Hi UWS achievers! This week I interviewed Christy Hair, a very experienced SaaS Account Executive and Sales Director on how to most effectively think about and manage sales cycles.
Thanks again, Christy, for your valuable perspective! Editorially I’ll share I agree with Christy 100%- there are generally a few steps that transcend all industries and sales cycles. A few I’d name/add include prospecting, deep discovery to uncover goals/objectives/potential fit, initial qualification, creation of a formal mutual plan including access to budget and signing authorities, value justification, differentiated value justification, re-qualification, formal contracting, implementation/delivery, go-live, and post go-live support. There are many variables that may impact how each step is addressed, in which order, if any should be skipped, and many intangibles (largely psychological, e.g. EQ, discernment, courageous action, etc.) that can and should be used to most effectively navigate. Christy does an excellent job highlighting several. One other note- commitment-making, negotiating, and corresponding accountability should be consciously considered and acted upon at each step.
With that, the interview with Christy:
Q: To help us understand your world, do you mind sharing any info you feel we should know about your company & industry?
A: Our industry is software sales and we deal in complex inventory control (manufacturing, lot tracking, serial numbers, e-commerce integrations, barcode scanning, with accounting data flowing to other software).
Q: What do you feel are the common steps/elements of most sales cycles?
A: The typical steps to a sales cycle would be prospect, contact, identify needs, present offer, manage objections, close sale. Some industries invest in Sales Development Reps who handle the first 2 steps (prospect/contact) while other businesses invest in marketing to bring leads directly to sales reps. There’s not a wrong or right way to do this. As a company you have to test both out to see what works best for your industry and then go for it. Although any business can benefit by having and understanding a set sales cycle, don’t ever be afraid to confidently put your twist on it. Being flexible will allow sales reps to develop their own style within your industry which will result in higher revenue for your business. We’ve completely tweaked our cycle to be a soft guideline because there are outlying factors in complex software sales that cannot fully be accounted for.
Q: Having studied business management, marketing, and psychology in school, what important parts of sales cycle management do you feel weren't formally taught?
A: Listening! And then letting that lead to problem solving. You can have the perfect prospect who needs your solution, and they are vetting you against your competitors. This is where the Sales Cycle is too vague. The ‘identify needs’ piece is the absolute most crucial piece to focus on in order to make a sale. For anyone who has studied psychology, successful relationships are built on being heard, and hearing others. If you apply this to closing a sale you will find many parallels. In any relationship, we all have an opinion/thoughts/needs and want to express them. But so does the other person. If we lead by example (listening first!) then we will also be heard. It’s so easy to dive into how we are going to fix the problem for this prospect… we can do it all day long, right?! I mean, that’s why we are in sales, we are good at our job. But jumping too fast into the solution will actually hinder your progress. In order for a prospect to feel comfortable with us, they have to feel heard. NOTE! Even if we have heard their story over and over again from a million other prospects who need to solve the same problem – it’s not actually about the problem. It’s about hearing them and building trust that you’re interested in them. Once they explain their problem or needs, they are naturally ready to start asking you questions – knowing very well you have a solution for them. If you can just listen, the sale often turns consultative when they start asking you questions. I cannot express the number of times that we’ve been vetted against other programs and they come back to us because of our customer service (aka listening!) and they feel most comfortable with us. Once you have truly heard someone, you can solve their problem. If you don’t truly hear them, you build walls in the relationship instead of trust.
Q: What are common mistakes in Sales Cycle Management you feel you see often?
A: Sometimes we let the Sales Cycle become more important than the prospect. Don’t dehumanize the prospect in order to hit your numbers. Pushing or trying to move too fast without resolving concerns. Fears is actually the better way to look at a concerns. If you can interpret it into “I’m afraid of committing” or “I’m afraid that I’ll fail” then it will help you naturally progress to the next step. See below in the P.S. for a personal example I experienced.
Q: What are the resources you'd recommend to others on Sales Cycle Management?
A: Spin Selling by Neil Rackham This book can help a sales rep find their own style while also learning how to build better relationships with their prospects. If you can utilize the tactics in this book while also being authentic with your prospects, you will definitely shorten the sales cycle regardless of what industry you are in.
Questions that Sell by Paul Cherry This is a book about making sure you’re asking the right questions to understand your prospects needs and build relationships with them. It dives into the Sales Cycle and gives specific examples of situations you encounter and what to do about them.
Leadership and Self-Deception – Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute Although this is a leadership book, every sales rep should read it. It teaches about self-perspective and how others perceive us. Shows you different ways you can accidentally treat people as objects without realizing it. Anyone who reads this will become hyper-aware of their relationships in life which will directly benefit sales, work and home life.
P.S.: A sales cycle management mistake that I (Christy) experienced personally:
Just yesterday, I went to look at a car. I test drove it, liked it and decided to see if I wanted to buy it. A big piece of this for me is the price & payment (fear of commitment to a payment I’m uncomfortable with). The sales rep pushed a piece of paper across the table without any numbers on it, no data whatsoever… just a phrase that says “If client likes the terms, client agrees to purchase the car today.” BIG FAT WALL FROM ME. Sure, the dealer had a car that I liked. Sure, I was interested! And guess what? I likely would have purchased the car. The immediate feeling I got from the rep was not that he was interested in working with me as a person. It was that he wanted to sell a car. If I was willing to sign a paper to say that I would purchase that car then he would care about what I needed to be comfortable. Doesn’t that seem so backwards?! We have to choose to invest in the relationship in order to get somewhere. Speed and pushing does matter. Every prospect is different. We have to listen to them, try to understand their core needs or fears and then try to solve the problem. Sales summed up is relationship building + problem solving. The reason why some sales reps are phenomenal, is because they genuinely care about people and have practiced the skill of listening before problem solving. A great rep can take a piece of the sales cycle and massage it over until the prospect is ready to pull the trigger-regardless of the timeline. We don’t get to decide the timeline for the client, but we can definitely navigate it and speed it up by building in major trust! In my car buying experience, I wasn’t even able to bring up concerns prior to committing to a sale. The exact phrase I said to my husband later to describe how I felt was, “yuck. I was dehumanized.” I don’t know about you, but as a sales rep, I hope I never make someone else feel that way. Don’t let the sales cycle become more important than the person.