This is not a trick question.
Are you selling or is your customer buying? The correct answer is both. There is both a sales cycle and a buying cycle(s) occurring simultaneously on every sales opportunity.
Why is this important to you? Because the primary purpose of your sales cycle is to support your prospect’s buying process by helping them accomplish a single task: making a fully informed decision to purchase the right product or service for their needs. If you, as a seller, can also empower them to make that purchase decision with the least investment of their time possible then you will have successfully created value for the buyer, laid the foundation for a trust-based relationship, and truly differentiated yourself from your competitors.
The Balance of Power has Shifted In the olden days, in the dark ages of the pre-Internet world, buyers of products and services, otherwise known as your prospects, were completely dependent on you, the sales professional, for information about the products and services they wanted to buy. There were no websites to search and very few reliable third-party sources of information about products and services that they could use to shape and guide their buying process. Prospects could only buy as fast as a seller was prepared or willing to supply the information they needed to take into consideration in order to make an optimal purchase decision.
Then the Internet upended that whole cozy arrangement. Experts estimate that prospects today gather 50-75% of data they need to make their decision before they engage with you, the seller, for first time. Now, the buyer is largely in charge of his or her own buying process. With one vital exception. That exception is the reason a prospect needs to work with a salesperson. At the end of the day, after they have consumed all the public information about a product or service, the remaining data your prospect needs to gather in order to make their decision is generally available only from you, the seller.
Therefore, it seems a bit ironic that when sales cycles get stretched out salespeople will typically point their fingers at the buyer. To a seller it is always the customer who’s the culprit when the sales cycle stalls. In fact, the opposite is true. It is nearly always the seller’s fault when the buyer stops making progress towards an order. Why? Because the seller didn’t provide the prospect with the information they needed to move on to the subsequent step in their buying process. If a deal you are working on suddenly loses momentum, take a look in the mirror before you begin pointing fingers at your prospect. Do an honest assessment of your progress in the deal and quickly determine what data the customer needs from you in order to move to the next step of their buying cycle and get them back on track to giving you the order.
As a seller you must also understand that there is a good chance that there will be more than one buying cycle occurring simultaneously. Your prospect will have a separate buying process for every seller in a competitive deal. This is extremely important for you to keep in mind. If you can be completely responsive to your prospect’s information requirements then you can gain a competitive advantage over your competitors.
What the Successful Seller Does The successful seller is the one that most closely aligns their selling resources (i.e., their product knowledge and industry expertise) with the buying needs (i.e., information requirements) of their prospect to enable them to make the optimum informed decision in the least time possible. This means that you have to place your resources with the deepest product knowledge and industry expertise closer to the customer.
To help the prospect move through their buying cycle in the shortest time you have to eliminate the “get-backs” from your selling. Every time a salesperson can’t answer a prospect’s question and says, “I’m sorry I’m going to have to get back to you” he or she is slowing down the buying cycle. Having the right salespeople on your team who can be completely responsive to the prospect’s need for information and help them move through their buying cycle in Zero-Time will definitely enable you to win more orders in less time.
The First Seller with the Answers Wins A buying cycle is nothing more than an organized search for information and data in the form of answers to questions. How efficiently and effectively you convey that information to your prospect will be the difference between getting an order and losing a customer.
Andy Paul is author of the award-winning book, Zero-Time Selling: 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales. A frequent speaker, Andy conducts workshops and consults with B2B sales teams of all sizes and shapes to teach them how to sell more by selling faster. Sign up for our monthly newsletter, “The Speed of Selling.” Visit zerotimeselling.com for more.