The Ever-Changing Sales Cycle

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Rubber Bands

Many years ago I studied physics at the University of Reading in the UK. The physics building was called the J J Thomson Physical Laboratory. J J Thomson was famous for developing the “plum pudding” model of the atom. J J didn’t call his work that, other scientists did. Using homely metaphors is common in science to help explain complicated things to people having trouble understanding them.

I’m keen on this technique, that’s why in my book on sales automation I wrote:

“The origin of the earth in a “big bang” can be described in the few lines of an equation. Why can’t an accurate sales forecast depend on a nine-point Probability Matrix and the three-dimensional Priority Cube? In fact, it can, because logic and mathematics are the easiest languages for computers to understand.”

Following on in this vein, this post introduces the “elastic band” theory of the sales cycle. I know that comparing the sales cycle to an elastic band is s-t-r-e-t-c-hing things a bit . . . but bare with me.

The picture below shows our elastic band. I’ve divided the bands into three colored parts – blue, green, and red.

Elastic Band Effect

Now, watch what happens when we make the band twice as long by stretching it, as shown in the second picture.

Elastic Band Effect

The blue, green and red portions stretch proportionately. A point in the green part of the unstretched band now corresponds to a point in the blue part of the stretched band.

As they say, no rocket science here. But the rubber band analogy shows us what happens in the real sales cycle. Look at this example from my book, “Sales Automation Done Right.”

Sales Cycle

At the point shown as “today” the salesperson is in the close phase of a six month sales cycle. The customer is told that funding for the project has been delayed by three months. The salesperson records the new close date of the new nine month sales cycle, and sees that now they are roughly one third of the way through the prove phase of the new cycle.

Selling skills have to be adjusted accordingly. There’s no point trying to close the deal—the funding is three months away. The customer cannot be ignored during the extra time that’s been injected into the sales process. The salesperson has to maintain a proving strategy or risk being out-manuevered by a more vigilant competitor.

In practice, sales cycles do change, and not just expand as in this example. They can get unexpectedly shortened as well. The “elastic band” theory of the skill phase changing in unison with the cycle works well to understand how fundamental selling strategies should accommodate the new circumstances.

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