On Dealing with Vicious Sales Cycles

Posted by Sarah Scudder on Dec 12, 2017 9:34:44 AM

Sarah Scudder headshot 2.pngI have lots of friends in sales. They sell everything from merchandise (cars) to services (staffing events) to ideas (data analytics). Communicating with my friends in different industries gives me incredible insight: I am able find commonalities in these various business settings that weave a strand of competence and success across all industries, including mine.  

Bill is my handyman extraordinaire. He owns his own business in Petaluma, California. Bill is business savvy; he asks for referrals, networks with centers of influence and runs online ads. All great ideas. When I asked about his sales cycle, he responded, “It usually is about one or two weeks.”

My first reaction was to punch him. My sales cycles seem to never end. Self-doubt, panic and other horribly horrible things are all part of the sales cycle conundrum. Perhaps I should become a handywoman? Our conversation continued. 

“How do you close deals so quickly?”

“Most of the time, I’m contacted when someone has a major issue with his or her home or property. Their need is so great that they must act on it immediately. My jobs are also at a price point of fewer than $750 on average, so it’s not a significant financial investment.”

I unclenched my fists. Of course his sales cycles are short. One can’t wait around when a water pipe breaks. But how can I apply Bill’s short sales cycle concepts to my situation? I have no idea. Read on. 

Bill said, “I cannot imagine having to follow up and communicate with people for one or two years. How exhausting. I would never make it.”

Thanks for rubbing it in, Bill. 

“Quick wins keep me motivated and feeling good about myself. How do you stay motivated?”

“I don’t know.” Actually I did know, but I didn’t know I knew. I think the word is metacognition.

But I knew I had a great idea for an article: How do I stay motivated through the vicious, eternal sales cycles? Having mostly closed mega deals my entire career, I’ve never known the joy of winning deals quickly.

To find the answer, I started paying attention to my emotions, feelings and actions. I monitored myself for two weeks. I also interviewed successful enterprise salespeople. I asked them, “How do you keep pushing forward in a deal that seemingly will never close?”

A theme emerged: No one knows. And there is no system in place to find out.

So, once again, I had to rely on my own experiences to try and figure it out. Sheesh, do I have to solve every world problem? If only I were president. But that is another article. No, that is another book. Anyway, after much self-reflection, here is what I discovered:

1. Set small goals. I focus on the end goal of closing a $5 million dollar deal. I imagine what an account that size will do for my company. My team. My commission. I create a list of important steps that will, hopefully, help close the deal. I map my steps into a timeline. I get small wins by getting face time with decision makers. I try to ask thought-provoking questions, which give me the opportunity to provide more value to the prospect and learn true needs that perhaps my competition won’t uncover.

2. Read for 30 minutes a day. I make time in my schedule each day to read or listen to podcasts without interruption. Sales can be isolating and make me feel like I am on an island. If I get frustrated, it can lead to mistakes. Listening to other people’s failures make my concerns seem trivial. Reading about how each person overcame obstacles makes me believe that anything is achievable and gives me the strength to move forward. My friend Pablo Fuentes has a podcast called “Small Business War Stories.” He travels nationwide interviewing entrepreneurs, digging into daily business struggles to discovering what business owners do to overcome their challenges.

If I’m feeling down or having a hard time being positive, I read “Delivering Happiness, Profits, Passion, and Purpose” by Tony Hsieh or “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight. Both founders have lost everything and kept going when everyone told them to stop. They moved forward and succeeded. When I read stories about the challenges successful business people faced and what they did to overcome failure, it gives me comfort. I know that what I’m facing is common, manageable and that there is an end in sight.

3. Build a pipeline with the right number of leads. I determine my qualified prospect close rate. If I close one out of every three deals, my close rate is 33.3 percent. I calculate the size of the average deal in dollars. If I want to close $3 million dollars in business and my average deal size is $1 million, my pipeline should have nine companies. (And I thought I wasn’t very good at math.) I calculate how many qualified companies I should target each year. This maximizes the odds that I will meet my annual revenue target. Hitting my sales targets makes me feel good about myself and motivates me to want to do even better next year. (You go girl!)

4. Find out “why.” If I don’t land the account, I find out why I got shafted for another firm. I ask the highest decision maker to share where we missed the target. I try to have this conversation in person or on the phone, not via email. It’s important to read between the lines, gauge body language and/or tone, listen to the silence and ask good questions. Once I feel satisfied in knowing why we didn’t win the business, I track it in a shared file with my team. We study it and learn from our mistakes. I don’t let this happen again until the next time (a funny saying my dad uses).

I hope my humble column helps one or more of you stay motivated during the ionic sales cycle. But, damn it, I still don’t know how reduce the sales cycle time! What a vicious cycle. Perhaps that can be the topic of my next article. Even if I have to go 15 rounds with Floyd Mayweather, I’m going to figure it out.

Topics: Sales


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