But first, to introduce the subject, let's imagine that a salesperson has worked on a major opportunity for 4 months. Let's imagine further that a Customer Focused Selling sales consultant is hired to analyze each opportunity in the pipeline, and the consultant asks the salesperson to estimate when this particular opportunity will close. For the purposes of this example, let's assume the Customer Focused Selling sales consultant knows the decision maker on this transaction, and can ask him or her to provide a date when the sale can be made. What is the likelihood that the buyer's date will be later than the seller's date?
A few observations:
Most closing is driven by the agenda of the sales organization, with little or no regard for the buyer. Many organizations that are under pressure to meet monthly, quarterly, or annual targets resort to "blitzes" to bring in business, based on those internal pressures.
The vast majority of closing occurs before the salesperson has earned the right to ask for the business. When salespeople attempt to close orders before buyers are ready, they run the risk of being perceived as a traditional pushy salesperson—or, worse, of scaring the buyer off entirely.
If a salesperson closes before a buyer is ready, discounting is the most common method of giving the buyer a reason to sign early. In these premature efforts to close, a great deal of negotiating is done with non-decision makers. This can be demeaning for buyers who can't commit. In some instances, the discount offered to non-decision makers becomes the starting point for the real negotiations.
In our workshops, we sometimes ask participants, "How can you know when a transaction is closable?" There is almost always a prolonged silence, as people realize that this question is not readily answerable with their current approach.
In fact, many organizations (buyers and sellers) view sell cycles as random series of events that sometimes result in orders. Salespeople push buyers to go through sales cycles without gaining consensus or commitment. Many salespeople do not ask for, and therefore fail to get, access to the people within the prospect organization who will be required to sell, fund, and implement the recommended solution. How many "opportunities" in your current pipeline have at least one documented buyer goal?
Just as a competent chess player thinks several moves ahead, salespeople should do the same as they attempt to facilitate the buying process. Despite the fact that every sale appears to be unique, based on the size of the transaction and the size of the prospect organization, there are many common steps in the buying process that have a high probability of recurring.
By agreeing to and adhering to a clear Sequence of Events, the salesperson provides documentation that allows sales management to continue auditing and grading opportunities. Like the qualifying efforts described in the previous chapter, this removes overoptimistic opinions from the forecast, and minimizes the phenomenon of salespeople "selling" their managers on how good their pipeline is. When they make their forecasts, sales managers should have the benefit of a piece of paper that shows a planned Sequence of Events for each potential sale, and what progress has been made in that sequence.
By documenting sales efforts and gaining commitment to sequences of events, sales managers can play a vital role in deciding what deserves to be in each pipeline. As soon as an opportunity does not look winnable, the sales manager should brainstorm with the salesperson as to how to change the landscape of the decision. If the two of them together are unable to figure out a way to do this, they should withdraw from the opportunity. The alternative is hanging in there with a high probability of being one of several silver medalists.
When documented by means of a clearly stated Sequence of Events, the process of controlling a sales cycle begins to resemble project management. The decision process embedded in a sales cycle has a defined beginning and end, and—as noted above—the selling organization has the ability to assess progress and probabilities of success throughout.
There's also an ancillary benefit: When the seller handles sales cycles in a highly professional manner, buyers are likely to conclude that the selling organization's implementation will be professional, as well. This perception can allow buyers to feel more comfortable with a given company, and especially with a relatively untested company selling complex offerings. We believe salespeople and the companies they represent can make the way they sell a competitive advantage and a differentiator.