Managing the Sales Cycle – the Salespeople

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In the sales cycle triumvirate of the customer, the sales team and the product, the vital role of salespeople is to hear and understand what the customer is saying and respond to that input in a way that addresses the customer’s needs. This is how Sales builds customer confidence in the seller.

Confidence is built within the prospect by providing valuable content to him or her.

We can, of course, influence and steer customers and prospects, but we cannot “manage” them in the strict sense of the word. That does not mean we ignore the customer or prospect. To the contrary, Sales must engage with prospects in the most constructive way possible.

Initially, fulfilling small needs and requests successfully gives the customer the confidence to trust the seller with larger, more complex needs and eventually as a source for solutions.

Hearing the Customer Requires Alignment Between the Engagement Method and Customer Expectations

In the old days, Sales spent a large amount of time and effort trying to get three minutes of a prospect’s time to make their case for a 10-minute phone call and ultimately a product discussion. Once the discussion was agreed to, the “hook was set,” then the strategy was to move the prospect through the funnel to a closed sale as quickly as possible.

While the job of the sales rep is not necessarily easier today, the time wasted chasing phone calls and attending initial meetings is a much smaller part of their daily routine. Online assets such as customer portals that feature product information, user information and stories, product reviews, white papers and blog pieces do much of the early cycle selling.

This is guided selling, and its place in the sales cycle is well established. The Smart Assistant.com website offers an article that details 12 specific ways in which guided selling defines how people buy products.

Prospects can visit and review these assorted resources at their leisure. Marketing tools can track visitor behavior and begin to establish profiles of potential buyers as they spend time on this or that product collateral. Sellers may gate some content, especially high-value content, and request some quid pro quo to grant access to a prospect. That “payment” may take the form of filling out a brief survey, viewing a video or even checking a “please call me” box in a form.

Confident Prospects Become Confident Customers

Customers are able to educate themselves without the early-stage, unwanted intervention of a sales rep. As that education continues, customers will eventually have questions, need some specific information or perhaps want to discuss pricing. But that contact needs to happen on the customers’ terms.

Customer confidence is destroyed when a rep’s call immediately follows a single contact or download. The customer can take the sale forward all by themselves if we, as sellers, allow them to do so. As we cited in our previous piece, a Forbes Magazine article reveals that customers’ minds are 60 percent made up by the time the initial contact with Sales occurs.

Sales is not left out of the early-stage process. They still have the opportunity, if engaged, to act as a sort of maître D’, ensuring that the prospect has access to the specific content they require.

The tone Sales sets in this context is often the critical element in determining the confidence and trust displayed by the buyer later on in the transaction.

Confidence is built within the prospect by providing valuable content to him or her. Product configuration tools and the ability to match a configuration with a specific application are critical to establishing the product and seller as a viable source for a problem-solving solution.

The Sales Rep is Still Critical to Success

Many people think the point of all this automation of the marketing and selling process is designed to eliminate the sales rep from the selling process. This is unfortunate and untrue. The sales rep is still critical to the process.

The purpose of the technology is to liberate the sales rep from the drudgery of interruption selling, which is expensive, consuming and ineffective. It is frequently demoralizing to all parties involved. A ZenMarketing article explains this very succinctly in “Why Cold Calling Doesn’t Work.”

Instead, the sales rep is free to perform the more valuable service of engaging with the prospect in response to their specific needs and requirements. Sales reps are there to answer questions, fill in any blanks from the educational materials reviewed by the customer and assist the customer in any way possible.

This is a guided selling process driven by the stated needs of the prospect or customer and fulfilled by the sales rep who responds directly to those needs. As needs and requirements are revealed, solutions, product benefits and pricing are provided.

Sales is the essential element, here, because the sales team can immediately tell if the customer is accepting the case or value proposition associated with the product involved. Additionally, Sales can expedite requests for specialized or exceptional information such as non-standard models, regulatory interpretation, contractual needs and other unique requirements.

This is how time-to-quote is reduced and how customers make positive decisions driven by confidence in the seller. The product—and a specific configuration of that product—are perfectly matched to the buyer’s needs.

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