The Sales Process – “All the World’s a Stage …”

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Sales Process on Stage

“All the world’s a stage and we’re all players and salespeople.”

This quote is from an article by Liz Guthridge called, “Learn to love selling in the year of the snake.”

Actually, Liz was reviewing a recent book by Dan Pink called “To Sell Is Human.” I checked out the inside of the book on Amazon and placed an order—looks like good stuff to me.

Liz is enamored by a suggestion in the book to enhance the skills of pitching, improvisation, and serving. To focus on improvisation, she involves herself in a course of improv and finds it has a positive impact on her selling. Summing up she says, “With apologies to Shakespeare, I prefer selling to acting as influencing seems more natural to me . . .”

While my post is not directly about acting as it pertains to selling, a stage play is a nice metaphor for describing the action and players in the sales transaction. I first found this kind of thinking useful when describing the sales opportunity workflow for our OPM training course.

So here goes.

The Show

The show is the sales opportunity. Without a stage production, there can be no characters or plot for the audience to enjoy.

Without the sales opportunity there is no sale.

To develop an opportunity, a salesperson relies on leads. A lead is some sort of indication that there could be an opportunity in the works. The lead could be a phone call that expresses interest in a product, or a reply to a magazine ad—it is an expression of interest with an understanding that there could be a possibility of a purchase some time in the future.

It’s very important to distinguish between a lead and an opportunity. The lead is a possibility that has to be explored, and an opportunity confirmed or rejected. For an opportunity to exist, the salesperson must know that the customer has started the buying process.

Because the sales opportunity is an important business transaction, the salesperson should be totally confident that it exists. OPM refers to the sales opportunity as the “Identified Business Opportunity,” or IBO. As the OPM story unfolds, this term will be used more and more.

The Characters

The two central characters on stage are the buyer and the seller.

The buyer needs something that can only be provided by the seller (or one of many potential sellers). In sales language, the buyer is the customer, and the seller is the salesperson.

Selling depends very much on people and relies on face-to-face negotiations between two human beings, even if there may be teams of assistants behind the scenes. The rules of selling depend heavily on the interactions between two specific individuals. The same is true in industrial or political negotiation; at the end, the disputes are settled by one-on-one discussion between heads of state, heads of business, or heads of labor.

The Length

Stage performances can be short or long, as can a sale.

Resolving the sales opportunity takes time, and the more complex and expensive the product, the longer the amount of time to conclude the sale. This period of time is called the sales cycle. The sales cycle is important because it represents the only available time that the salesperson has to get their selling job done.

Sales cycles, even for the same market and product, can vary greatly in duration. What’s more, the salesperson has the capability to influence the length of the sales cycle, to make it longer or shorter. The sales cycle can be days, weeks, months, or years depending on the market and the product. In retail sales, the sales cycle can be minutes, and OPM doesn’t really address this situation, although it’s surprising how much of the OPM method does fit this very short sales cycle.

OPM says that the earlier the salesperson involves themselves in the customer’s buying process, the better. To many salespeople, this means lengthening the sales cycle, something that goes counter to much of the advice that salespeople pick up today.

Performances also have acts and scenes. Sales cycles have stages and phases that assist in building on a sensible progression from beginning to end. This idea will become an important part of the OPM method which proposes three logical progressions, or phases, in the evolution of the sales cycle.

The Overture

The overture heralds the start of the performance.

The moment the sales opportunity is found and identified (IBO), the sales cycle starts. But it’s not so simple. Salespeople don’t have trouble understanding the end of the sales cycle, but have huge misconceptions about the start.

When is the start of the sales cycle? Most certainly when the customer starts their buying process. Salespeople have problems with being there when this happens—it is not a well-defined moment in time, but a period of time. Salespeople are often late, and get involved when the buying process is already underway. The earlier the salesperson is involved with the customer in the effort to purchase, the better.

The idea that the salesperson should start the sales cycle as soon as possible in the customer’s buying process highlights the importance of logging the date as soon as the opportunity is found. This is the date when the salesperson established, to their satisfaction, that the customer was most certainly in the buying process. This date is the start date.

The Finale

The finale marks the end of the show.

The sale has to end at some point, too. This is the close of the sale. The point in time that the sale closes is called the close date.

OPM says that the salesperson should try to predict the close date throughout the sales cycle, even from the date that the opportunity first gets logged. It’s tough to do this accurately in the early stages of the sales cycle when information is scarce, but it is a good idea to do it anyway. The close date should then be updated as the sale progresses; this gets much easier towards the later stages of the cycle.

To confuse you a bit, this is not the finale, but it is end of the post as defined by Ed.’s rigid parameters. I’ll look at more of the stage play next time.

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