All sales cycles have a beginning, an end, and something in the middle. It’s that something in the middle that’s non-sequential. When this is addressed then forecasting can be fact-based as opposed to a best guess exercise expressed in terms of perception which changes by the way, depending on the weather and other non-related factors. In other words, perceptions are just that, perceptions.
In a complicated sale where many people influence the outcome there can be 10, 15 or more critical things that must happen for the sale to advance. Just because there was a demo to a manager doesn’t mean we are at step 3 (just for arguments sake). It could be that this manager has very little influence for the overall selection of the product. Just because we submitted a proposal, which could be step 4, doesn’t mean that we have advanced. It could be that the proposal is used to populate column B of the evaluation spread sheet.
The middle is really the cumulated experiences of past successful sales. Each market we sell into will have a different set of factors, some more important than others and some which are a must for the sale to come to a close.
What does this middle look like? Well, here is a hypothetical list of things that need to happen but not necessarily in sequence. I only listed five to give you a sense but in reality you should have 10 to 15, sometimes more.
- We have met senior management and they favor our proposal.
- We have conducted a successful pilot based on the prospect’s needs and they have validated the relevancy of this pilot.
- We have met with the CIO and he confirmed to us that the problem is urgent for him to solve before quarter end.
- We have met with the CFO and they have confirmed that there are funds available for this project.
- We have met with the chief architect and he has confirmed to us that our solution which is built on a particular platform conforms to the company standard.
As you can see from this partial list some elements are more important than others. What’s important is that as many of those factors happen, especially the important ones. The more that are positive the better chance of closing the deal.
So what have we done here? We’ve replaced perception with facts. As a CEO I would be much more comfortable with this. What’s more, I would be able to answer questions at my board meeting because I will have at my fingertips which critical elements were positive and which weren’t. It’s much easier to be able to answer what we need to do next to secure the business which shouldn’t be much by the way. Not only that, but as a CEO I will be able to get a sense of where my sales force needs help, where I could direct my marketing effort, and a whole slew of other things in order to
get my sales up.
Facts can be organized in a database and sliced and diced as you wish. But the list of critical factors must be accurate, valid and tested beforehand.