Anyone who has carried a sales bag likely knows the expression “Always be Closing,” or ABC for short. Alec Baldwin made this term famous in the classic 1992 movie, Glengarry Glen Ross. (a must-see for salespeople). Good advice generally speaking, but if you sell something with a relatively long, complex sales cycle, you should add “Keep on Qualifying” to your list of mantras, and best-practices.
The risk in a longer sales cycle is that things often change, and this can result in a slowdown or stall of the buying process. Sometimes your prospect has a legitimate higher priority. However, but it often signifies that something else is disrupting the decision, and you didn’t see it coming.
Don’t feel bad since this happens to virtually every salesperson at least once. The good news is that it’s a mistake that can be avoided if you keep on qualifying from start to finish.
Common Sales Cycle Breakdowns
There are many reasons salespeople get side-swiped during sales cycles that last months or longer. Some typical factors are:
- Information Quality: Vital pieces of information were not collected or fully understood early on. Often these are specifics around: compelling reasons to buy; decision-making processes; identifying key stakeholders and influencers; 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 the situation.
- Failure to Reconfirm: Things seemed clear early on, but as time went by, the information initially collected is now out-of-date or has been forgotten. If you don't keep on qualifying, it can lead to unexpected scrambling at the 11th hour or even worse outcomes.
- Overconfidence: With some opportunities, everything seems to click, and eventually, you start telling your boss, “it’s in the bag”. Salespeople tend to be confident and assertive. But, until there is “ink on the paper,” any number of factors can quickly turn delusion into a disaster.
- Losing Steam: This is common as things drag on, and there are new shiny objects to chase. Most salespeople, like the thrill of the hunt and if there is an easier, more exciting road available, they often take it. Patience is a virtue when it comes to larger, more complex deals, but hang in there if the payoff justifies the persistence.
"Keep on Qualifying" Essentials
How can getting derailed be avoided? As with most things in business, it all comes down to reliable processes and clear insight. So to make sure you don’t let promising deals slip away before you realize it’s too late, try the following:
- Stay Engaged: Stay top-of-mind during the entire opportunity. Sometimes in long cycles, it's easy for weeks to fly by without a prospect interaction. Try creating a documented deal strategy and regularly schedule update calls that continually drive towards the next steps or actions. Find every excuse you can to talk with your contacts and share something of value.
- Re-Validate Data: it’s easy to think of your initial data-gathering exercise as a one-time event. But, until you have closed the deal, examine everything you think you know and keep confirming your information. Don’t assume what you learned in the qualification stage will be valid months later.
- Seek Perspective: Don’t rely on a single source of information in the account. A sizable, long sale usually has multiple stakeholders on both teams. Ensure you get perspective from other influences in the account, your sales manager, and others involved on your team. By forming this data into a clear picture of where things are, you create 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. Delays are often used as an excuse by prospects because the competition is firmly in the driver's seat, and they are keeping you at arm's length while performing their due diligence.
No one knows when changes will occur, but if you keep on qualifying through the entire sales cycle, preferably with some face-to-face meetings, chances are you will stay ahead of the curve. If you have been adding value along the way, you have earned the right to ask questions, even if you start repeating yourself.
The answers may force you to regroup and step back, and you may need to repeat some work you have already done, but that’s better than losing a deal because the rules changed and you didn’t get your copy of the new game plan.
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Randy Fougere, President, Think2Grow Marketing
With a passion for building brand awareness and lead generation, I started Think2Grow for B2B clients looking to accelerate growth through better marketing strategy and execution - something I have been doing for more than 30 years now.