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Losing intensity can be the death of a salesman

Contrary to rumours, salespeople are human, and they fall into the same traps as other mortals, also known as buyers. Easing up or taking a foot off the gas at the wrong time in the sales cycle may not always be fatal, but it does extend sales cycles, and it impacts the sizes of deals and their potential revenues or profits.

The intensity level – focus, preparedness, resourcefulness, attitude and creativity – should be equal throughout the sales cycle, and you could argue it should actually grow as you go along. But it often fluctuates through the sale, allowing for the pitfalls.

At the start, sellers are usually excited: they have identified potential buyers to add to their pipelines, they can visualize the sales and the corresponding rewards. Buyers, on the other hand, are not that engaged, not that excited. To be clear, I am not talking about a buyer who reached out to your company looking to buy, I'm referring to one you prospected, even cold called.

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Buyers are curious, at best, usually with a healthy dose of Missouri Show-Me skepticism. They've heard these expectations before. A buyer's lack of passion probably contributes to a seller's intensity. It's a balance of sorts.

As we move in to the "discovery" stage – the information exchange, the middle of the sale – buyers get more engaged, beginning to see things they like. The sellers, having been here before, set their eyes on the "close," losing some of the intensity they had when they were prospecting. I don't want to suggest they lose interest, but they begin to visualize beyond the "close" to the next opportunity.

This often occurs just as the buyer is beginning to feel a tinge of doubt with the possibility of change looming, and we all know change is hard and scary. At a time when it make sense for sellers to turn up their focus and professional abilities, they ease up, relax.

Toward the end of the cycle, buyers are fully engaged, they are about to make a change and start something new, and as soon as they sign, things will be different. Their energy and anxiety levels rise, money is added to the mix in the form of prices and negotiations – a little doubt surfaces, they start reviewing their reasons and concerns, vocalizing their questions.

Sellers take these questions as objections, and bam, they reengage, regain focus and intensity. Some sellers miss the signals altogether and fail to bring the energy required to address how the buyers are thinking, and they lose sales because they not only went soft in the middle, they went soft right to the end.

A seller's engagement and intensity should, at minimum, be consistent. If you look at A-game players, it crescendos through their cycles, bringing buyers along with them.

Some might attribute this to "natural skills," but as with most instances of talent, that only goes so far. People who consistently sell with full intensity through the cycle rely on a few basic elements that can be learned, implemented and constantly improved. First is a clearly defined sales process, tailored to your sale, with set stages. Each stage needs to have clear "objectives," related "activity," specific "tasks," "resources," "desired and measurable outcomes," a clear "next step," and a "go or no-go" decision at the end.

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This will help reps stay focused on the task at hand, enable them to know where they are in the sale, and not let their thoughts and energy wander beyond where they will deliver the best results.

Managers can help by having practical opportunity review and management processes in place. Not the three-hour snooze fests that are held a day or two before they have to meet with their directors or vice-presidents, but pipeline reviews that help reps focus on the right opportunities, in the right way.

There is enough softness in selling these days already.

Tibor Shanto is a principal at  Renbor Sales Solutions Inc.  He can be reached at tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca. His column appears once a month on the Report on Small Business website.

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