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  • Writer's pictureAthenaPSG

Let's Talk About the Sales Cycle

Updated: Feb 22

A leadership journey into the sales cycle of the U.S. parking, transportation, mobility, and sustainability industries.


No matter the industry, the concept of a sales cycle is a fundamental principle that every sales professional should grasp and respect. It is a key factor that influences the success and the quality of the sales outcomes. It is also a valuable tool that helps salespeople plan and execute their sales strategies, track, and measure their progress, and adapt and improve their performance. 


In the early stages of my career, I had a manager who significantly influenced my trajectory in sales and ultimately, my leadership style as I went on to oversee multiple sales teams. While his impact on my sales journey wasn't necessarily positive, the lessons I gleaned from his mistakes proved to be incredibly valuable.


This manager had unreasonable expectations and lacked patience and comprehension of the intricacy and the duration of the sales cycle and eventually would decide that micro-managerial approach was the correct strategy of leadership.  


Dilbert Micro Manager Comic

He would incessantly monitor my every action and disrupt my rapport with the prospects. I had to report a daily quota of calls and meetings with my pipelined prospects and push scripted messaging that he had created to "persuade" them to close. Eventually he would take it upon himself to reach out to my customers directly, proceeding to give them deadlines to finalize or abandon the deal.


His management style was not only demoralizing and disrespectful, but also counterproductive and damaging. He undermined my credibility and trust with the prospects, who felt pressured and annoyed by his tactics. He also missed the point of what a sales cycle is and how it works. A sales cycle is a complex, yet relatively fixed and rigid, journey that should never be rushed or forced. 

 

What is a Sales Cycle?


A sales cycle refers to the series of stages or steps that a salesperson or sales team goes through to close a sale. It typically includes various activities such as prospecting, qualifying leads, making initial contact, presenting products or services, handling objections, negotiating terms, and finally, closing the deal. The length and complexity of a sales cycle can vary significantly depending on factors such as the industry, product or service being sold, target market, and sales strategy. Some sales cycles can be relatively short, lasting only a few days or weeks, while others, particularly those involving high-value or complex products or services, may take months or even years to complete.


Our industry knows this truth well: In our niche realm of parking, transportation, mobility, and sustainability, especially within the U.S. market catering to municipal and higher educational clients, the rigidity in securing timely agreements remains unparalleled. 


The U.S. municipal government and higher education markets boast sales cycles that stretch into the horizon.

While the U.S. municipal government presents its bureaucratic labyrinth, higher education institutions are equally formidable. Committees deliberate, faculty engage in "spirited" debates, and budgets shift like chameleons constantly adjusting to their surroundings. However, just as you believe you've navigated to the core of this complex labyrinth to finalize a deal, you may often discover yourself right back at the beginning. It’s a journey that demands unwavering patience, resilience, and strategic finesse.



The U.S. municipal government and higher education markets boast sales cycles that stretch into the horizon. 


How Long Are We Talking?


Before delving into the duration of the sales cycle, we must acknowledge that the conventional wisdom guiding business practices a decade ago often proves inadequate in today's dynamic market landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored this reality in myriad ways.


Prior to the pandemic, numerous businesses asserted that sales cycles within our industry typically ranged from 6 to 12 months. However, if you were to inquire with any salesperson, they would likely attest (humbly) that the reality leaned more towards 12 to 18 months. While there were occasional exceptions where deals closed faster, this timeframe remained relatively consistent. Most successful businesses understood this reality and adapted their strategies accordingly but very few were prepared for what was to come.


The pandemic brought seismic changes. Tighter budgets, shifting priorities, and organizational adjustments have significantly elongated sales cycles. Several factors contribute to this shift such as: budget constraints, competing priorities, political landscape, staff turnover, and even trust issues to name a few. Sales cycles are currently extending to an average of 18 months, with some instances even reaching up to 24 months!


In this transformed landscape, adaptability, strategic planning, and resilience are paramount. Company leaders must let their sales teams navigate these extended cycles with patience and precision, recognizing that persistence pays off even in the face of prolonged timelines.


A Leadership Dilemma


In the dynamic world of sales and business development, some truths never change. Over my nearly two decades in this field, I’ve witnessed many constants that seem to test time itself. Yet, amidst these enduring principles, one glaring reality stands out—especially in the wake of the pandemic: management and leadership teams often lack a deep understanding, patience, or acceptance of the sales cycle.



"It’s not the products you sell but the stories you tell."


The Ever-Present Constants

Before we delve into the leadership challenge, let’s acknowledge some of the most important principles that have shaped sales for years:


  • Relationships Matter: Whether you’re selling widgets or high-tech solutions, building and nurturing relationships with clients is paramount. Trust, credibility, and rapport are the currency of successful sales.

  • Adaptability Wins: Markets shift, customer preferences evolve, and technology disrupts. The ability to adapt swiftly—to pivot strategies and tactics—is non-negotiable.

  • Narratives drive product sales: Regardless of how exceptional a new product or service may be, a successful salesperson achieves results by weaving compelling stories rather than adhering to rigid company scripts or sales pitches.

  • Persistence Pays Off: Sales cycles can be long and arduous. The tenacity to follow up, overcome objections, and stay the course is how one reaps the rewards.


