I sat in on a sales training session last week and was reminded of this post I did a while back. It’s one of my favorite technical posts. Getting to the sale takes commitment from your customer as much as it takes effort from you. Are you willing to ask for it?
—————from the archive March 18th, 2009———–
Traditionally, sales people struggle with accurately understanding where they are in a sales cycle. How many times have we heard, the deal is closing in X days or weeks and it doesn’t? There are tons of reasons why this happens, everything from overly optimistic sales folks, poor account management skills or customers who never had an intention to buy, but just strung the account team along. However, one of the main reasons for this is the actual sales cycle itself is NOT in alignment with the actual selling effort.
The traditional sale cycle is not linear, yet most organizations use a linear sale process to track sales. Using a sales process consisting of gates, they assume a linear progression of effort and time from left to right or “prospect” to “close”, using gates to mark progress.
The problem with a linear approach is it does not account for effort and the involvement of the customer. A real life sales cycle or process requires customer involvement and “yes’s.” All sales cycles entail a serious of “yes’s” from the prospect or clients. These yes’s represent agreement of the customer to participate in the sales cycle with you and that you have met their needs to date. It’s like a myriad of sales within in the sale. Every phase, from contact to close, in the sales cycle entails yes’s. In the prospect phase, it may be a yes to meet or to share critical information. In the opportunity phase it may be a yes to a proof of concept or access to the decision criteria and decision makers. No matter what stage one is in the sales cycle and how much effort the sales person puts in, with out the yes, a sale can not progress.
Sales cycles therefore need to measure the level of effort with the ability to gain client yes’s, as each yes moves the sale closer to close.
As illustrated above, the effort of a sales person does little to get them closer to the sale, without the yes of the prospect. Understanding this, it is critical for sales people to manage their effort to be in alignment with the return of a customers yes. A sale person or sales team can spend a lot of effort “climbing the pole” but are doing little to get closer to the sales. Sales teams need to balance effort with the return on the yes they are looking for. A week long, all hands on deck effort to gain a yes that only moves you slightly closer to the deal closing is not a good investment. Break down the efforts, be clear in how the efforts will drive you closer to the sale and deliver an appropriate return on sales effort (ROSE).
The Customer or prospect plays a huge role in this analysis. Not only are they the keepers of the yes, a sale can not be made if they are not working with you as well. Yes, our prospects and customers are part of the sales cycle and have to put some skin in the game. Unfortunately, many good sales people don’t recognize this and thus create an imbalanced sales cycle. Unbalanced sales cycles are destined to failure; the prospect has no commitment or skin in the game.
Far too often sales people and their teams, “cater” to their prospects or customers, seeing their job as caretakers responding to the needs of their clients. This is a death trap. You can’t confuse customer service with selling. The customer/prospect has the vision, the information, and knowledge that is critical to the sale being successful. Imagine being a car salesman and having a customer who won’t take a test drive. Or a retail clerk, who has someone who won’t try on the clothes. Probability of sale is a lot lower and therefore the clerk and car salesman need to be very careful how much time they invest in these customers. The amount of effort customers/prospects put into your sales cycle is a critical indicator of their commitment to buy. There is a certain level of work both the sales person and the prospect must perform together for any sales cycle to be efficient and successful. I call it “The Dance”. The Dance is an intimate collaboration of effort, and commitment targeted toward maximizing value. Learning how to execute a Balanced Sale Cycle will drastically increase the ability of the deal to close. Why? The customer is as committed and bought in as you.
Requests of your prospects or customers are critical to creating a balanced sales cycle. Asking your prospect or customer for things you need to be successful will help you assess their commitment to buying. Asking your prospect or customer to give you critical information, or access to important people, or to escalate an issue etc. is not only OK, but a must. Getting prospects and customers to work and put in the effort is the key to a good balanced sales cycle.
What do you expect from your customers? Do you make requests from them? Do you expect them to work as hard as you? Do you see their involvement in the process as important if not more than yours? If you do you will find making your numbers a lot easier.
Don’t be out of wack!