Here’s sad news. Intently studying the sales cycle in training or by yourself won’t bring you any numbers. The sales cycle won’t work if you don’t. However, this does not diminish the importance of the sales cycle.
Now, the basic or typical sales cycle follows these steps or stages: prospect, interview, demonstrate, validate, negotiate, close, referral and back again to prospect. These are the seven sequentially ideal steps in the selling process and the best definition of a sales cycle. This basic sales cycle is useful to both B2C and B2B selling, though it’s much more applicable to the former. Either way, a sales cycle never ends. It ends, you do. That’s why it starts and returns to the most important stage: prospecting (identifying potential buyers for what you are selling). Incidentally, if selling through conversion (e.g. land sellers), prospecting, and only prospecting, has been done for you. You have someone to sell to. But. You still must go through the other steps. So you add value by building your own bridges and not assuming automatic conversion.
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Your goal of sales cycle is to add value to it
Now then. Experience reminds us that the steps along which the process flows is full of bumps, more bumps and yet more bumps. In between text book definition and experience on the ground lies the game-changer: the place where the salesperson adds value to the process by being flexible. Value addition is in the handicraft seller who, after I object to buying a piece because I do not need it, he validates why I should by saying, “But you can buy for a friend” — and I do.
Value addition is when my barber tells me that I can pay next time as he doesn’t have change for my Sh1,000 note; and value addition is the bank rep who determines to do all the leg work for his lucrative accounts yet in theory (read job description) he shouldn’t. The importance of the sales cycle is unlocked when you add value to it.
Adding value is accelerating our sales cycle; it’s how you rake in the numbers— studying the sales cycle with blinders on, won’t teach you that; but a desire to add value by trying new things will. The goal of the sales cycle is to act as guideline, not deadline. Adding value to the sales process injects vibrancy to the inanimate sales cycle. Value addition is what war stories are about. It’s the space where the sales people who stand out from the army of look-alikes play. It’s the stuff that makes sales legends.
Example of sales cycle
Consider this sales predicament. A salesperson wishes to demonstrate to a prospect (potential buyer) that his internal processes need adjusting as the cart is placed before the horse. There is the sales person who will use several PowerPoint slides to drive the point home; and there’s another who may write a lengthy email detailing the whys and the wherefores of the situation; and then there’s a third who may come along with only a stick and a carrot and using just these two show why the prospects aren’t able to get to the desired carrot because of the dreaded stick.
There is no right or wrong way here — just different methods of adding value to the process while seeking the one that will drive home the point in the simplest, effective and most memorable fashion.
How to move prospects through the cycle
I know a salesman who, having unsuccessfully tried several times and ways to reach a high flying prospect, got creative. He befriended the prospect’s personal assistant and got a sneak preview of his calendar. The next time the prospect was flying business class as usual, guess who was seated right next to him? This salesman tells me the three hour flight was the greatest investment he had ever made in his career. When they landed and parted ways, he hang around the airport and waited for the next flight back. Mission accomplished.
Flexibility wins because prospects are human beings and not robots. Human beings are by their very nature fluid; and therefore situations are too. Nothing is permanent.
Sales cycle length
An infuriated prospect will simmer down at one point in time; he can be approached then. Market situations also change; even the show-stopper General Election comes and goes, as former President Kibaki liked to remind Kenyans.
The importance of the sales cycle cannot be gainsaid. The cycle won’t flow if you don’t. And flowing with it means being flexible. The successful sales person is fluid in nature. He is always seeking to add value to the sales process by trying different ways of doing so until, voila! — bulls-eye — the flow continues. He is continually trying to shorten the sales cycle length.
He knows there is no failure in sales; only feedback; and feedback sometimes gets us to mark time, take a few steps back or even go back to the drawing board and make a new foray.
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