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How long is your sales cycle?

Posted on: February 23rd, 2016 by Monika No Comments

When you ask a sales person, their sales manager, or the CEO of the organization how long their sales cycles are, you usually get mixed responses. In some cases, you get blank stares, in other scenarios there is disagreement on the length of the actual cycle.

CEOs in general would like to see sales moving along at a healthy clip, while sales people often underestimate the time it really takes to close a sale.

You can only change what you know

Everybody wants to shorten the sales cycle, but in order to do that you need to first understand the length and the drivers. What do I mean by that?

There are reasons why some sales cycles are longer than others. Some of the areas are out of your control, others can be influenced.

For example, if you target larger organizations with various decision-makers and influencers, your sales cycle will automatically be longer. Sales cycles may be shorter when targeting smaller organizations, but you need to be aware of the payoffs and the trade-offs.

In other words, do those small organizations have budgets available? Are they even a good fit?

How can you control the sales cycle?

One way to control the length of your sales cycle is to be sure that sales team members have all received targeted training. First, sales professionals know what to look for in their ideal client profile, what industries to target, what messaging works or doesn’t, etc. Then, they need to be trained to ask the right questions to not only uncover needs and goals of their prospects, but just as importantly, what to ask to move the sale along.

Following are some questions to ask yourself to focus on drivers which can influence your sales cycle.

How well known is your company/brand?

If your company is well known and you are only introducing a new service or product, it will be easier to get results. However, if your company is not established in the market place, it will take longer to get traction.

Do you know who the decision maker for the offering will be?

If you don’t know who your decision-maker(s) will be, it will take longer to navigate through your prospect organization. Identifying the “influencers” within an organization is key to being successful. Too many sales people have lengthy conversations with people who are not in a position to buy or even influence the final decision-maker(s). So, asking the right questions upfront, making sure that you are talking to the right people, and establishing rapport with the real influencers will help you shorten the cycle.

Do you have a Unique Positioning for your service?

If you don’t know how to differentiate your service from others in your marketplace, it will also add time to your sales cycle. It is therefore of high important to have a Unique Selling Proposition and to craft messaging that will get people’s attention.

Are you adding Value?

Too many sales people focus on the features and benefits of their offering, rather than leading with value. It is important for a prospect to understand how your service/product offering will be of value to them (and remember, it’s different depending on the role of the person).

Are your sales people equipped to sell in a consultative environment?

If they are not, they will not ask the right questions, get stuck with the wrong decision maker and that will have a strong impact on your sales cycle. We have a Sales IQ assessment that helps management determine whether sales people are up to par, or not.

Does your company have a healthy sales culture?

A positive sales culture is very important when it comes to understanding and managing the sales cycle. If you are a CEO, encourage your people to be honest. If you are a sales person, be pro-active in managing expectations.

Are your sales people supported with training?

If your sales people are struggling, provide them with training, but most importantly hire a training organization that you trust and then truly support that methodology.

What is the buying cycle of your prospects?

One area that is out of your control is the buying cycle and budget cycle of your prospects. Identify and understand their budget cycle and then manage your outreach accordingly.

Ideas for Sales Professionals & Sales Managers

All of these areas need to be carefully reviewed and discussed, but not only by sales professionals themselves. If your CEO is involved in these discussions, you will not only have buy-in from the top, but also a profound understanding as to why things might take longer. No sensible CEO will breathe down your neck if you can make a case as to why this process is not yielding immediate results. Keep your CEO engaged and informed and she/he will support your efforts.

If, however, you keep your CEO in the dark and un-informed on how you’ve established the process, she/he will rightfully be impatient.

When you are in a sales management position, invite your CEO to the last part or day of a sales meeting and present a clear and concise plan of action.

When you are a sales person, encourage your manager to provide metrics and results to your CEO.

Recommendations for CEOs

If you are a CEO, ask to be invited to the sales meetings, add your insights and then let your team work their “magic”. Resist the temptation to get involved on a daily basis

You’ll be happier and your team more successful for it!

Why should CEOs be involved in developing a sales culture?

