Sales Management e-newsletter

How to Overcome the Long Sales Cycle
Heather Baldwin
An organization's politics and status quo make buying decisions incredibly complex. The prospect may have a need and you may have the solution, but what if two of the buying committee members don't get along? Or key departments won't share budget? If you don't help the buyer identify and address the tangle of internal change issues, you won't make the sale.

"Sellers treat needs as if they were isolated events that can be resolved by understanding them and then offering the best solution," observes Sharon Drew Morgen, the thought leader behind Buying Facilitation, an approach that teaches sales professionals how to get the buy-in necessary for a purchase. "[Sellers] forget there are people and rules and policies and history that have created the status quo, and until and unless all these parts buy in and agree to change, they'll say no because the system is sacrosanct. It will defend itself against change."

A traditional sales approach might never uncover this block, or it might uncover it late into the sales process. Instead, sellers need to uncover these behind-the-scenes issues in the first call, says Morgen. By asking such questions as, "What has caused you to determine that an outside vendor would give you more capability than your internal team?" or "Given the issues you've had with the other departments, what do you plan on doing differently to get buy-in?" you get the prospect to start thinking about the internal issues he or she will have to navigate, and you make yourself invaluable as a coach – which in turn will lead to a place in the buying committee. Moreover, you'll gain a sense of whether this is a good opportunity, or whether internal politics and homeostasis – the tendency of a system to protect its status quo – will make it impossible regardless of need.

"Clients always have needs; that's not the point," says Morgen. The point is that until you start helping prospects "figure out how to manage the decisions that need to be made internally and the relationships that need to be managed," you'll be stuck with long sales cycles and low conversion rates.

The specific facilitation questions you'll need to ask will vary depending on your solution and industry and the person on the other end of the call. But those questions should get prospects thinking about all the political and organizational issues they'll have to address on their end. Recently, a global tax and advisory company tried using the Buying Facilitation approach in place of its traditional PowerPoint presentation. Rather than bombard its prospect with fancy slides, the selling team came in with a list of facilitative questions that helped the buying team think about all the issues that needed addressing. The result: Not only did the sellers clinch the sale, but the sales cycle was just four months long instead of the usual three years.

It all starts with that initial conversation – a conversation that isn't about you or your product. Instead, says Morgen, that conversation should be about helping buyers uncover the internal politics, relationships, histories, and roadblocks they'll need to address in order to implement your solution. Ask the right questions, and you'll not only uncover those things – you'll find you quickly become a trusted member of the buying team.

For more information, visit newsalesparadigm.com.

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Typical salesman's hand. Your lifeline is fine - it's your bottom line you have to worry about.