• 28th December 2006 - By proteman

    Like investing, selling is not a profession for the faint of heart. Both professions require a strong stomach and the ability to endure the ups and downs of long business cycles.

    If you’re an organization that deals with long selling cycles (typically selling big-ticket items or working with “major accounts”), you need a plan to thrive in both good times and bad.

    I tell clients that there are four “Ps” for surviving long sales cycles and business fluctuations. They are: Planning, Pacing and Patience and Protection.

    Many sales managers and sales people think short term. “What is coming in this week?” “What can I do to close this deal now?” However, the sales cycle for a large-ticket sale or corporate account can take months. In fact, I’ve worked on prospects that have taken years to develop. (I recall that it took me three years to get in the door of a major cruise line. They later turned out to be our biggest client.) To deal with a long sales or prospecting cycle, salespeople must take a longer-term view and anticipate the steps required to close a big sale. Ask customers planning questions directly, such as “Tell me about your decision-making process.” “What steps are involved in this decision?” “How urgent is this?” and “What are your timeframes?” Customers appreciate your asking (they don’t want you hounding them every other day if their sales cycle is long), and it helps you plan and schedule your follow-up.

    Working a long-term sale is like dancing with a partner. You and your partner (customer) must be in step at all times. It can be really tempting, when a salesperson has a number to achieve or when a sales division isn’t making budget, to move faster than your customer. Out of desperation, you push your customer faster than they’re ready to move. The result is that you look desperate and pushy – and you likely lose the sale. I suggest living by your Outlook calendar. I schedule every customer contact during a sales process, months in advance. If a prospective customer says, “We’ll be ready to talk on August 15th” and it’s only March, I’ll put a reminder on my calendar for August 15th. On that day, I call back the prospect and remind them that they asked me to call that day…and even recap our previous call. I’ve found that customers are very impressed – they feel confident that if they give you their business, you’ll be diligent in your follow-up and deliver as promised. (You’d be surprised how many salespeople don’t follow-up during a long sales cycle. If you’re the person who doesn’t give up and is reliable, you’ll stand out.)

    This goes hand-in-hand with Pacing. I’ve found that the best salespeople have immense patience. This is a personal trait that really can’t be taught. If you’re an impatient person, you shouldn’t be selling to customers with long sales cycles. You’re probably better suited for quick, short-term sales (such as selling stereo systems to consumers or selling office supplies) which give you immediate gratification.

    Salespeople by nature are optimists. They don’t like to think about the possibility that a sale won’t close right away. So often they put all of their eggs into one basket – that “big sale” that’s going to make the year a success. This “waiting game” can wreak havoc on a salesperson’s paycheck. And if enough salespeople are overly optimistic in their projections, the entire sales organization’s budget projections are thrown off.

    Often, salespeople are derailed when sales don’t close as quickly as anticipated. In our consulting business, we call this the “hurry up and wait” syndrome. Customers initially want your proposal “yesterday” – they can’t wait to get started on a project. The need is “urgent.” Yet once the proposal is submitted to the customer, it loses priority or gets stuck in their internal decision-making process. The “urgent” need suddenly loses urgency. If you’re a salesperson and were banking on getting those dollars in the next month or two, you’d better be prepared. As a salesperson, always ask yourself, “What if this sale doesn’t close in the expected time frames?” “What if this big sale falls apart?” Make sure that you always have other sales activity happening as you’re following up on the big potential sale. This is your insurance policy for your business. If the long-term sale doesn’t pan out, or takes longer than expected, will you be able to survive?

    ©2006 The Loyalty Group. All Rights Reserved. www.TheLoyaltyGroup.com

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