THE ART OF WAR (AND SALES): UNDERSTANDING THE SALES CYCLE

“The winner, after careful preparation, is confident he will win the war before he wages battle. The losers, without preparation, engage the enemy first, hoping they will win the fight.”
Sun-Tzu’s “The Art of War”
Have you ever wondered why books such as The Art of War by Sun-Tzu and biographies of General George S. Patton and Sir Winston Churchill are found on many CEO’s bookshelves? This is because the principles of combat are equally applicable in sales negotiation. Intelligent negotiators know that what takes place in the selling process will determine what takes place in the negotiation process. For that reason, strategic negotiators focus first on selling and then on negotiating.
The Sales Cycle
Selling is a process that has a natural flow with a beginning, middle, and end. Sellers who ignore the natural evolution of a sale and engage in the wrong sales behavior at the wrong time won’t reach their full potential. For example, if sellers immediately jump from prospecting to closing, they will miss vital selling steps such as discovering critical needs, identifying problems, and building value prior to a presentation or negotiation.
There are four steps in the sales cycle:
1. Prospecting Lead generation, cold calling, obtaining referrals, initial meetings, discover-qualification questions
2. InvestigatingInformation gathering, questioning, understanding buyer needs and problems, identifying primary buying motives, need-problem questions, ascertain-pain questions
3. Presenting – Presenting capabilities, demonstrating value, proposing solutions, submitting proposals, providing references
4. Closing – Preventing and overcoming objections, following up, gaining commitment, obtaining agreement, negotiation
Each stage of the sales cycle has its own sub-stages and accompanying selling steps and behaviors. Even though each selling stage requires specific skills to address the issue at hand, the objective of each stage of the sales cycle is the same: advancing the sale to the next stage of the sales cycle. Keep in mind that measured performance at each stage is the only way to determine success.
The Prospecting Stage
“He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.”
– Sun-Tzu
Prospecting is the first step of the sales cycle and has enormous impact on a seller’s success. The quantity and quality of prospecting results determine the volume and caliber of sales a professional will make.
Don’t make the mistake of downplaying the importance of prospecting! Sellers set the tone of the sale during the prospecting stage and build the foundation for the remainder of the buyer-seller relationship. In every step of the sales process, power is either built or diminished. The power a seller establishes in the initial interactions with a buyer will have a direct effect on the success or failure of future negotiations.
The Investigating Stage
“When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move.”
– Sun-Tzu
No selling skill has more impact on negotiation than the ability to identify a prospective buyer’s needs, problems, and pains. The investigation stage of the sales cycle is the equivalent of initial battle stages in warfare. Buyer needs fuel the sale process. Without first identifying the needs and problems of buyers, sales professionals cannot sell to needs. In other words, they cannot address the issues that give value to the product or service being sold. Without first establishing value, sellers set themselves up for a long and difficult negotiation process.
Like an aggressive post-battle pursuit, sellers should not stop the investigation stage of the sales cycle after simply identifying buyer needs and problems – instead, sellers should analyze and develop those problems into pains that warrant action. No pain = no purchase. See more about investigating
The Presenting Stage
“Thus the expert in battle moves the enemy, and is not moved by him.”
– Sun-Tzu
The presentation is the apex of the sales process and usually determines who wins and who loses. Like the investigating stage of the sales cycle, the presentation stage is extremely important to the negotiation process because it gives the seller an opportunity to show how he or she can solve pains and problems. This gives sellers a chance to “separate from the pack.” Distinguish themselves from other vendors, and develop competitive differential advantages. See more about presenting
When it comes time to negotiate, the power of a presentation will have a direct impact on a salesperson’s ability to negotiate from a position of strength. An effective presentation justifies price, differentiates the product, and gives sellers negotiating muscle.
The Closing Stage
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”
– Sun-Tzu
The closing phase is the natural conclusion to a well-executed communication process. Closing is a logistical progression of the sales process and should happen if a seller has done an adequate job in the preceding stages of the sales cycle.
Because closing is the most negotiated portion of the sales cycle, how a seller closes is extremely important. People don’t want to feel pushed or cajoled into making a purchase. They want to be encouraged and convinced, not pressured. They want to make their own decisions, and they resent being pushed too hard. Cerebral sellers use closing tactics in a forthright and honest manner. They recognize that if they make the buyer feel manipulated, buyers will not only resent the tactic, they will also resent the seller.
A word on negotiation…
The more skilled a salesperson is, the less he or she will have to negotiate. Winning a sale without a formal negotiation is the ultimate sign of a skilled negotiator. This might seem like an oxymoron at first glance, but it’s not if you view selling in the appropriate light. In reality, the entire selling process is a negotiation. Winning a sale is simply a natural conclusion to a well-executed selling process. It’s what should happen if you’ve done your work in the preceding stages of the sales cycle.