In the previous installment on the Organize stage of David Allen’s Getting Things Done process, we looked at time as one of the most important criteria for categorizing an opportunity. We covered the start and end dates of the sales cycle as its defining points, and offered that you need a time reckoning system in sales that is flexible, because your sales cycle will certainly change.
A flexible time reckoning system is not fixed to days and weeks and months. How could it be? Your sales cycles have different lengths, so how could you do the same thing on Day 12 of a 5-week sales cycle that you do on Day 12 of a 5-month sales cycle? So it has to be proportional. This is what most stage-based systems do – they divide the sales cycle into stages for appropriate action at each one no matter what the sales cycle length.
Sounds reasonable, right? At stage one I do an initial call, at stage five I do a demo, at stage seven I send a proposal. Pretty nifty. So now I’m at stage 8 and I follow up on my proposal and learn the close has been delayed. Doesn’t matter why or how long. I’m at stage 8, ready to proceed to stage 9.
But the customer just jumped back to stage 6. Your time reckoning system can’t cope with that, it can’t go backwards. What do you do? You adjust, of course, and you trick your time reckoning system to adjust with you. Not elegant, but it gets the job done.
Doesn’t it make more sense to have a time reckoning system that adjusts automatically? It doesn’t have to go backwards, it just has to adjust. You stay put, time flexes, and you are where you’re supposed to be, doing what your supposed to do. In other words, you have normalized time around you.
This is not as complex as it sounds. You just need to build your reckoning system around something relative, not something absolute like days or stages. In sales, that something is the buying cycle and the corresponding skills you practice as your sales cycle progresses in tandem.
According to Neil Rackham’s groundbreaking work, the buying cycle has three phases – recognition of a need, evaluation of solutions, and negotiation of value. The sales cycle must have three corresponding phases for you to stay abreast of the customer. It’s all relative, to quote Einstein. The buyer back-peddles to evaluating solutions, and your time reckoning system goes with him and you’re in the same place at the same time, just as you’re supposed to be.