Marathon or Sprint- the Length of the Decision Process Premeditated Selling
“Hurry up and wait” is a proverb born from the world of the military, where the need to be constantly ready often leads to hurried preparations followed by extended periods of waiting. It’s a typical phenomenon for military preparedness, inevitable even. After all, the consequences of not being ready are severe and life-threatening. But “hurry up and wait” in selling is a recipe for failure and frustration, as well as an indication that the sales strategy has gone awry. The first factor contributing to a successful strategy has to do with knowing how long it’s going to take for the customer to decide.
Just as a marathon consumes the runner’s energy over a long period, a lengthy decision cycle consumes the seller’s resources. The seller needs to pace himself in order to have enough energy for the end of the race. A lengthy cycle requires equal parts patience and persistence. The seller needs to stay connected to her champions, to keep her fingers on the customer’s pulse, and to watch for signs of change. The savvy seller also needs to keep his resources at the ready, held in reserve for the final kick at the finish.
On the other hand, a shorter cycle is more like a sprint. It’s all muscle and adrenaline, with lots of energy consumed in a rapid burst. Finishing a sprint demands that the seller aligns resources quickly. Moreover, we’ve learned by hard experience that setting expectations is essential not only to success, but to making sure that bridges are not burned.
Some questions worth asking before pursuing the deal might include
- Is the opportunity worth pursuing? Does the revenue potential justify our efforts? And does the customer fit our target profile? We have had to be talked off the ledge of pursuing a sexy opportunity that lies well outside of our sweet spot because, let’s face it, sales people are jumpers by inclination.
- Is it winnable? We remember many occasions when the seduction of the chase has overwhelmed our good judgment. Like our inclination to jump, we seem predisposed toward optimism. (We are the sort who will jump off the ledge and say “looks good so far” all the way down.)
- What will it cost us to win? Certainly there will be acquisition costs of both the hard and soft variety, and most organizations probably have an economic algorithm to calculate these. But what are the hidden costs? Will our efforts to win have consequences on other opportunities in the pipeline? Hunting the elephant, for example, means that you miss out on the impala (or the impala herd). In the zero sum game represented by our limited bandwidth, what do we potentially lose by pursuing this particular deal?
Same Old, Same Old? Consistency of the Decision Process
My friend recently toured Ireland. He hired a car in Dublin with plans to drive to Belfast. When it came time to re-fuel, he did what he always did in the States: He pulled into the service station, pulled up to the pump, and filled his tank. He paid and drove off, on the left side of the road, naturally. A few kilometers from the station, he and his car shared an amazing discovery: Petroleum will not power a diesel engine. His car sputtered and died as though it ran out of fuel, which in a way, it did. Fortunately (but embarrassingly) for my friend, there is a business which can take care of this problem, for a modest fee (and we suppose, with discretion).
From my friend, we can all learn a lesson: Just because we have done it the same way for years does not mean it will always be that way. From a sales perspective, we find that successful sales people test their assumptions about how a familiar process will flow for each particular opportunity. They take nothing for granted.
All the old familiar faces may still be in place, but perhaps they will have different influences on this decision. While a formal RFP process may be the norm, will there be one for this opportunity? Who will be the competition? What do they bring to the table this time?
Approaching a new opportunity with old eyes runs the risk of making you look unsophisticated or just plain lazy in the eyes of your customer. And unfortunately, there is no “Sales Rescue” to save your deal.