The Sales Relationship Paradox

Hefty title isn’t it? Sounds ominous…

First let me take a step back. In a previous post I wrote about how the sales relationship is changing (“Goodbye Solution Sales?“) and how advancements in technology continue to increase the amount of information that is available to perspective buyers. I want to elaborate on a point that, as sellers, we need to understand our customers’ buying cycle.

The traditional sales cycle has seven stages (don’t worry I won’t elaborate on them, they are self-explanatory) and flow as follows:

Prospect → Set an appointment → Qualify and identify the needs of your prospect → Present your solution → Overcome any objections → Close the sale → Ask for referrals

I’m certain that there are numerous variations of the process, but for the purpose of this post; it’s irrelevant. It makes sense for sellers to know the process of a sale (What’s my next step?), but in my opinion that is where the discussion of a sales cycle needs to end. It is becoming more important for sellers to understand the intricacies of the buying cycle.

The first step to understanding a buying cycle is that businesses are ALWAYS buying. The length of time spent in the cycle will vary, the amount of time spent in one portion of the cycle will change, and the costs associated with purchases will vary: but companies are always in process of buying something. Again, I’m sure there are many different opinions and variations of what a customers’ buying cycle could look like, but I find the following is fairly straight forward:

Buying Cycle

The key to understand the buying cycle, is that our customers have a process, but we cannot impose our sales cycle on their buying cycle. A customer needs to buy and a company/seller needs (wants) to sell, but the cycles don’t mirror each other and often times they do not align.

Had I known this tidbit of information early in my sales career, my daily activities would have looked drastically different. Too many times after receiving the brush-off from a prospect (who I KNEW used my type of product), I’d establish a weak follow-up or “check in” (*gag*), then move on. I never thought to consider that perhaps this prospect was four-steps into their buying cycle with an unrelated product to my offering. Essentially I was trying to force my sales cycle on to a prospect who was not ready to buy.

My list of mistakes is too long and quite frankly, embarrassing. However to summarize: I would have done my best to gain an insight to their buying cycle and waited patiently, with valuable communication until our cycles aligned. Only then would I have asked poignant questions and challenged the buyer’s thinking to help them identify a need for MY product or service.

I believe sellers who understand their prospects’ and customers’ buying cycles are better poised to engage in a long-term sales relationship.

Let me know your thoughts.

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