Posted on: December 3rd, 2014 by Monika No Comments

Remember, the fish starts stinking at the top

That’s right, it always does. And when it comes to the sales process it’s not different. CEOs need to understand, embrace and support the sales process. If your CEO expects immediate results and you are stuck in a sales cycle that takes 3-6 months, guess what will happen? Your CEO will question you, your boss, your team and that’s usually where the panic starts.

Always get buy-in from your CEO

Why? So there is no surprises. While I preach that CEOs should not meddle with the sales process once it is established, I also feel that the process needs to be developed, agreed upon and fine tuned with the CEO in the room. It’s a cultural shift that will build a trusting environment where everybody involved in sales knows the parameters and the name of the game.

Everybody is in sales

Everybody within your organization should have a sales mindset. Why? Because you are constantly selling and building trust. Everybody who is client facing, and I mean everybody is responsible for the reputation of your company. It’s hard to sell when people don’t trust. If I visit a client and the receptionist is not friendly, that leaves a negative impression.

If I then talk to a customer representative and they are not knowledgeable. Guess how that will impact my decision to buy?

And if I then get referred to a sales person who pitches something that I don’t need, because they don’t listen, they just “sell” it will probably make me think about buying anything from that company. Right?

Your people are selling all the time, in a direct or indirect way. So, they need to understand that their livelihood is directly tied to their demeanor, mindset and behavior. Our training program helps companies to establish a common Sales & Service language. No matter who you encounter within the organization, they should all speak the “same” language.

Train your account people

When we think about the sales, we think about sales people, database management, phone calls, etc.

But, if your account people are charged with growing revenue within existing accounts and they are not trained to do that, they will most likely resist it.  Most opportunities are right under our noses. It’s the trusted clients we work with who are most receptive to our new service offerings. But if your account people feel that they are only responsible for account management and they are uncomfortable talking about new business, the up-selling will be difficult.

Help your CEO with driving directions

CEOs are visionaries, they know where they want to end up, but it is up to his people to provide the map. CEOs often don’t want to be bothered with details, but if they are presented with a concept that helps everybody within the organization to become more focused on new business development (which will result in additional revenue), they will open up their ears. Our most successful training programs are the ones where the CEO agrees with the philosophy and his/her leaders drive the direction.

Courtesy in Sales Out the Window?!

Posted on: June 20th, 2014 by Monika No Comments

In sales, should courtesy be tossed out the window?

Recently, I have been following a LinkedIn discussion where the following question was posed?

When calling, should you ask a prospect whether it’s a good time to speak?
Living in a consultative sales world, and teaching the principles of a consultative sales process, to me the answer was simple. Yes. Being mindful is one of the core principles of consultative selling and it should be the core principle when doing business. Where do you stand?

Courtesy Rules
In my opinion, courtesy should never be ignored just to get to results. As a matter of fact, I would argue that the results could be short lived if you just want to get your point across at all costs.
We live in a world where people are looking at different indicators and measures, not only monetary gain and that’s a good thing in my view. Companies are starting to embrace business practices that show that they care. And it has been proven to help the bottom line whether it’s genuine or not.

Is Sales the Exception?
So, why do some people think sales should be the exception? What is the basis of their assumption that in the sales world we can ignore practices that have been proven to work in other business disciplines?
Nobody Wants to be Interrupted (or do you?)

In my many years of calling on C-Level executives, I firmly believe that when you interrupt somebody’s work day, you should always be courteous and professional – first and foremost. Asking your prospect if it’s a good time to speak and giving the person an option will not only leave a good impression, it will lead to a good conversation. If sales people just start off with a generic pitch – and “fast-talking” – they most likely won’t get the attention of the person they are actually trying to connect with. I know for myself that when people call me and start reeling off their pitch, I’m mainly annoyed. For the most part I don’t even listen to what they are saying. My goal is to get them off the phone.

