I once bought four books about sales … in one week. They were all quite new at the time, and very different. If I have a glance around my bookshelves, I have about a hundred books devoted to sales, salespeople and sales management. The reason I am thinking about them now is that I am writing my second book. It is, like my first book (Sales Automation Done Right, SalesWays Press, 2005), devoted to sales methodology, although the first one mixed in a bit of technology. When writing, it’s good to see what has already been said before you embark on a project that you feel has something new to say about a subject.
When I review books on the sales process, it strikes me that the human interplay between customer and salesperson must be complex; if that wasn’t the case, how could so much be written about it? The first thing that comes to mind is that almost all of these books targeting salespeople are tactical. I use the word tactical to describe the actions of the salesperson as they are in front of the customer, whether it is what questions to ask, what to listen for, what information to retrieve, and the like. The emphasis is on the interaction with the customer as it happens in these few minutes or hours, on this day in time.
The results of the tactic will hopefully contribute to the overall strategy in place to win that particular sale. I don’t have any problem with learning the tactics of winning, but I do feel that most salespeople try to consume these ideas before they understand the full nature of the sale cycle itself.
The thing is, a sales cycle almost has a life of its own. Sure, the outcome, or who wins and loses, is mostly an unknown when the sales cycle begins, but its natural progression as it ebbs and flows with the customer’s buying process follows a well defined pattern and progression. If salespeople thoroughly understand the way this behavior works, they will be able to devise, adjust and synchronize their tactical selling much more effectively.
The issue takes on even greater importance when managing a portfolio of opportunities with varying sales cycles. Here, attention to one opportunity may be at the expense of another. Understanding the natural dynamics underpinning the sales process makes the tactical selling more effective, leveraging more value from the portfolio.
I took a random sample of six sales books from the shelf and looked to see how many of them had “Sales Cycle” in the index. Guess what? One out of six.