Understand your Business Development Cycles or Spin your Wheels

Posted by Keith Jolie on Tuesday, August 27, 2013 Under: Strategies
Of the three pillars critical to every business agreement  (the other two being authority and need), time is often the one that is discounted or that is assumed to be most malleable.  You might for instance ask yourself or someone in your organization questions like:

  • What can we do to make this deal come in earlier?
  • If we offer a pricing incentive can we close that in September?

While it is important to ensure that you’ve taken all the reasonable effort to make it easy for your clients to buy from you, is the extra concern about bringing in a deal earlier a great strategy or a non-productive waste of time. (how’s that for setting up a black and white argument).
I’ve worked with businesses that fought tooth and nail and mostly in vain to try and bring in business at times that were traditionally slow periods in their industry.  This can be an enormous waste of time and resources.

Here’s why:

Consumer buying habits are very difficult to change

Every business has good times of year - the times of year when you hire more staff, when you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to keep up, and the time when you need to pay more careful attention to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.  Most businesses however also have times of the year that are better for, well, doing inventory.  

Here are a couple of examples:

I sold marketing solutions within higher education and specifically related to student recruitment.  Budgets in higher education (i.e. at universities and colleges) with very few exceptions are set early summer (May-June typically).  This coincides with the end of the academic year, and it allows administrators to set their budget while the campus is quiet.  Most schools, as a result, assigned their marketing budget shortly after their overall budgets were approved and when I was working in student recruitment, the highest valued of contracts were signed between June and September.

In one of my former lives I provided temporary staffing resources for large manufacturers and the packaged goods industry.   One customer made school buses and in the spring and summer their staffing requirements would increase daily until they peaked about a month before all the school buses were put on trains or driven to the various school boards in time for the start of school.  Try as I might, I would never be able to get them to spend their money earlier.  Our job was entirely to nurture the business agreement, and make it easy for that customer to do business with us.

Notice that in the first example above I said that the schools “assigned” their budget.  This is because the decision had already been made by the time the budget was assigned and so in fact very little selling was actually done in the summer months.  The selling happened over the preceding eight months at conferences, on phone calls, during demonstrations, and through the informal networking that happened collegially between the representatives of universities, but the actual contract was not signed until the budget was approved.  

Decisions to buy are always influenced by factors outside of your business development process

There are ways to impact buying behaviour, such as releasing a highly anticipated product, or running a very successful media campaign that has created a good buzz about your business.  Outside of those influences however, your customers will most likely buy your products when they've always bought them which is to say according to their need, authority and timeline.  

For most retail businesses, this ebb and flow is pretty well understood.  Back to school, Halloween, valentines day, mothers day, Christmas, or perhaps retail specific events like  “Black Friday” all have a known influence on retail sales.

Every customer whether they be retail, corporate or public sector purchase according to well established norms for their business or industry.  Understanding those norms will help you to be more successful.

So what should you do?

1. Use your data and your knowledge

For your business, your most important tools to make your sales efforts more effective are the data you’ve collected over the years about past buying behavior and your knowledge of the industry you serve.  Use this data to understand the buying trends 

2.  Make it simple 

Concentrate on making it simple for your customers to buy from you. Educate them, and move them from leads to customers using campaigns and strategies in line with their buying behaviour.   Always make it crystal clear (lay it out step-by-step)  what they need to do or have to work with you, and ensure that you understand what they need from you in order for them to be able to decide to work with you.

3. Roll with it

Don’t force the sale. I would argue that assuming you’ve done your job in the earlier stages of a sale, any extra push to bring a sale in earlier will most times either reduce your customers satisfaction (pushy sales process) or erode your margins (you offered a discount). Additionally, by putting extra effort into an almost completed sales cycle, you’re taking energy away from starting new ones.

The underlying fact is - you’re not going to get every sale.  Some customers will demonstrate every positive buying signal you can measure and still not commit to working with you, but understanding how your customers buy is one of the most powerful tools you can use to get more sales.  Good luck!

Getting Brighter specializes in helping businesses attract great clients by effectively communicating what they do. Contact us today if you’d like to improve your sales process.  lets-talk@gettingbrighter.com

By Keith Jolie

In : Strategies 

Tags: sales "business development" 
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