Teach Your People Well, But Not to be Rude
One of the LinkedIn discussion participants even said that he is teaching his people to never ask that question because they then can’t get their point across and it only invites a “No, I don’t have time”. Making that point just leads me to believe this person has no confidence in the people she/he hires to present themselves confidently on the phone.
Of course it depends on the situation and maybe your introduction could start with a simple way of saying, “Hi, I won’t take much of your time. Would you mind listening to my short business introduction if this is a good time for you?” Wording, timing and applying common sense is essential, in life as well as in business. Teaching your salespeople to basically be rude certainly wouldn’t attract me to work for or with a company embracing that sales approach.

Desperation is a Bad Motivator
Salespeople who start off with a pitch in the fear they won’t gain attention can come across as desperate. And that’s one of the reasons why salespeople often have a bad reputation. One person in the LinkedIn discussion said that people should screen their calls and use caller ID to decide if they’ll take the call. Well, many unsolicited calls come in as “Unknown” on my caller ID, so do some calls from Europe. So I am always tempted to answer the phone because I wouldn’t want to miss a call from family or friends in Vienna, Austria, for example. Does that mean I should be punished with rude sales behavior for picking up?

Do Your Research & People will Listen
If you do your research and you know something about the company and the person that you are calling on, you will always be in a better position to open a dialogue. Also, if you introduce yourself via email and then call to follow up, your “cold call” won’t come across as completely out of the blue.

In closing, there are many ways to prospect effectively. I prospect every day on behalf of my clients with huge success. But ignoring courtesy is definitely not part of my recipe.

Empower your CEO when it comes to sales

Posted on: April 11th, 2014 by Monika No Comments

Readers who have been following my blogs know that I am very cautious when it comes to C-Level involvement and sales, but that only pertains to day-to-day operations and not the conceptual involvement. Your sales process, your sales training or any other sales related areas will not be successful if the CEO feels that it’s not in line with her/his philosophy or thinking.

The most successful sales training programs we have experienced are the ones where the CEO spear-headed, promoted or at the very least approved and supported the program. Sales and sales training cannot be successful if the CEO is not on board.

1) Socialize your CEO with sales

In my experience, most CEOs are strong leaders and are passionate about their company.  That’s also a good reason why they are in the position they are in. Being strong leaders and passionate about what their company can do, many also think they are as good at sales as at leading an organization.  Though they may be quite skilled at promoting their business to investors, understanding Sales as a discipline is a very different cup of tea. We’ve found that the best way to get buy-in on your sales process is to invite your CEO to a meeting where you present the philosophy (consultative selling, customer-centric selling, etc.) and why you have chosen that approach, along with goals and outlines to support company objectives and goals.

2) Be prepared to answer questions

Preparation is everything and you need to be in a position where you can support your strategy (if necessary) with case studies (from previous experiences) or data that you have collected. Just to say that you believe in a consultative approach to selling without knowing why will probably not leave the best impression.

3) Be specific, or not – depending on your CEO’s personality

Graduates of our Consultative Sales Certification Program possess the knowledge and skills to identify personality styles, understand how people digest information and most importantly, how to adjust to most effectively communicate. If your CEO is a strong “D” or Director type, someone very results-oriented, a quick decision-maker, you’ll want to provide top level information, cut to the chase and show how the bottom line will be affected.

If your CEO however is more of a “C” or Cautious and analytical, you need to go into more detail, using data to support your claim as to why you want to do things the way you present them.

4) Build trust

By providing information to your CEO, helping her/him understand the sales process you are a step ahead and more in control. If your CEO has doubts about your sales process, you can talk about it, make adjustments and so you get her/his buy-in. This will help you build trust and allocate budgets and you and your team will share responsibility with your CEO for the outcomes.

5) Be honest

If your sales cycle is lengthy, make sure your CEO fully understands why. Now is your time to be honest and straightforward. It helps you to build rapport, gain trust and to manage expectations. Don’t paint a rosy picture if there are serious obstacles you are facing. If you have built a collaborative environment and your CEO understands the obstacles and the sales process, you will be more successful working towards your goals together.

Oval Callout: I want it, and I want it now!

Why is your website so important as a prospecting tool?

