September 17, 2009

Revolutionary Ideas: To Speed Up The Sale You Must Slow Down

Longer Buying Cycles Mean Sales People Must Slow Down.

Shortening sales cycles is something that managers dream about. But in most cases, it is just that – a dream. Yes, longer sales cycles have implications for meeting sales targets and sales costs, as well as for the overall level of visibility, predictability and control in respect of sales.

However, the reality is that regardless of lengthening sales cycles, a slower sale, is better than a lost sale. So here is another revolutionary idea - you need to speed up the sale, you may need to slow down.

To Speed Up, You May Need to Slow Down.

Salespeople often rush between appointments, skillfully avoiding the congestion bottlenecks and finding all the short cuts. They like to drive, talk and sell faster - it is all part of our genetic make-up! However, as buyers have put on the brakes salespeople who can’t, or won’t slow down to the new pace at which buyers are making buying decisions will look in the rear view mirror and find that the prospect is nowhere to be seen.

There was a time when you could prequalify over the phone and close in the first sales meeting. But no longer! It is going to take many calls and many meetings to get to the starting line, not to talk about the finishing point.

To improve win rates in a tough market, sellers have to revisit the timing on their sales pipeline and adjust the timing of their ‘conveyor-like’ sales processes. Specifically, they have to slow down in the following 10 ways:

1. Slowdown before you diagnose the solution – you have seen the situation 100s of times and can clearly see the problem, but slow down so as to ensure that you understand all the nuances, as well as the political and organizational context

2. Slow down before prequalifying – in a market of buoyant demand salespeople were eager to prequalify early so that they could spend their limited time with those who represented the greatest prospect of a sales. Market conditions have changed however and that means selling to those who have a budget is not enough. For every customer who is ready to buy, there are 8, or 9 that have the potential to buy but are not. They may not even be aware that they have a problem and so replacing prequalification that identifies those ready to buy, with marketing that nurtures those who can and perhaps should buy, but are not ready, is key.

3. Slow down in your first meeting – too many sales people are still aiming for the one meeting prequalification and even one meeting close. However, those salespeople are being increasingly boycotted by buyers who want to go at their own pace. That is because for buyers it feels too much like being sold to. Increasingly salespeople are realizing that you cannot understand a buyer, his needs, or his business in one meeting, just as you cannot build a relationship, or establish trust in that 45 minute time frame.

4. Slow down before proposing a solution – take time to understand the buyer’s full needs, to jointly explore solutions, to build rapport, etc.

5. Slow down before asking too many questions, particularly invasive ones – you have to earn the right to ask questions, especially sensitive ones. You have to be willing to share information with the buyer, before he, or she will return the favor.

6. Slow down before delivering a presentation - take the time to first understand the needs and interests of your audience, put the laptop and the presentation slides aside and have a conversation – see where it takes you.

7. Slow down before writing a proposal, the faster you write a proposal the more assumptions you are going to be making regarding the customer’s needs and wants. Getting the customer involved in writing the proposal with you may mean that you have to move the opportunity out by a quarter, but dramatically increases the likelihood of success.

8. Slow down before starting to negotiate – good negotiating cannot compensate for bad selling. Negotiating on price, for example, before the needs have been fully understood, the solution defined, or the business case demonstrated is meaningless and inadequate.

9. Slow down before moving on to your next customer – buyers often complain that the attention – sometimes excessive – that they have received during the sales process quickly diminished once the order is won.

10. Slow down when you see a red, or amber light - as salespeople focused on getting the deal across the line, we can be reluctant to express their concerns, or anxieties, regards an opportunity in play. We can be blind to warning signs, such as we cannot get access to the decision maker(s), we don't have all the information we need, the issue of price is arising too early, etc. However, they are to be neglected at our perril. Yellow and red flags are to be welcomed, this is particularly the case when they are indentified early in the sales cycle – that is in time for the underlying issues to be addressed, or for the salesperson to decide to walk away.

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