Anyone who has carried a sales bag, undoubtedly knows the expression “Always Be Closing”, or ABC for short.
Good advice to be sure, but if you sell something with a relatively long and complex sales cycle, you should add “Always be Qualifying” to your list of mantras, and behavioural best-practices. The risk in a longer sales cycle is that things can change and this usually leads to a slowdown, or stalling of your sales cycle. Sometimes your prospect simply has a more immediate priority. However, it often signifies that something material is disrupting the buying process and you didn’t see it coming. Don’t feel bad, this happens to virtually every sales person at least once. The good news is that it’s a mistake you can avoid repeating. Why does it happen? There are a number of reasons sales people get side-swiped during a cycle, particularly one that lasts 3 months or longer. Some typical ones are as follows:
- Missing Information : There were key pieces of information not collected, or fully understood in the early stages. Often this relates to specifics around: the compelling reason to buy; the buying and decision-making processes; key stakeholders and influencers; the decision criteria; options and competitors; and timing.
- Unreliable Information : Your “coach” (hopefully you have one) doesn’t have all the information you need, or has inadvertently misled you based on their view of things.
Failure to Validate : You have done a good job early on, but failed to validate, and re-validate as time has gone by. This is a common mistake that can lead to unanticipated scrambling at the 11th hour, or worse.
- Significant Change : In a longer the sales cycle, the risk of change increases. What happens if a key player quits? Budgets get reduced? The scope decreases or gets broader? All of a sudden you can be forced to take a step or two back in the cycle.
- Over Confidence : With some opportunities, everything just seems to click and eventually you start telling your boss “it’s in the bag”. Sales people are naturally optimistic and for good reason. But, until there is “ink on paper”, any number of things can quickly turn your confidence into anxiety.
- Wishful Thinking : Tenacity is a great quality in sales, but sometime we don’t want to face the truth. This tends to happen more when the pipeline is weak or you’re behind plan. Everyone, including your Sales Manager says “give it up!” – yet you desperately hold on. It’s simply a waste time and energy if you don’t have the facts, or believe them.
How can it be avoided? As with most things in sales, it really comes down to solid process and clear insight. So how do you make sure you don’t let a promising deal slip away before you realize it’s too late?
- Understand Basics : Why are they buying? Who makes the decision and how does the process work? When will they buy? Who are you competing against? and so on. This is all “SALES 101” stuff but when the “fit” seems good and early indicators are in your favor, it’s easy to make assumptions and miss important steps.
- Re-Validate Data : Until you have closed the deal, keep confirming and re-confirming your information. Don’t assume what you learned in the qualification or positioning stages will be valid 2 months later. Always be qualifying!
- Continually Engage : Don’t forget to stay on top of the opportunity. When it’s a long cycle and many things are going on at once, it’s easy for a couple of weeks to pass by without contact. Have a good plan; stay in constant contact; and continually be working on next steps to keep the process moving.
- Seek Perspective : Don’t rely on a single source of information in the account. A larger, longer sale usually has multiple stakeholders on both teams. Ensure you get perspective from other influences in the account and from peer-to-peer conversations that take place with your team members. Aggregate that data into a clear picture of where things are at. This also creates an “early warning system” to better anticipate change.
- Eliminate Emotion : Let knowledge be your guide. Facts are more reliable than “feelings” and your emotion is usually a by-product of events that have already taken place. If you are getting a “bad vibe” about your opportunity, ask questions, find out why things are not moving as discussed, and quickly adapt.
No one knows when change will occur, but you need to know as soon as possible when it does. If you can find out in advance, even better! If a good job has been done during the sales cycle, you have earned the right to ask questions, even if you start repeating yourself. Be prepared, as the answers may force you to regroup and step back. You may need to reinvest in some additional work you have already done, but that’s certainly better than losing a deal because the rules changed and you didn’t get your copy of the new game plan.