Sales Strategies

Sales Stages – how reliable are they?

We hear a lot of talk about progressing a customer through the various stages of a sale – to the eventual close. But what are those stages, and how consistent are they? Disclaimer: while I absolutely agree that the goal of any sales call is to ensure the next call, I don’t agree with the idea of “leading” a customer through the process. Done properly, the customer should lead themselves through the process naturally – without you, the salesperson, making a conscious effort.

So, what are the stages? I list them as follows:

  • 1) Problem Recognition
  • 2) Information Search
  • 3) Evaluation of Alternatives*
  • 4) Purchase Decision
  • 5) Purchase
  • 6) Post Purchase Evaluation

*Step 3 is the RFQ- if you are just learning about the opportunity at this stage, and therefore just responding to the RFQ, you have probably already lost. Or, at best, you are leaving your success to chance – and price.

However, there are key problems with following a “stage-focused” sales process:

  1. Moving through the stages is a dynamic, iterative process. While most customers will go through all 6 stages, they won’t always be in the same order, or they may revisit previous stages. For example, during one of my biggest successes early in my career, the customer went from purchase decision (letter of intent) to evaluation of alternatives. We were the alternative, and we won the project. The customer even paid a penalty for cancelling the LOI.
  2. More often than not, the customer stumbles right out of the gate with problem recognition. It is highly likely that what they are considering “the problem” is actually a symptom. It is in the hands of a well-trained investigative salesperson to help the customer identify the true root cause.

These obstacles are the reason why I am firm believer in training people on a strategy- Value Based Sales– instead of any process. With a thorough understanding of the strategy, a salesperson can very easily adapt to the needs of the customer.

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