Posted on: April 2nd, 2012 by Monika No Comments

When you are selling a service, such as technology, advertising, PR or anything that is invisible and you require a consultative sales approach, your website is not necessarily a sales tool. It’s a vibrant, ever-present branding piece. Prospects will not buy your service because your site looks phenomenal, but it is the first impression of your organization, and first impressions count.

For prospecting and lead generation though, your website is essential. More often than not, your prospects will look at your site once they consider talking to you in more detail.

Reflecting Your Unique Positioning

Your marketing materials and your website need to reflect your unique positioning and the story you want to tell.  If you have a website (which is really your storefront these days) and your prospects see or read something that doesn’t reflect your core values or your unique positioning, it can certainly become an issue you won’t want to have to deal with.

Telling the Same Story

The challenge is that many websites were developed a while back and in the meantime your organization, services and products might have changed, perhaps even radically since then. So, in essence your sales people might be telling a different story than your website tells. If you are one of these companies where your website was developed in a rush, or some time ago and in time since then you have become a different company, your prospects will be confused.

Now I don’t recommend changing your website every single time small changes take place.

In essence, when developing your website it’s important that all communication vehicles, such as voice mail scripts, e-mails, website, brochure, etc. speak the same language. If what your sales people are saying doesn’t match your website or brochure language, your prospect will be confused and they might move on to the next site, which could be your competitor.

When perusing the web you can find service offerings, language and examples on a website that really don’t reflect the current situation of the company. Big companies generally have professionals solely responsible for their website management. But here the quality and consistency depends how well they are connected to the departments that make the changes and/or how well the departments inform the webmaster.

In smaller organizations the website is usually owned by one person and once it’s up and running it gets changed a lot, but very often without a distinct purpose. There is a lot of focus on color schemes, logos, graphics but not enough energy being spent on the content and the ease of use.

Avoid Website Vanity! Be Real!

Websites are there for prospects to gather information, to understand the unique selling proposition, to learn about a company at their own pace, in their own time. They are not there to solely impress with pretty pictures and graphics. Way too many times websites represent the wishes of the CEO (yes, I am talking to you guys again!) and they end up becoming vanity pieces (remember the Devil’s Advocate: Vanity, my favorite sin!) rather than a functional resource.

You don’t want the intro to be more impressive than the content of your website. There is a time to show off your creativity and smarts, and your website can be that place but not during the intro. Focus on your the key messages and your unique selling proposition. Be creative with substance and your website will be one of your top resource tools in your prospecting kit.

Keep Calm and Sell More

Posted on: February 15th, 2012 by Monika No Comments

Keep Calm and Carry On was a propaganda poster produced by the British government in 1939 during the beginning of the Second World War, intended to raise the morale of the British public in the aftermath of widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities.

Personally, I think that this was a brilliant move during times of distress and great fear and I wish that the slogan would be applied more often, especially during times of stress.

Sometimes, I feel that sales is viewed as a practice where practitioners are expected to hassle and scramble rather than taking a step back, taking a deep breath and carrying on with the plan. Especially, in a consultative sales environment panic appears when sales don’t happen because the sales cycle is typically longer.

What happens if sales don’t happen?

Usually, panic.  And panic leads to more panic.  When sales don’t happen, very often the CEO thinks s/he needs to step in. Then you have situations in which CEOs are doing the sales training, or CEOs being on first sales calls and getting involved in everything and anything that has to do with sales. They fear for their company’s survival and that’s understandable.

And what about the sales managers in these situations? Well, as there is no success to show they often panic as well. In these cases they often just give in and let their CEOs take over instead of putting their feet down and demanding to stay on track.  They tend to go along with their CEOs rather than providing clear measures, guidelines and leading developments in the sales process.

This can have a snowball effect on the sales team. The sales people might fear that they could lose their job or that they won’t be making any money.

The sales managers do both. They panic and fear, both for their team, for their compensation and for their reputation.

Why don’t the sales managers keep their CEO in check?

I have always wondered in situations like that why sales manager wouldn’t stick to their guns? Is it because they are afraid of repercussions or is it that they are not  confident enough to make a case for a structured and meaningful sales process?

