What if I were to tell you that there is no such thing as a ‘sales cycle’? Most of you who are in sales, consulting, staffing, or whatever field that relies on connecting with clients, identifying their needs, and then solutioning and closing would probably stand aghast at such a statement. We have spent millions and probably billions on training and tips and techniques to hone the art of sales. How can so many people who are so successful be wrong? Right?
Let’s get this straight – I am not against practices that help us sell and solution; the problem with a sales cycle approach is threefold:
- It either ends or skips an important aspect of both your growth and the ultimate goal of the client – delivery. Without explicit inclusion of delivery, whether product/solution-focused or transactional, we untether our profit motive from our ultimate goal, whatever that is! And without this tethering of profit and purpose, we simply become driven and not partnering.
- We miss the opportunities that are there to influence individuals, improve organizations, and grow communities (the three areas that you have heard me harp on if we want to grow!) because we are focused on the next deal or the next referral. Our clients no longer just want to buy something from us, they want to be like us. Are you a servant-leader? Are you a teacher-trainer? Are you a consultative salesperson? The sales cycle implicitly limits the ability of sales to improve organizations.
- It is too linear and has limited feedback loops. Similar to a rigid manufacturing process or a waterfall SDLC, the current sales cycle is linear, relying on constantly progressing stages that are generally measured with explicit deliverables. The problem is that since many are measured on this, the value of the outcome becomes lost and we start to see success in completing deliverables. Additionally, we have limited feedback loops that show us what to change as we slosh through the process. Like manufacturing of old, we are simply trying to get something out the door without losing too many fingers in the machine.
So, what do we do. While this is not simple to apply, it is all about simplicity of design:
- See your product, service, or transaction through the lens of a sales and delivery cycle. Understand that value is not achieved at the signature of a deal, but when your client is gaining value from your service.
- Take a hard look at how you sell and what your company culture is. Think, “would my client want to be like us?” While you may not be able to change culture overnight, you can start to raise questions and start the conversation. Also read, Start with Why by Simon Sinek.
- Blow up your cycle. This is not counter to point 1, but a segway to a new method. Start looking at your practices in different ways and start asking questions: Are we getting feedback consistently from all involved? Are we pivoting and changing when we get the feedback? Are we spending time, money, investment in areas that are not providing outcomes? Are we changing and coaching our clients even pre-sales?
Think about and apply these ideas and know that the ‘sales cycle’ in the way we talk about does not exist.