The Short List Blues

by Chris Arlen on July 19, 2012

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The Short List BluesA short list is defined as a select few sellers that customers have reduced from a longer list of potential choices.

Making the short list produces an instant rush of joy and anticipation for sales reps as they sing “You can’t win if you’re not in the game” and “At least we’ve got a chance now!”

Yet when reps repeatedly fail to win the sale, that short-list seems like a curse, as if “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.”

That’s why they call it the blues.

How Do You Know You’ve Got the Blues?

Other than feeling down, you’ll have to dig into the numbers. If you’re on customers’ short lists but not winning at least 50% of them, you’ve got the blues.

Why 50%? This is a bit arbitrary but here’s the thinking behind it (you can always adjust it to where you feel your blues live).

Customers have done some form of due diligence to cull down the big list to the short one. That means those reps have passed the first round of qualifying, getting past the big, simple, easy to discern criteria.

If reps get that far they should have done the required work to win the sale.That means qualifying customers’ fit before making an offer, and then presenting customized solutions that deliver measurable value to customers. If reps aren’t doing that work, why are they bothering to waste their firm’s time?

However, with that work done, reps on short lists should be winning at a 50% rate, compared to a 25% – 35% win rate for all opportunities (includes bids where they don’t make short-lists).

Calculating Short List Win Rate

Here’s how to find out your win rate for short lists, which has one more step than tracking the basic win rate.

As a refresher, the basic win rate is calculated as your number of wins divided by the total number of times you’ve bid, expressed as a percentage.

The short-list win rate is calculated by your number of wins divided by the number of bids where you made the short-list. For this you’ll have to go back and count all the times you made the short-list, which isn’t something most sellers track.

This short-list win rate should be higher than your basic win rate because you were at least in the running. You came close but lacked that last little something to push yourself over the finish line.

Again, your short-list win rate should be at 50%, if not you’ve got the short-list blues.

(NOTE: Your short-list win rate should still be at 50% even if you’re often the sole bidder – who are you losing to when there’s no competition?)

There’s more about measuring win rates at “How Do You Measure Proposal Success?

What Causes Short List Blues?

There are many ways to catch the blues.

Customers can spread it by issuing “RFPs to Nowhere” where they don’t intend to make a change but go through the motions for compliance reasons.

Sales reps can catch it by falling victim to the “31 Ways to Lose a Sale” . But the primary reasons sales are lost in short list presentations are when sales reps:

20. Fail to elicit customers’ buying emotions

21. Fail to provide facts customers can use to justify their emotional buying decisions

These two reasons from the list of 31 count big time because when sales reps have made the short-list, customers have already bought into their company and their offer as one of several potential solutions. That’s how they made it to the short-list. So, it’s self-defeating for reps to go back over how great their company is.

Customers are now really taking that final “sniff” test of whether they connect with the sellers emotionally, whether they like them, can work with them, can trust them. Here the reps are really auditioning for the sale, presenting what it would be like to work with that customer on a personal level.

How to Avoid Short List Blues?

Avoid doing the 31 ways, but pay particular attention to numbers 15 through 28, and 31. Do those the right way and your short-list win rate will rise.

But surely there are other ways to avoid the short list blues. What are yours? Post them up on our site as comments.

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