In the game of football, if everything goes perfectly, almost every offensive play is designed to score a touchdown. This is true even if the team on offense only needs a few yards for a first down.
In the last two weeks, I have watched as two salespeople stopped short of what they could have achieved in an attempt to progress only to the next stage of their sales process. Their client wanted to go further.
Were they wrong to stop short of what they might have accomplished? In many ways they were not wrong. In both cases, agreeing to move forward would have skipped them forward a couple stages, eliminating the opportunity to meet with and understand the stakeholders needs and their preferences. It would have also meant that they would not have had the opportunity to customize their offering for the individual client, making execution much more difficult if and when orders were placed and, by doing so, eliminating one of their primary competitive differentiators.
A Sales Process in Non-Linear
The sales process, on paper anyway, follows a straight, linear path from one stage to the next, neatly linking together milestones. Like any good strategy, it outlines the ideal. But it isn’t designed to take into account all of the many paths that you make take to reach a deal. A deal may in fact follow a logical progression from A to B to C, but it may also go from A to A to C to B. The sales process can be non-linear and still be effective. It may still result in a deal.
In most cases, especially in complex sales, it isn’t right to skip stages of the sales process. In fact, it is usually a recipe for stalled deals or poor execution later. In one of the case above, missing the opportunity to customize their offering would have resulted in poor execution. The salesperson could have given the client what he wanted, but it might not have been perfect; it might have had some problems.
Like our football analogy, the play would have resulted in a touchdown, but the salesperson was only trying to get a first down. But unlike football, she could have scored and then gone back over the ground between where she started and the end zone.
She could have very easily explained that by taking the order, she would be providing her client with something that he needed, but that it wasn’t yet what he should come to expect. She could have taken the order and at the same time scheduled the customizations, explaining that the completing his orders would simply serve as a baseline for the future customizations.
This is A-C-B, and it is okay—as long as you don’t skip B altogether.
The Buying Process Is As Important As the Sales Process—Or More
In both of the cases above, the client was in a stage that of their buying process that didn’t line up very well with the sales process. In both cases, the sales organization was at needs analysis and the buying organization was resolution of concerns.
This never feels right. The salesperson never feels like it is right to present and demonstrate their capabilities because they haven’t had a chance to learn enough to make the presentation meaningful to the client.
It doesn’t feel right because it is difficult to talk about pricing when the services needed haven’t been defined enough to know how to price them. It feels like the client is using negotiating tactics for a lower price, which isn’t always true.
It doesn’t feel right because there haven’t been enough conversations to know how to create value for the client.
In both of the cases above, the client had seen and heard enough. They had a problem, they had identified potential partners and explored their options, and they had seen enough to know what they wanted. Their buying process had been completed before they ever reached these salespeople. They asked questions to resolve the list of concerns they had accumulated over their process, and they decided to advance to ordering and negotiating price.
The buying process is just as important—and in some cases, more important—than the sales process. Because these clients were in the resolution of concern stage of the buying process, the sales process has to be compressed to match the buying process. That doesn’t mean there is no opportunity to go back and collect the contacts, the information, and the customizations that you need to execute well. It does mean that you take the client as you find them.
Sometimes, taking the client as we find them means the sales process is C to A to B. This is almost always a surefire recipe for execution problems, and you always need more information than you start with. But it is sometimes where great client relationships start.
On Creating Enough Value to Advance the Sales
You cannot decide whether or not enough value has been created to advance the sale. The client makes that decision.
It is your job to create the value on each sales call.
It is your job to discern whether or not the client perceives the call as having been a value creating experience. If you are unsure, you can ask.
Ultimately, the client decides whether or not advance the sale and sometimes how far.
The sales process is a non-linear. It is the salesperson’s duty to advance the sale from one stage to the next, but not to ignore the needs of their client or their client’s buying process. Sometimes this means going all the way and then backtracking to pick up the pieces in between.
1. Is your sales process linear, or does it provide the flexibility to adjust to the client’s needs when it has to?
2. Can you go forward as far as the client needs and still build in the commitments to go back and acquire what you need to implement and execute for the client?
3. Does your process begin with an understanding of where the client is in their buying process and adjust accordingly?
4. Can you easily discern when you have created enough value to advance the sale?
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