Sales training has always emphasized what I would call the typical “Sales Cycle” – discovery, needs, qualification, solution, presentation and commitment.
Many follow this methodology, but it’s missing a vital piece – timing! Where is the business in the pipeline and when will we get the commitment – that’s what we want to know. Yet the accuracy of that forecasting is accurate less than 20% of the time. Why? If we have all the information, and we’re consistently communicating with the client, wouldn’t it make sense that the deal should close when we ask for the commitment? Well, if that was the case, many sales professionals would be worth millions. But it’s not that easy. And here’s why.
Sales is as subjective as it is objective. Clients buy for more reasons than just meeting their needs. Think of the times you thought you were about to close a sale where you thought you were clearly the best option, yet for some reason, you never got the sale. Why?
There are three factors that as a sales professional, you must always consider: politics, alternatives and timing.
- Politics are, many times, a hidden influence that most sales people simply don’t have access to. Your future and current clients have their own conscious, unconscious and sometimes competing priorities and preferences. It’s hard to understand the internal goals of the client when you’re only in front of them a fraction of their time.
So perhaps your sales efforts may be better served by thinking not about your sales cycle but about your client’s buying cycle. To have a better understanding of the politics, you need to build relationships with multiple decision makers. If you have a coach or champion on the inside, you may gain greater insight than your competitors.
- Alternatives are plentiful for most needs. Thanks to the internet your target client can and do research many options before they go public with their need. Not only that, but you must know that an internal solution may be your biggest competitor. Clients can sometimes build their own solution.
Your work must be to research possible alternatives that your prospect may be considering. Yes, you’re making a bit of a guess on the exact specs, but with the right preparation, it can be an educated guess.
So, whether they delay the project or scrap it altogether, it’s important that you factor in all of these possibilities, especially when you don’t have all of the information.
- Timing is always a major factor when working with your clients. A lot can change in just a little time. Think about your own buying patterns. How often do you buy certain products and services? Weekly, monthly, yearly? Whether it’s three months, six months or a year, time can change everything. Decisions makers change, needs can be redefined and even the competition can change. I’ve seen proposals that were described as “pending final approval”, be postponed because a past competitor influenced the client to consider their alternative.
The bottom line is this, sales is nonlinear, as anyone who’s ever remodeled a house well knows. You expect to pay $30,000 and complete it in two months. What really happens? The final is double the budget and took six months with four design modifications. That’s the reality of sales. Expect the unexpected. Learn their political landscape, understand what alternatives are out there for them, and realize that the more time it takes, the more changes the client might make. We need to be flexible in helping our clients reach their goals.