How do you know where you are in the sales process? That was the subject of a recent conversation with a senior sales leader at Anaplan who likened the process of selling enterprise software to a sine wave. Mistaking where you are on the curve is the single biggest challenge that leads to inaccurate forecasting and missed numbers.
Accurately assessing where you are in the sales process is particularly important with a software platform like Anaplan because it touches so many parts of the enterprise. For sales professionals, that means multiple touch points within the prospect organization, but the open-ended nature of the software platform ensures a protracted period of customer education before the sales conversation percolates up to the executive level. That elevates the importance of knowing exactly where you are in the sales process, aligning your sales activities with the buyer decision journey, and setting your expectations appropriately.
Following the sine wave analogy, the process begins with Education Stage, where your objective is to secure the conviction of the end users that will be directly operating the platform. Where sales people run afoul is mistaking this period for the true selling stage which comes much later.
Typically, the end users lead you to internal champions but end users themselves don’t have the budgetary authority to execute a purchase. Human nature says they won’t tell you that directly, so your prospect becomes unresponsive and the deal process stalls. The challenge is to assess whether there is a real deal to be done or not.
This is where tenacity and persistence pay off because if you effectively sell value during the Education Stage and maintain a dialogue through the dismal quiet period, you have a shot at entering the Consolidation Stage when the next budget cycle starts. Your objective in the Consolidation Stage is to solidify support both up the chain of command and across functional business silos.
Sometimes the Consolidation Stage compresses into the Selling Stage, but it often takes another budget cycle to get queued up for the executive-level sales conversation. That means you have to keep working the deal through another quiet period.
Once you enter the Selling Stage, you are still in the hunt, and might even be the lead contender, but you can count on having competitors. That’s why you want to ensure you have done your homework during the prior two stages.
The real challenge in building a great sales team is identifying people who know how to build a business, who have the perseverance to stick with opportunities through the Education Stage into the Selling Stage and have the wherewithal to recognize deals you need to walk away from.
The sine wave analogy underscores the importance of sales pipeline diversity because each deal moves through these stages at a different pace. A rule-of-thumb is that you need a pipeline that is 3 to 5 times your quota at any given point. The more complex the platform, the more important to be at the upper end of this range.
The nature of complex sales is that many stakeholders can say no, yet few can say yes, so you must hedge against that with more pipeline throughput. That’s entirely driven by the volume of sales activity.