness have even more important roles in sales success.

Buyers have many needs, interests and desires. They can't or won't commit funds to act on many of them, but they will let you spend precious time and resources in the fruitless pursuit. This is called Cost of Sales.  But if they're not organizationally ready for your solution, or are not culturally willing to do what it takes to get it, there is no Sale, only Cost.

How Ready is Your Buyer?

Old-school sales trainers talked about the difference between an "objection" and a "condition." An objection is a concern that a very interested buyer has that prevents her getting comfortable with a purchase decision. If a seller has established his credibility as someone who's solely focused on understanding and addressing her self-interest, she'll welcome his help in clarifying and overcoming it. By contrast, a condition is an immutable barrier to the buyer doing what she wants to do, often related to prerequisites.

Lack of readiness is a situational condition that relates to timing. For example, a computer systems vendor approaches your firm about a strategy to integrate all your accounting, marketing, recruiting and litigation support applications. It's not hard for you to see how everything would work more smoothly and efficiently together. There's just one problem: you're still trying to get each of those individual business processes and applications to work as well as you envisioned. No matter how sensible and attractive integration is, no matter how much you want or need it, you're not ready for integration. The sale is doomed; the vendor cannot close it, but both you and the vendor can unintentionally, and in good faith, spend a lot of time and money trying to find a way for you to get what you want and believe that you need. You do need it, but you can't have it now.

An equivalent example for a lawyer might be trying to jump on the "partnering" bandwagon by offering a client access to your sophisticated systems for sharing files, work product and billing. You're right about the potential efficiencies and mutual cost savings. But if the corporate law dept.'s technical infrastructure won't support the degree of integration required to take advantage of partnering, they're not ready for your offer. You can't make this sale, at least for now. 

How "Needful" is Your Buyer?

Business need has long been a staple of sales training, and most salespeople are pretty good at identifying and exposing it. The more elusive skill is quantifying it and evincing from the buyers the perceived Cost of Doing Nothing. Do it right, and the imputed positive economic impact expressed by the buyers will yield an ROI that dwarfs your solution's economic cost. Without it, cost stands alone, erecting a barrier to the sale, and practically demanding difficult price negotiations.

How Willing Is Your Buyer?

Readiness comes first.  If an organization isn't ready for your solution, it doesn't matter how badly a stakeholder needs it; his "satisfiable needs" are a subset of what he's ready for.  

Willingness describes an organization's appetite for the type of change required to satisfy a need.  It's a culture factor, and constitutes an even smaller subset of needs.  

Everyone remembers that the key barrier to CRM or other automated marketing support databases was not cost, but the perception that lawyers would resist sharing the kind of contact information that would enable the firm to capture meaningful marketing information and keep it current. Correct or not, the perception was that the partners were not willing to pay the behavioral price to improve the firm's knowledge of contacts, prospects and clients.

A familiar example to lawyers is when a senior executive at a prospective client company acknowledges that your firm and you are far better equipped to deliver the more sophisticated services that the fast-growing company now needs, but that executive is unwilling to expend the political capital it would take to cut into the incumbent firm's territory.

Right now, virtually every law firm has some degree of desire to gain at least some of the advantages found in the top-down, hierarchical management structure common in industry. But they're unwilling to accept the cultural change it would require.  

If prospects are ready and needful, but not willing, ready and needful don't matter enough. All three conditions must be met for a sale to consummate.

Mike O'Horo

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