What’s a Sales Cycle and Why Do I Need One?

John Tabita

Sales are won and lost on transitions. It’s the number one reason you need a clearly-defined sales process. It allows you to transition to the next logical step to bring the sale to a conclusion. Here’s what I mean:

You’ve spent over an hour with the prospect, listened to his needs, made a recommendation, and quoted him a ballpark price. He looks at you from across the desk and says, “I’ll have to think it over and get back to you.”

With no sales process in place and no clear “next step” in mind, you’ve just lost control. You mumble something about “following up in a week or so” if you don’t hear back. Then you leave.

Of course, a week goes by and you don’t hear back. You call and leave a message. He doesn’t return your call.

Not wanting to be a pest, you wait several days before shooting off an email. You can only assume it must have bounced off a DNS server and landed in a black hole. (No, the sucking sound you hear is not collapsing star matter; it’s your client base going down the drain.)

A few more rounds of this and you begin to get the idea you’ve been given the brush-off. Eventually, you give up and move on, but in the back of your mind, you wonder … perhaps if you’d called just one more time … maybe he just got busy … maybe he was in the hospital, or on vacation, or on a covert mission in a foreign land.

I don’t know about you, but I need closure. I’m just sensitive like that.

Let’s rewind back to the point when he told you he’ll “get back to you.” This time, you do have a sales process, and you know it’s not a one-way street, with you making all the commitments and jumping through all the hoops, while the prospect does nothing. Instead, you understand this process involves mutual commitments. You made the commitment to meet with him, discuss his needs, and present him with a solution. He’s now better off than before you’d met. He owes you the courtesy of giving you a “yes” or “no” answer and of committing to what day and what time he’ll give it to you. So this time, you immediately pull out your date book (or your smartphone with your favorite productivity app) and say, “No problem, Bob. What’s a good day and time we can meet again so I can get your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer?”

In that short statement, I accomplished three very big things. First, I asked for a commitment. Second, by writing it on my calendar, I’m asking that he give it the same level of importance as I am. And last of all, by asking for his “yes or no answer,” I’m taking away the main reasons prospects avoids us after the fact. Either they feel bad telling you ‘no,’ or they’re afraid you’ll go all salesman on them, wanting to know why and trying to convince them to move forward anyway. Now, you may choose to not take a ‘no’ so easily, but at least you’re letting him know that it’s okay to turn you down.

You see, “controlling” the sales process doesn’t mean manipulating the prospect into buying. It’s controlling the process, not the outcome. You want to bring the sales call to a successful conclusion. By “successful” I mean that, at some point, you get a “yes” or a “no” … not a “maybe”. Because “maybe” is the worst place to be:

“Darling, I love you. You’re the girl for me. Will you marry me?”

“Umm, I’ll have to get back to you on that …”

Control is only bad when overdone. During a sales call, maintaining a certain amount of control is a good thing; otherwise—depending on your prospect’s personality type—you’ll either feel like you’ve spent the day with a group of three-year-olds on the playground, or with your drill sergeant at boot camp. It’s like controlling your bladder … there’s a time to “hold it” and a time to allow nature to take its course. ‘Nuff said?

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This is the second installment of the series “Understanding the Sales Cycle,” which consists of:

What’s a Buying Cycle and Why Should I Care?
What’s a Sales Cycle and Why Do I Need One?
Your Client is Ready to Buy, but Are You Ready to Sell?
Step 1, How to Prepare
Making a Good First Impression

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  • kenny

    Good!

  • http://www.direction.biz Laxmikant

    Yes, small things go a long way!

  • Rob

    So what do you say if the prospect responds with, “I’ll call you after I’ve made a decision,” or some equally vague answer? How hard do you push it?

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.blogspot.com/ John Tabita

      Rob,

      You can prepare in advance for unexpected surprises like that, by asking some key questions at the beginning of the sales call:

      “Is this project a top priory or a back-burner issue?”

      Assuming he says it’s “top priority,” you can ask the following:

      “What’s your time frame for making a decision?”

      “Who else has to sign off on this project?” (Note, if there are other decision-makers involved, I highly recommend you arrange to have all of them present before making a presentation.)

      “If you decided to move forward, when would you want to start?”

      So now, at the end of the meeting, if he tries to give you the vague, semi brush-off like you described, you have a response:

      “No problem, Joe. You said earlier that your time frame for making a decision is within the next 3 weeks, is that right?” Then you proceed to ask him to commit to what day and what time that will be. [You, pulling out your date book]: “In case I don’t hear back from you by then, what’s a good day and time we can talk again to get your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer?”

      Now you don’t have to feel like you have to “push.” Instead, you’re asking him to put his money where is mouth is. Was he lying or telling you the truth when he said “within 3 weeks.” ? If he continues to resist, then my suspicion is he’s not a serious buyer.

      Also, by asking “Who else has to sign off on this project?” you also avoid the unexpected, “I’ll have to talk it over with my partner and get back to you.”

      Does that answer your question?

  • http://www.undo-studio.com/ Alí Suárez

    Excellent! I agree.

  • http://illuminea.com Miriam Schwab

    I always figured that it was par for the course: I meet clients, discuss their needs, send proposals, and many just fade into the night. This advice is AWESOME! I’m going to try to implement it. Thanks!

    • http://johntabita.com/ John Tabita

      I’m not sure why we don’t expect the same level of respect from prospects that we do from other relationships. If a friend was non-committal and always blew me off, I certainly wouldn’t continue that friendship. When I wrote that he “owes you the courtesy of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer,” I don’t mean to imply that you insist on that in a demanding or arrogant manner. Rather, you have the mindset that you expect a peer-to-peer relationship with him or her, and that will come across in your demeanor.

      Too often, we approach the sales process as beggars: “I know I’m an inconvenience, but please take time out of your busy schedule to meet with me so I can convince you to hire me.” Here’s what I tell the sales reps I train: You’ll make commission on the advertising you sell; but if that advertising is successful, the business owner will make 100 times the commission you earned. So who’s doing who the bigger favor?

  • http://bluerock.lk/ Lahiru Jay

    Such a simple sentence but if a sales person ask that from me, I will feel inclined to commit to an answer – yes or no. Thanks for the great tip John!

  • http://www.GetWebDesignClients.com kenn

    I’M STARTING TO SENSE THIS ….

    Hey John, well said. Love this: “I’ll have to think it over and get back to you.”

    When I hear that (used to hear that) I’d feel a sinking sensation in my chest that just tells me, this ain’t gonna happen.

    Here’s what I’m starting to sense as a way to get clients on board faster – and with higher close rate.

    It’s this –> Get them working with you before they work with you.

    I’ve noticed that when I’m in control of the sales process, the client kind of happily follows it – especially if it’s smooth and my proposal is just about what he/she needs. It’s almost as if they are waiting for me to lead them all the way. It’s seems to be exactly that.

    So given such, if I can lead the client through all the sales steps and RIGHT INTO the work for their project (talk, iron out details, fitting proposal,when to get started, things we do first, how to make payment, when the kickoff meeting is, here’s some documents to fill out first, etc ….), then its almost like they don’t have to stop and think about anything.

    To repeat my point, it’s like paving the entire way from meeting to project completed, with all the spots where it could fail to be dealt with. And the sooner I get them moving on action steps towards the project (e.g. draft some about page content, or gather some image materials, or setup a few accounts – ie things that are on their side to do), the more they just feel right working with me.

    Funky … ever get that feeling or something like it?

    Kenn Schroder
    Blog + free stuff on how to get web design clients.