Sales Process or the Sales Cycle is the key to predictable revenue. Easy to say for some, lost on others and enforced by only a very successful few. This is the key to being a successful sales person and a scalable sales organization.
Truth is that the words need to be adjusted these days to reflect the true nature of the facts. Prospects / Customers are very “Self Service” these days and the Sales Cycle should really be called the “Customer Buying Cycle” or CBC. Truly understanding how your Customer buys and working toward optimizing that process is the key to maximizing Sales Revenue.
Here is the most basic CBC. 3 Steps
The Prospect has a need and hears about your product. We will talk about ALL the methods that a Prospect hears about your product (in a soon to be published blog). Your Product get’s added to the list of products to be considered.
The Prospect (and that can be an individual or all the members of the Corporate Decision Team) then learn about the product, its strengths and weaknesses and its application to their problem. This also includes price, availability, options and other features that can make it more appropriate to their needs. Again, MANY methods to facilitate this and they will be discussed at great length in future writings
The Prospect decides that this meets their needs at the best value and decides to become a Customer and buys.
So a few VERY important points:
The best sales process, the best sales organizations and the best sales people all have this thing in common; Customers buy from them – they do not sell to customers. When executed correctly, You should never have to ask for the order but rather the Customer will tell you when they want it delivered and installed. Sure, I have “Sold” a little product in my time – mostly because I was figuring out how Customers bought but honestly, Customers have “Bought” a Billion Dollars worth of Software from the Companies I have been a Representative for or directly been in the Sales Management Chain. This is why it is the “Customer Buying Cycle”
Customers are “Self Service”. The Company website needs to be the best “Salesperson” in the Company. If I hear about a new product or am doing research to buy a new “thing”, the first action I have when looking around is to visit the Company’s website. I’ll also look at reviews, Social Media, User Blogs and the writings of perceived Experts but for me, when buying B2B, the first place I go is the Company’s website. It better be good because if it is not, I won’t engage with a Sales Person and it will take a TON of positive 3rd party information for me to go back.
Now this Self Service is not only for “Interest Development” but also for “Education” on the product. I may or may not call and speak to a Sales person – even if the website is rock solid. Your Customers too, may look at the competition, YOUTUBE, testimonials or ask their associates in other Companies who have bought similar products for information.
Every time you engage with a prospect, it is very important that you understand where they are in their Buying Cycle and make sure that you: 1) backfill steps you know need to be taken and have not be touched and 2) set the course for servicing their needs going forward.
Do you remember the kids game “Chutes and Ladders” (or perhaps “Snakes and Ladders” if you are more worldly). Navigating the Customer Buying Cycle is just like the game. Do things well, land on the right spot and you advance quickly. Land on the wrong spot or miss a step and you have to go back down the board.
Sales is the same way. So many Salespeople can’t figure out why their sales cycle (which is the first mistake – it should be their Customers Buying Cycle) is not progressing. The answer most likely is that they moved the Prospect / Customer through the CBC and missed one or more steps. Or worse, the Customer in their own Interest Development and Education either missed something or got the wrong impressions while doing their own Self Service. So there the Deal stands, and the only way to really get things going again is to go back down the chute / snake and finish the missed step.
Yes, you missed something and it is hanging up the CBC for some thing or someone in the buying process. And, of course, going back and fixing things, like in construction (for those of you who have also worked at the business end of a shovel), is always a lot harder and more expensive that getting it right the first time.
So, in my opinion, the simplest Customer Buying Cycle is this.
It could involve a single person
And sometimes, the CBC can have 20 to 25 steps, involve individuals and committees, consultants and politics, people who can say NO but never say YES. Very complicated? But, you get these returns.
- Understanding of the Timing to deliver Content to the Prospect / Customer
- Roles – Tiered multi-level multi-touch group selling
- Assets allocation and direction
- Growth (Financial and Staffing Planning)
- Miss a Step? – Proceeded directly to GO (do not collect $200)
- Tell a Prospect how to be successful (Reference Selling)
- Time Compression
Some people now discount the Sales Cycle in the new age of Internet selling. I say that is because they are watching Company’s Sales Cycles that are not the same as their Customer’s Buying Cycle. When Companies try and enforce their process and the rules have changed for the Customer – it is no wonder the Company’s Sales Cycle is not successful. They did not listen to the Customer – Most always a bad strategy (all deference to Steve jobs)
Companies have Salespeople that are leaders, pioneers, bell cows, pathfinders. In many cases the founders of the company or Sales management who are really involved in the Sales process will attempt to set down the CBC. This is critical to the success of the Company. Once the CBC is learned and repeatable, the company should be able to scale by defining appropriate territories with a reasonable number of prospects and inserting trained Salespeople with all the tools needed to service the rhythm on their Prospect / Customer’s CBC
IMHO, Everything you read and hear about Social Media, tricks, hacks and shortcuts is great and appropriate – for a stage in a Customer Buying Cycle. It is naïve to thinks that Twitter, Facebook or Linked-in can close a deal or that they are the magic bullet for B2B Sales. In truth, they are wonderful tools for points in the Sales Cycle. They can often matriculate prospects through a step in their Buying Cycle without the need for human contact or intervention.
The Customer Buying Cycle is the baseline for success, your success, and the crossroad for all other elements; Sales Skills, Timing, Cadence, Marketing, and more.