B2B selling can sometimes be such a long sales cycle that it will make you crazy. As a colleague of mine once said, “customers can suck all of the joy out of the sale.” But it is not a lost cause. There are some very specific things you can do as a professional sales person that can cut the sales cycle in half.
First let me define my steps in a sales cycle:
• Define the prospect
• Get the appointment
• Prepare for the presentation
• Present to the prospect
• Close the sale
My steps may be different from others that you have read, but they are all similar. Not only will we help you understand these step buts we are also going to be specific and help you cut out activities that are prolonging the sales cycle today
1. Define the customer. Here is where most people fail. Let me state one important fact…Not everyone is your customer. At Axcelora, we know that people selling small tickets to small retailers are not our customer. While they might want our ability to introduce them to the retail community, they simply cannot afford our price. It doesn’t add up. So, take the time to define who your customer is and who your customer is not. For the first six months don’t vary from your definition. There will many temptations, don’t fall into the trap of “everyone needs what you have”…it simply is not true.
a. Once you have defined who you think your customers are you should define, in the terms of your company, which service or product you have that they need. Here is one of the big time savers of shortening the sales cycles; don’t force what you have on the customer. If it is not an obvious fit, go onto the next customer. You will have plenty of time to fish for the outliers; don’t spend your initial work on this unlikely candidate.
2. Play business geography. If you don’t know how to play you should learn. After you have defined company XYZ you should first take some time to determine who you know that works at that company. It does not have to be at the same department, in headquarters, or still working there (although those would be preferable) just someone that has ties to the company. If that doesn’t work think of someone that works in the same vertical as they are most likely to have connections to your target company. Don’t forget to check out Social networks like LinkedIn to spur your imagination. If you can get an introduction from a person into the target company, you have just cut your sales cycle considerably. Being introduced to a decision maker by a friend of the decision maker breaks down one of the biggest barriers to the sale…lack of trust.
3. Cold call with confidence. As I have mentioned in my previous post, Is your Sales Force Getting the job done? no one likes cold calling. However, one way to improve your success in cold calling is preparation. If you are going to call a prospect on the list you have just spent considerable time to create you should KNOW about the prospect's business. You should certainly use the internet to do your initial research, it is invaluable. I would say it is the 2ND best source of information. The best place to find out about a retailer or a restaurant is in their store or restaurant itself. Visit the store, touch the merchandise, look at the customers, and most importantly talk with the staff. Tell them you are about to call on the home office and you want to be prepared. Ask them what they can tell you about the business. What are the problems they are seeing in the operations of the business? (You should be constantly thinking about how you can help them solve those problems.) The more informed you have before your first call, the more success you will have once you get to chat with the appointment maker. You will KNOW their business. Having this confidence will keep your mind in the game. In the past it typically has taken me 9-10 calls before I got to speak to a live person…most of my colleagues stopped at 2.
4. Visit the customer right BEFORE you visit the customer. Now that you have scheduled the appointment, don’t stop preparing. Go back to either the same store or a different one and do your research once again. Then, go to the stores' competitors. When you go to the appointment you want to have visited the store more recently than the client. You should look for the problems your product or service can solve. Prepare yourself for how your service can deliver increased ROI. While technology is exciting, if it doesn’t deliver increased ROI your prospect will not and should not buy from you.
5. Practice your presentation. It always amazed me when someone would come to the office to present their service, merchandise, or real estate and it would seem like it was the first time they had ever seen the presentation. Practice your presentation; then practice some more. I once went on a presentation with a brand new sales person from our team at Buxton. It was his first pitch so he was nervous. But he did a great job. He knew the presentation as well as anyone in our company. He later told me he had practiced the presentation with his wife as his audience so often, that she could do it as well as he could. He turned out to be one of our best sales people. Because he practiced.
a. Two hints on the presentation. 1- Always start out by asking what the state of the company is. While you did your research, they may have made a big announcement that morning you would know nothing about. 2- NEVER read from the slides. If your client can’t read then you have the wrong client.
6. Stop Selling and Start Listening. I don’t know why, but sales people just cannot seem to shut up. God gave us two ears and one mouth; use them in the correct ratio. This will shorten the cycle faster than anything you do. If you are actively listening, your prospect should be selling herself on your ideas. Listen to the clues. If you are presenting to a group, they will begin by talking with each other; let them talk. You should also be listening by asking questions of the group. If you have done steps 4 and 5 with the necessary diligence you will have no problem guiding the conversation to a successful conclusion. Don’t worry if the conversation gets very animated; that is a good thing.
7. AFTO. AFTO stands for Ask For The Order. The customer knows why you are there; you know why you are there; Ask For The Order. Too many sales people forget that the customer wants you to ask for the order. So you leave the meeting thinking you did a great job. The conversation was animated, the presentation was to the point, and the client seemed to want the service you were presenting. You left the room without ASKING and thus prolonged the sales cycle. A NO answer is better than no answer. If you have a NO answer then you can try and find out the why or you can go onto the next prospect, either way is OK. But if you don’t have an answer you simply go home thinking you did a good job. You wait weeks for the customer to get back to you or not returning your calls. Cut the cycle time and ASK. It won’t hurt.
And now a message from sponsor Axcelora (www.axcelora.com). If you want to cut your cycle time even more (cutting out steps 2 and 3) simply go to www.axcelora.com and set up some time to chat with our team. They can help you determine who the decision maker in most of today’s retailers and then set up a personal appointment to meet with them. So, in accordance with step 7, will you contact us today?
Rich Hollander is a retail expert with over 40 years in the industry.