Brilliant Influencing
Always Start with an Assessment
by James "Alex" Alexander
Complex sales are, well, complex! Hence, except for the rare possibility of divine intervention, a seller's ability to identify a correct and appropriate recommendation from a few (even several) conversations with prospect personnel is just about zilch.

This is especially true when your prospect doesn't have a lot of experience with the problem or opportunity, and that is often the case. You just don't have enough facts and the appropriate context to really understand the prospect's situation.

Therefore, developing a proposal, creating a statement of work, or responding to a request for proposal (RFP) without conducting an up-front assessment is risky, foolhardy, and unprofessional. I guess by now you know my thoughts on this matter!

As a rule, brilliant influencers always recommend/require/sell an assessment as a key event early in their selling cycle. Not only does a well-done, up-front assessment shape the requirements of the larger engagement, it provides three main benefits.

  1. Minimizes risk. The well-done assessment reduces risk on two levels. From the client's perspective, it minimizes risk by confirming issues and opportunities and targets the areas of greatest potential impact. This greatly diminishes the possibility of wasted funds or outright failure. From your organization's perspective, it gives you the necessary information to realistically determine an engagement scope and price it appropriately. Pretty important, don't you think?
  2. Demonstrates credibility. Effectively implementing the assessment allows you to showcase your talent, prove your professionalism, and demonstrate your reliability—all very important attributes that will shape future decisions in your favor.
  3. Builds executive relationships. If you are addressing important business issues, then you are dealing in the realm of your prospect's executives since they are paid to do that. At this stage, they are open to investing their time with your people, thus opening the door to personal relationships. Since people prefer doing business with people they know and like, this is a marvelous opportunity to build trust and all but locks out the competition.
Here are six guidelines to selling assessments the right way:

  1. Make conducting an assessment of any complex situation a requirement of working with the prospect. Let me repeat: This is not a nice-to-do; it is a must-do. Therefore, if the prospect will not agree to an assessment, you walk. If a seller tries to advance a sale without gaining commitment to an assessment, sales management should intervene with both feet.
  2. Establish the value of the assessment. As I'll discuss in a moment, there are various ways to position and price the assessment, but the benefit/cost equation should be clear in the prospect's mind.
  3. Always give (or at least think through) choices. There is the full-blown, boil-the-ocean assessment, there is the bare-bones, just-enough-to-scope-things-out-correctly assessment, and there is the in-between, pretty-good, usually-the-one-to-go-with assessment.
  4. Know the reality of your prospect. Some readily see the need for assessments and will willingly pay appropriately. Some have been trained by sellers to want the assessment but expect it to be free. Others may want it and value it, but internal policy does not allow them to pay for assessments (e.g., some government agencies).
  5. Require an executive audience. Commit up front that when the assessment is complete you will get a two-hour session with the appropriate executives to share findings, talk about options, and make recommendations.
  6. Guarantee your work. Remove excuses for not buying and minimize risk in the prospect's mind.
Here are your pricing/positioning choices:

  • Price at full value plus expenses. Here you try to maximize what you can get for the assessment and not worry a lot about future business. If the assessment is worth $50,000, you charge $50,000.
  • Price at a discount plus expenses. In this approach you may feel that the assessment is worth $50,000, but you might price it at $20,000. You do this to improve the probability of making this sale as well as getting the follow-up business. To justify the discount, you might position your prospect as an important account, strategic to your organization. Hence, you are willing to sacrifice early revenue in the hope of building a long-term relationship.
  • Price at full value or at a discount plus expenses, but agree to credit the prospect the full amount of the assessment if they purchase the next phase from you. Assuming the prospect liked your work, this puts you in good stead to win the next phase.
  • Price only at expenses. Again you might position the prospect as a strategic account, thus you are willing to invest in them. Of course, this will take some internal discussion and negotiation since a department will have to absorb this cost of sale.
  • Price only at expenses with a fee for the report. This is also a strategic investment in the account. Orally share your findings and recommendations with executives, but don't hand over the report unless the prospect pays the pre-determined value.*
Be a brilliant influencer--make an assessment an up-front requirement whenever dealing with a complex sale, and you will sell more, larger sales faster and more profitably.
* I learned this approach from Steve Lieberson, a top seller for CDI Corporation.
James "Alex" Alexander is founder of Alexander Consulting, a management consultancy that helps product companies build brilliant service businesses. Contact him at 239-671-0740 or
Alexander Consulting
5248 Fairfield Drive
Fort Myers, FL 33919