The Never-ending Sales Cycle: how an Agile Sales Process can help build trust

You’re probably thinking this is going to be about some “Groundhog Day” type of scenario where your attempt to close a sale keeps going round and round like clothes in a washing machine on permanent spin cycle. Of course, we’ve all had this type of situation to deal with at some time but this is not what the article is about.

Instead we’ll talk about the change from a sales cycle with a defined start and end to one where we are continuously engaged with the client and where one success forms the basis for the next, such that it becomes more of a closed loop than a linear journey from A to B. Why is this important or relevant?

There are several reasons for this. One was covered in our blog on the future of B2B selling where the way we engage with our customers simply has to change if we are to stay relevant.  Another is that the effort required to constantly find new logo customers compared to building on an established base and relationships is considerably greater, and therefore, more costly. That’s not to say we should stop looking for or engaging with new clients – just that we should not do this at the expense of our hard-won existing ones. But the most important reason of all is about value. Value to the customer that is. The more you build on what has worked and the more you understand how your customer really buys, then the more value you can bring to the table. And with more value comes deeper trust – you start to erase the boundaries between your actions and the beneficial outcomes for the customer. You reach that “Holy Grail” status of being a trusted advisor. You are no longer pushing products, you are helping the customer achieve better business outcomes than he would have done on his own.

To reach that point requires real effort and a fundamental shift in your thinking. It’s not only about trying to contact the C level and aiming to show you have grasped the nature of their business. By not “pushing”, you help the customer start to “pull”. And a solution he wants and needs will always be a lot more valuable (and easier in the long run) than one that he feels has been force-fed to him by hungry, pushy, target driven, commission focused sales people, only anxious to close a quarter-end deal and move on to the next one.

So, what is preventing sales teams from doing this? Often it comes down to sales management and culture, which is not always focused on beneficial outcomes for the customer. Each sale is seen as a separate transaction that once completed, has little or no connection with or relevance to the next one. And if there isn’t an obvious one following hard on the heels of the first sale from the same customer, the driven salesperson simply has to move on to achieve his targets.

The subscription licensing model adopted by modern Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers is a great example of the never-ending sales cycle. Often SaaS providers operate a “land and expand” strategy, which means that the traditional separation between “pre-sales” and “post-sales” activity is extremely blurred, as multiple small tactical transactions link together and (hopefully) lead towards a more strategic future purchase. In this world you have to stay engaged over time, and continuously add value, build relationships, and demonstrate credibility.

Let’s imagine that you work in a much more modern and enlightened company that wants to do business in a new way (as described above). Sounds great but your old, clunky linear sales process, reporting, and forecasting tools won’t cut the mustard in that paradigm. You need a sales process that can support a very different way of working where the old delineations are overcome and you start to think in terms of continuity.

How can the “Essential Sales Process” (ESP) not only support that approach but even drive the change towards it? ESP is different in many ways.

Firstly, it is outcome, not activity based. This means that you are always looking for customer relevance and value – not just performing the task that your traditional sales process tells you to do next. If you and your team are not achieving measurable and valuable outcomes, ESP will highlight this instantly so you can re-prioritise your objectives, re-focus how you are working, and re-align with your customer.

Secondly, in ESP, the scope of a sales cycle goes beyond that of most traditional sales processes. It pushes back the beginning of a sales cycle to the early stages of value identification or creation, and extends the end of the sales cycle beyond closure to value realisation and customer satisfaction. This provides real support for a more relationship-based, as opposed to transactional, sales approach.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, because ESP is built on Lean and Agile principles that have transformed the world of IT (and many other business disciplines) instead of trying to drive an opportunity forwards in a linear, sequential way, you are now freed from that constraint. ESP enables you to work in a far more flexible way, so that you can adapt your approach to your customers situation and buying style, and respond to unexpected events and changes as they occur – which they will do.

These may seem like small shifts, and in some ways, they are – in terms what you do and the behaviours you exhibit. But they drive massive changes in outcomes for your customers, which will ensure that you stay engaged, stay relevant and keep delivering genuine value in a continuous stream. The never-ending sales cycle.