I saw this discussion on the AA-ISP site just recently. It’s an ongoing issue with salespeople and managers, and especially so since metrics have gained so much dominance in the sales process.
The real problem is that unless you have a consistent, realistic estimation of when the sales opportunity begins, the sales cycle starts, or your favourite expression for this event, you can’t do any reliable analytics on the how long it takes to sell something. And getting the whole team to abide by the same definition is very difficult.
Back to the AA-ISP forum. The question was this:
“What do you consider the start of the sales cycle? For instance, we have a Sales Development Team and Account Executive Team. Our Sales Development Team will outbound call/email out to a pool of ~10,000 potential prospects (cold) and schedule demos for our Account Executive team. Would you consider the sales cycle to have started at first contact? when the demo is scheduled? or when the Account Executive holds the demo?”
In this case, a call from inside sales is the first “touch point” to the customer. The sales rep probes to find possible fits of products to the prospect’s business issues, and if there are, the “lead” is passed on to an account rep who tries to develop a sale.
I always think about these situations in terms of the customer’s buying cycle. Buying and selling are interactionary activities, one depends on the other. If there is a natural flow of activity in the sales transaction from start to finish, it is just mimics or follows a parallel cycle in the buying process.
So in the situation above, at which point does the inside rep engage the prospect? In their buying process? Before their buying process? Or maybe there won’t be a buying process at all.
If the first contact establishes that the prospect is actually in a buying cycle, then the sales cycle has begun. A sales opportunity gets logged, the account rep advised and the next step planned.
If the prospects doesn’t have a current plan to buy, but is intrigued enough by the inside reps proposition, it’s possible that a buying process could be started. But it is likely that another qualifying call is needed to establish that. This lead is hot. The sales rep is actually on the way to creating a buying cycle.
If there is no intention at all of starting a buying process, there is no sales cycle. Put the lead into a category that get’s chased by marketing. It may resurface in the future.
The degree to which the sales team decides of there is intention to buy depends on the degree of glass “half empty” versus “half full”. You can gauge new opportunities conservatively or optimistically – probably the topic for another post . . .