If you do a Google search for “sales cycle,” you will find hundreds of different cycles portraying the steps a sale must go through before it’s a done deal. The problem with this model is that it assumes everyone is ready to start the sales cycle, and it moves the focus from the prospect to you. This tends to lead to overly hungry sales people scaring away potential future buyer’s by engaging them too early.
Your buyer is in the driver seat, so my recommendation to you is to allow them to drive the process. But how do you engage your buyer’s cycle instead of putting them in your sales cycle?
Ask and listen. Ask your prospect about their situation. Is there a fit for your product? The best sales are win-win. If there isn’t a true need for your product/service then you will not be able to provide a true value to your customer. Pushing for sales can lead to client attrition over time when clients realize they don’t need you at this stage in their journey. A couple of down-line problems with not engaging at the right time are:
- You risk ruining a potentially valuable relationship by closing the deal before it’s advantageous to the client. If you had engaged them when they were ready, you could have created a long and fruitful partnership.
- People talk about negative experiences 10x more than positive ones. Bad sales tactics can lead to bad word being spread about you, potentially damaging future sales.
Instead of pushing for the immediate sale, try the 80-20 rule. Listen to your prospect 80% of the time and only add value to the conversation 20% of the time. Approach your sales conversation as a consultant or trusted advisor. Listen to their situation and be honest about the value you can provide to them.
If you can help your prospect solve their problem, then it is your job to illustrate exactly how that would work for them. It’s easy to fall into a predatory approach when the pressure is on to increase sales. Try to remember that sales aren’t about you. They are about the customer and their problem.
This is likely the most difficult one. What should you do with prospects that are a good fit, but aren’t ready yet? They may or may not have a problem you can solve but they just aren’t ready to buy, and you need to nurture them until they are. Proper nurturing is one of the true differences between sales teams and stellar sales teams.
Your goal should be to consult and advise your prospect on your specific area of knowledge. This can be accomplished face to face, over email, or over the phone. You know what works best with your audience so stick with that. Remember to only speak when you can add value. Prospects have an amazing nose for sniffing out desperate/pushy sales people and you could lose them without ever knowing why. (Ever have a done deal disappear without a trace?) Speak specifically about their problem and educate them to solutions that include but aren’t limited to what you offer. Remember to educate and consult; not sell.
Have speed. Sales is all about the prospect, so when they are ready to move, don’t delay! Prospects will directly equate your response times in the sales process with the service they are likely to receive in the future. After all, if you are slow to engage and onboard them when a sale is at hand, how are you going to respond when they are a client? Retail has already figured out that when consumers want something, they want it now. No prospect is different in this regard.
If you have successfully engaged and nurtured a prospect to the point that they are ready to buy, don’t delay with onboarding. Long contract negotiations, hand offs, and delayed sales responses can cost you an otherwise won client. Optimize your processes to have the prospect in mind. Companies that focus this way on the buyer’s cycle tend to see multiple beneficial results.
If you need to reorganize your in-house operations to speed up your prospect’s journey, then my only question is, why are you waiting? And then go out there and create some meaningful conversations. Learn about your prospects and put yourself in their shoes. Remember that we all started by trying to solve a problem. Don’t let sales pressure cause you to lose sight of that fact.