How To Uncover Your Business’ Unique Sales Cycle

by Shonali Burke on January 6, 2011

Guest post by Suzanne Paling

Are you an accidental sales manager?

Do your prospective customers frequently cancel or reschedule meetings at the last minute?

Will some voice objection after objection? How often do others remain “just about ready” to sign the contract for months on end?

It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

Understanding your organization’s unique sales cycle (the approximate length of time and separate steps involved in closing a sale) allows you to minimize these aggravating situations.

“We’re too small to have a sales cycle,” you say. Others might reply, “Even if we did have one it wouldn’t matter. We do everything possible to close all sales.”

Sales cycles aren’t the exclusive domain of large corporations, or about how much effort you put forth.

Whether you’re a solo consultant or run a business with many employees, you have some type of sales cycle.

How do you begin to determine what yours looks like?

Think about your top 10 – 15 customers.

From the time you first met (whether by introduction or prospecting call) how did things proceed? Did you move from a phone call to an in-person meeting? If you started with a face-to-face meeting what followed? A product demo? A second meeting?

At what point (if at all) did you meet others in the company? At what juncture in the process are proposals typically submitted? How many weeks or months did it take, on average, to get their business?

Consider current, particularly high maintenance, clients.

Did the acquisition of their business follow a different pattern from your lower maintenance clients? How? When did you suspect they might be challenging?

Review any recently lost sales. Did the prospective client stay with their current vendor or select a new provider? Was there a point in the process where you felt these sales slipping away? Do lost deals usually come as a surprise?

After reflecting on these different scenarios, a pattern will begin to emerge. A sales cycle of sorts starts to take shape.

It may not be in perfect alignment yet, but you’re getting there.

As you recognize that you do have a sales cycle, changes start to occur.

Warning bells sound when potential customers are out of sync with your sales cycle. You’ll ask the hard questions of yourself and them.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t eventually do business with these prospects. Every sale will always be slightly distinct in its own way. Rather, you’ll experience an increased awareness that a sale isn’t progressing as it should.

Most importantly, you’ll begin to walk away from time-wasting prospects that may never have had serious intentions of doing business with you in the first place.

Your focus will shift toward those opportunities with a higher potential for success. That’s empowering.

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Image courtesy Suzanne Paling, used with permission

Suzanne Paling is the principal consultant of Sales Management Services, with more than 20 years of experience in sales consulting, sales management, and sales for both field and inside sales organizations. Paling founded her company in 1998 to provide practical advice to business executives, owners, and entrepreneurs seeking to increase their revenue and improve their sales organization’s performance. Her new book, The Accidental Sales Manager, was published by Entrepreneur Press in October 2010.

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