Some of the latest sales prospecting research in Ireland and UK on sales methodology shows that very few sales people have a specific plan, including a pre-determined advancement objective, for their sales prospecting. Every phone call. Every meeting. Every presentation. But those sales people who DO without fail have a pre- determined advancement objective for every sales call they make are consistently ranked among the top 10% of sales people within their organisations.
Managing the sales cycle, which includes a structured sales prospecting approach, doing the right thing at the right time, contributes as much to getting an order as any feature or benefit your product may have. When a prospective customer makes a decision to buy – whether they are buying a specific product or service, deciding to let you give a presentation or agreeing to refer you to a decision maker – the “buying” decision is rarely the first commitment they have made to you. Generally it is simply the last in a series of progressively stronger commitments they have made.
Think about your own typical sales cycle. When you make initial contact with a cold prospect, what sort of commitments do they have to make as the sales cycle moves forward? The first commitment on their part of course is that they are willing to talk to you at all. Then after that, what other commitments, usually commitments of time, does a prospective customer make as the sales cycle advances? Sales cycle management begins with setting a specific “advancement objective” for every sales call. An advancement objective is a goal you set for specific action or commitment from your customer that moves the sales cycle forward.
MORE THAN JUST AN OBJECTIVE
There are many viable objectives to a sales call, but it is important to understand that an advancement objective is distinct: it requires action on the part of the customer that moves the sales cycle forward. For example, learning as much as possible about a customer’s needs is an objective, but it is not an advancement objective. Another example: finding out who the decision makers are is an important objective, but it’s not an advancement objective – it doesn’t require specific ACTION or commitment from your customer that moves the sales cycle forward.
An advancement objective is a goal you set for specific action or commitment from your customer that moves the sales cycle forward.
Here are a few examples of viable advancement objectives: Agreeing to speak on the telephone. Scheduling time to meet in person. Being willing to talk about issues and needs. Agreeing to read information sent in the mail. Agreeing to another telephone conversation after reviewing mailed information. Providing referrals. Identifying decision makers. Completing surveys. Returning phone calls.
Some of these probably seem like very minor commitments on the part of the prospective customer, but isn’t that how most sales relationships begin?
Unfortunately, most salespeople are so focused on the ULTIMATE commitment (making the sale) that they fail to recognize the smaller commitments leading to it. Worse still, often they fail to gain many of the smaller commitments while still pushing the sales cycle forward with the strength of their personality or determination.
But when the prospective customer decides to buy from someone else, these salespeople are often left wondering why they lost the business – not realizing that they lost it a long time ago, early in the sales cycle.
Effective selling in today’s business world is usually the result of a series of events that form the selling cycle. What are the advancement objectives you have in a typical selling cycle with a customer?
Think through each step of your typical sales cycle and determine the most common sequence of customer advancement objectives. For example, if your sales cycle typically begins with an initial prospecting call (either over the telephone or in person), your list of Sales Cycle Advancement Objectives may look something like this:
1. Customer acknowledges they are open to learning more about my product.
2. Customer is willing to tell me more about their relevant needs.
3. Customer agrees to schedule time for an in-depth needs analysis meeting.
4. Customer agrees to schedule another meeting with all decision-makers present.
5. Decision-makers place an initial order.
While the selling cycle for each prospective customer will be different, it is important to have a clear understanding of your most typical selling cycle. This will help you determine the specific advancement objective for every sales call you make.