Entrepreneur - - By John Tabita

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

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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