The Leadership Blind Spot


Despite these constants, there’s a gap—a blind spot—that hinders organizational success. It’s the disconnect between management and the intricacies of the sales cycle. Here’s why it matters:


Short-Term Pressure: Leaders often grapple with quarterly targets, shareholder expectations, and immediate revenue goals. The sales cycle, however, operates on a different timeline. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. When leaders push for quick wins without understanding the nuances, they inadvertently undermine long-term growth.


The Invisible Dance: Sales isn’t a linear process; it’s a dance. Prospects waltz through awareness, consideration, evaluation, and decision-making stages. Each step requires finesse, patience, and strategic alignment. Unfortunately, leaders sometimes expect a tango leading their sales teams to inevitably trip and fall.


Empathy Gap: Empathy—the ability to step into the customer’s shoes—is vital. Yet, leaders often prioritize metrics over empathy. They forget that behind every deal lies a human story—a pain point, a need, a desire. When leaders lack this perspective, they miss opportunities to enhance customer experiences. I have witnessed many times in my own career how this lack of empathy can lead to misunderstandings, loss of opportunity, and even reputational destruction.


Control is Not Success: Restricting salespeople with handcuffs or chains hinders their ability to excel. Instead, grant them the freedom to succeed and equip them with the necessary tools to do so. Success will naturally follow. Micromanagement, on the other hand, is ALWAYS a recipe for disaster.


Aggressive Leadership Perpetuates Sales Stereotypes: When leaders impose undue pressure on their sales teams to close deals, they inadvertently cultivate a culture marked by hyper-competitiveness, coercion, dishonesty, shortcuts, and subterfuge, thereby reinforcing the antiquated portrayal of an aggressive, deceitful salesperson reminiscent of the 1970s used car salesperson.



While the ultimate aim for any salesperson is to seal the deal, relentless pressure from leadership to meet tight deadlines often leads to failure.


A Call to Bridge the Divide


So, how can leadership teams bridge this gap? Here are actionable steps:


Education: Invest in educating leaders about the sales cycle. Break down its stages, demystify jargon, and emphasize the importance of patience. A well-informed leader can guide any team much more effectively.


Metrics With Context: Metrics matter, but context matters so much more! Instead of fixating solely on conversion rates or deal closures, leaders should understand the context behind these numbers. What challenges did the sales team face? How did they navigate objections? Contextual insights drive better decisions.


Breaking Down Success: While the ultimate aim for any salesperson is to seal the deal, relentless pressure from leadership to meet tight deadlines often leads to failure. A more effective approach is for leaders to collaborate with their teams, encouraging smaller, attainable goals. These incremental victories pave the way for overall success.


Sales-Driven Leadership: Cultivate a sales-driven leadership culture. Encourage leaders to spend time with the sales team, attend client meetings, get into the trenches, and listen actively. When leaders immerse themselves in the sales process, they gain empathy and strategic clarity.


Lead by Example: A good sales leader should not only spend time behind a desk delegating and demanding success. Get out there, show your team that you struggle too. The sales cycle does not care about fancy titles! 


There is No Right Way: There isn't a single, universally perfect method for managing a sales team, but there are certainly approaches that do not work. A successful leader prioritizes learning from their sales team rather than dictating what they should do. Sales isn't simply about rote knowledge of products and scripted pitches; it's about cultivating relationships, active listening, continuous learning, and often navigating egos. Sales professionals possess a unique blend of confidence, creativity, and even crazy—why look for anything less in your team?


Times are Evolving Rapidly


Amidst the aftermath of the pandemic, our industry is experiencing a whirlwind of change at an unprecedented rate. Even experienced leaders face the risk of being left behind if they neglect to sustain consistent engagement with their teams and strive to comprehend the challenges and present realities shaping the current extended sales cycle. Leaders who fail to keep pace frequently become a liability, placing unnecessary strain on their teams, and igniting a figurative time bomb that could ultimately lead to the collapse of a company.


However, A leader who remains well-informed and actively engaged serves as a cornerstone in uplifting their sales teams. Through a continuous grasp of industry trends and market fluctuations, they acquire the necessary insights to comprehend the daily hurdles and prospects faced by their teams. These sales leaders not only champion their salespeople effectively, ensuring that company management grasps the intricacies shaping team performance, but also offer invaluable insights pivotal to strategic decision-making. By nurturing transparency and fostering collaboration, these leaders empower their organizations to seize upon emerging opportunities, propelling the company toward sustained growth and success.


As an industry leader be sure to keep yourself in the loop, get to know and accept the sales cycle, learn to be patient, and always have your sales team's back because, let's face it, it's probably thanks to your sales team that you are in a leadership position in the first place.


End of a wonderful article



About Athena Partners Strategy Group 

Leveraging a specialized network of partners, APSG is a governmental relations and technology consultancy guiding organizations in developing new business and launching solutions across parking, transportation, curb management, rideshare, law enforcement, public safety and sustainability sectors. More at athenapsg.com


About Nick Stanton

Nick has held sales management and business development executive positions with industry leading companies serving government, education, and commercial markets for nearly two decades. His experience includes products and services in the parking enforcement, LPR technology, mobility, EV, and curb management. He has gained a strong following among customers and vendors as a result of his no-nonsense, results oriented, approach to business and his focus on building trust by “telling it how it is”. You will find dealing with Nick a refreshingly straightforward experience.


Written by Nick Stanton, Managing Partner, Athena Partners Strategy Group info@athenapsg.com



 

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