The subject of this blog used to hound me in the early years of my career with J&J. I was a rookie, just our of college, and with a team of sales star performers…they were my benchmark, their sales quota targets, stuff of legend, almost mythical, SO I had a very hard act to emulate!!
I did not quite understand why the gestation period for the sale- from first contact to closing takes THIS LONG!!! and it frustrated me no end, until it opened up my analytical faculties and I started to understand the patterns in all the randomness that constricted me…
I crunched the cases and came up with 4 clear reasons that answer the key question here- why hasnt the deal closed yet???
so here goes…
- Reason #1: Unfamiliarity. It generally takes more than one (and often several) meetings before a customer will feel comfortable working with a sales professional and the professional’s firm. Fix: Get in front of the customer! If you can’t afford to travel to see everyone you need to see, try using web conferencing or other online tools. Now my experience tells me that this issue pans out different in different business cultures- in high context cultures like India, getting familiar will be a major issue and will test you limits of patience, especially if you are aggressive and come from a low context business culture!! Hence relative to say the US business eco-system, if a similar initiative were to be done in India, the time taken to close that business in India would be far higher and as global sales managers, one should be mindful of that.
- Reason #2: Bureaucracy. Many organizations have a complex decision-making process that involves more than one buyer. Often even the CEO wants consensus with other executives before a major purchase. Fix: Interview your customer contacts to discover that actual decision-making process. Then devise a plan to influence the process. Again , this difference is found between high context and low context cultures. Bureaucracy exists in all organizations, in all enterprises- they simply vary in degree. In high context cultures, the degree of bureaucracy would be far higher than what you may encounter in a low context culture like the US. So consider yourself lucky that you operate in the US, because if you were to sell in India, you would have grayed overnight!!
- Reason #3: Competition. It might first be necessary to unseat a competitor before the sales takes place. That can take time, especially if the competitor is internal to the customer, as when you’re selling outsourcing. Fix: Discover the competitive landscape and who has the inside track. Build a campaign that specifically addresses the competitor’s weaknesses. Competition is a reality in all business eco-systems. The only exceptions would be some emerging economies, where business systems are still nascent, evolving, and every one is watching the other to make the first move into that market- the one with the first mover into that market will be able to leverage the first mover advantage over a long time horizon!!
- Reason #4: Priorities. As important as the sale is to you, it may not be all that important to the customer. People can only focus on a few things at once and your offering may not yet be at the top of the stack. Fix: Revisit your customer contacts and build a stronger financial case. Get the customer to agree on how much it will cost them if they don’t buy now. This come from simple judgement maturity which is an acquired skills. Its a combination of learning to pick obvious, verbal cues during the course of your engagement with the client, as well as non verbal cues. These cues, along with a 360 degree assessment of the client’s business eco-system, will provide you with a realistic assessment of your sales cycle and where you stand at a particular point in time.