Or is it because CEOs are used to being powerful leaders and end up steamrolling their team? Or could it be that CEOs are not always good at allowing other opinions?

It’s probably a combination of all of the above but in all fairness, it really shouldn’t be the job of a CEO to establish or drive the sales process. When they take control it’s usually stems from lack of results and trying to be helpful.

Sales Managers need to manage their CEOs

Sales managers are tasked with building and managing an effective and successful sales team. To be most successful, though, they will need to build an effective and successful relationship with their CEO. That includes open and full communication, documentation and also managing your CEO’s expectations. Embracing the CEO’s vision but also making sure that your CEO understands and embraces the sales process you put in place. Provide reports on progress, share success stories but also reasons why sales might stall. This will help you as a sales manager or sales person to support your credibility and it will help your CEO understand why things might take a bit longer.

What is the solution?

Stay calm and on-track. If you have a plan, success will follow. It might just take a bit longer. It’s better to wait a month or two as oppose to changing everything and getting derailed completely. When CEOs feel that things are structured and on track, they will go back to doing what they do best, rather than dictating the sales process. Sales people and managers need to manage up. CEOs often don’t have a background in sales management, so help them understand the process, manage expectations, stay positive and Keep Calm and you will Sell More!

And never forget these THREE!When identifying the benefits for your audiences, always remember to develop messaging that will help you get their attention.If you have read my blog you will remember that people buy because you can help them:

  • Make money and/or
  • Save money and/or
  • Improve their reputation internally.

Why is Sales Coaching important for CEOs

Posted on: August 24th, 2011 by Monika No Comments

You might think that unless a CEO is involved in selling, sales coaching is something that is more important for his employees. In my experience, successful sales models only work if the CEO understands the process and embraces it.

Why? Because the gap between expectations and reality could be wide and keeping your company from growing. Let’s just assume that a company requires a consultative sales model because they are selling a technology enabled solution.  If the CEO doesn’t believe that a consultative model is essential to the growth of the company, the sales department will not be able to deliver results.

I have coached many executives in companies of that sort and found that while some of the sales people were not equipped to adhere to a consultative/complex model due to their personality, lack of commitment or simply because they couldn’t move away from a tactical approach (which is another blog topic) the expectations of the CEO and the pressure that came with it presented a huge disconnect.

The sales cycle in a consultative sales environment is usually longer and more complex compared to selling a product. This is something that needs to be discussed, reviewed and agreed upon by senior management and ultimately supported.

Here are some  areas that will determine the length of the sales cycle:

How well known is your company/brand?

If your company is well known and you are introducing a new service it will be easier to get results. If your company is not established in the market place, it will take longer to get traction.

How new is your service offering?

If your service offering is completely new and you are launching it, you will have to work harder to get people interested as oppose to selling an additional service to existing clients.

Do you know who the decision maker for the offering will be?

If you don’t know who your decision maker will be it will take longer to navigate through your prospect organization.

Do you have a Unique Positioning for your service?

If you don’t know exactly why your service is different (or in other words how you can help your clients make money, save money or increase their reputation internally) it will also add time to your sales cycle.

And then there are the other areas of uncertainty.

  • Are your sales people equipped to sell in a consultative environment?
  • Does your company have a healthy sales culture?
  • Are your sales people supported with training?
  • How long is the buying cycle of your prospects?

 

All of these areas need to be carefully reviewed and discussed, but not only by the sales team. If the CEO is involved in these discussions, you will not only have buy-in from the top, but also a profound understanding as to why things might take longer. No sensible CEO will breathe down your neck if you can make a case as to why this process is not yielding immediate results. Keep your CEO engaged and informed and he will support your efforts.

If you however keep your CEO in the dark and uninformed on how you established the process, he will rightfully be impatient.

When you are in a sales management position, invite your CEO to the last day of the sales meeting and present a clear and concise plan of action.

When you are a sales person, encourage your manager to provide metrics and results to your CEO.

If you are a CEO, ask to be invited to the sales meetings, add your two cents and then let your team work the magic. Don’t get involved on a daily basis!!!