One of the first things that’s taught to new sellers is the stages of the sales process.
Many new hires walk through the door and the first question they’re asked is what are the 7 stages of the sales cycle?
It doesn’t matter which methodology you’re being trained on, it’s likely the stages go something like this – 1. prospect for leads, 2. contact your leads, 3. qualify the customer / discovery, 4. present your product/solution/recommendation, 5. overcome objections, 6. close the sale, 7. keep the customer happy.
And it’s true, that is the sales process or the stages of the sales process…in a vacuum. It doesn’t matter what your approach in sales process is, you’re very rarely going to have a deal flow smoothly through these 7 steps. An actual sales process has bumps and bruises, ups and downs, and consistent objections. Being prepared and understanding the actual stages of the sales process can help both new sellers and experienced veterans channel their emotions when a deal starts to slide or a prospect begins to pull away.
The 9 Actual Stages of the Sales Process
The sale process has always been part of the sales lexicon. You can’t get away from it. The sales process is traditionally a linear set of stages outlining how a sale happens from beginning to end. I’ve posted about this before.
I found this start-up curve on Fred Wilson’s blog and I couldn’t help but think it looks a lot like the selling world.
TechCrunch of Initiation
This is that first successful meeting. A pivotal moment, the groundbreaking first step that ignites a wildfire. The team is buzzing with anticipation knowing that they have captured the buyer’s full attention. The excitement levels are high knowing that this is one of the rare occasions when you’ll be able to show your strengths and capture another happy customer.
Wearing Off of Novelty
Reality sets in. The buyer stops calling you back or responding to your emails. Competing demands and urgent priorities have conspired to interrupt the momentum of your once promising relationship with buyer. Your shiny new product that you believed once shone so brightly has faded. Your buyer is being pulled in countless directions and your efforts to connect with them are left hanging. Their silence speaks volumes.
The Trough of Sorrow
Days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months as you struggle to regain your connection to the buyer. This once promising deal has become a drop in the bucket of missed opportunities. If you are lucky enough to connect with the buyer, new stakeholders have entered the conversation. Their lack of enthusiasm for your solution compounds your sense of despair. That sinking fear of failure has settled itself on your shoulder and you can’t shake it. This deal may be lost forever.
Releases of Improvement
Another call back and an endless list of things wrong with your solution. The customer lays out all their objections, the list of demands for lower prices, different and/or new features, faster installation times, longer support or helpline access. Each word is a new roadblock, a hurdle to overcome, even when you get the chance for a rebuttal about why you still believe that you’re offering can be the best possible solution all they can offer are objections.
Crash of Ineptitude
The defensive stage. Every obstacle imaginable has been thrown in your path. The customer, once a beacon of hope, is now the villain and public enemy number 1 in your organization. Accounting and engineering tell you to pound sand when you ask for product discounts or additional features to make this deal happen and that you’re customer is an idiot for even asking. The sales prevention department is in charge now, you, the salesperson are doing a shitty job. Your customer is out of control and being unreasonable and that’s on you.
Wiggle of False Hope
You’ve summoned the courage to call the customer and tell them their demands are just too high and you may not be a great fit. Just when you thought all was lost, the customer surprises you with a new list of more reasonable demands and a new willingness to work with you to find a mutually beneficial solution. Though there are signs of hope, the battle is far from over. Despite your best efforts, your progress remains incremental.
The Promised Land
The stars have aligned. The long road of negotiation finally leads to a place of mutual understanding and alignment. The customer is now a true partner making reasonable requests and demonstrating a genuine commitment to buy. Your organization has let it’s defensive wall down and is once again listening to the customer’s needs and responding. The deal seems more and more likely.
Acquisition of Liquidity
The triumphant conclusion of a long and arduous journey. The contracts have been signed, the deal is done. It’s a wave of relief and elation. The excitement that began this journey is back from both sides. The customer is thrilled to have a solution in place and your team is prepared to deliver on its promises. As the ink dries, you take a breathe and allow yourself to revel in the moment having found the payoff for the long days and sleepless nights.
Upside of the Buyer
The customer’s hopes and dreams are realized. The true value of your product and solution is recognized. The customer is reaping the benefits that they had hoped for when they began to explore your product or solution. Your organization is able to take a step back and reflect on the lessons learned from the selling process with this customer, leveraging those lessons to improve the effectiveness of the sales process in the future.
Beyond the traditional, linear stages of the sales process that we are all so familiar with, lies a more nuanced and complex emotional curve that underpins the entire process. Knowing the emotional stages and which stage you are in makes it that much easier to get through them.
Where are you in the sales curve? My condolences if you are in the trough of sorrow. Hang in there, it will pass.