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Prospective Customer Engagement Process Study

The main objective of the Prospective Customer Engagement Process Study is to establish a sales engagement process that promotes account control and provides the highest likelihood for repeatable sales success. Moreover, the sales process needs to be “customer centered.” In other words, the sales process has to take into account the different types of customers and the complexity of information that is involved with the different types of sales cycles the sales teams work on.

Classifying sales cycle into types helps focus the sales organization, increases accountability, and improves deal visibility. It provides the strategic framework to segment and prioritize deals. It establishes the common language used to synchronize on how sales leadership, salespeople, system engineers, marketing, consulting, engineering, and support talk about accounts.

The first step of the Prospective Customer Engagement Process is to determine all the possible quantitative and qualitative sales cycle attributes. This requires studying all types of customer interactions (sales calls, presentations, and demonstrations) to profile the sales cycle attributes. The attributes include factual “hard criteria” quantitative data and more interpretative “soft criteria” qualitative data.

Sales Cycle Attributes
Quantitative - Hard Criteria
Industry, company size, technical requirements, business application, partner involvement, budget, timeframe, competition, competition, prior vendor experience, evaluator titles, etc.
Qualitative - Soft Criteria
Decision making politics, group decision-making roles, strength of internal champion, biases personalities, partner influence, project motivation potential deal size, vendor perception, etc.

Next, sales cycles are categorized by type. For example, a simple type of classification might be (higher likelihood of winning), competitive (possible win), and un-likely-to-win (low likelihood of winning) Deals. For each classification type, the hard and soft criteria are identified along with the associated engagement process. In the example below, Winnable Deals are identified where hard criteria (A, B, C) and Soft Criteria (X, Y, Z) are present. When the sales force encounters this situation they employ customer engagement process steps 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. When the sales force encounters hard criteria (D, E F) and soft criteria Q, X, Y) they employ a different set of engagement process steps 1, 7, 8.

Sales Cycle Attributes
Winnable Deals    
Hard Criteria
A, B, C
Soft Criteria
X, Y, Z
Customer Engagement Process
Steps 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Competitive Deals    
Hard Criteria
A, C, D
Soft Criteria
Q, X, Z
Customer Engagement Process
Steps 1, 3, 5, 6
Unlikely-to-win Deals    
Hard Criteria
D, E, F
Soft Criteria
Q, X, Y
Customer Engagement Process
Steps 1, 7, 8

Other sales cycle classifications types might be which area of the company is leading the evaluation (IT versus business end users for example), specific technical requirements, title within the organization who is driving the decision, and whether the purchase is strategic or more tactical by nature. Once sales cycles are categorized, the process to work these different sales cycles can be easily communicated to the sales organization. It establishes a relevant discovery process because it directs the salesperson actions. This encourages consistent productivity and faster on-boarding for new hires. Equally important, it helps prioritize evaluations, pilots, proof of concepts and prevents them from being conducted where unnecessary. Finally, it helps add “real” meaning to the forecasted deals and pipeline of business.

Study Components
The Prospective Customer Engagement Process study consists of the following activities:

  1. Research to profile and define the quantitative and qualitative sales cycle attributes.
    This research requires a detailed study and understanding of customer behavior by observing customer meetings. The goal is to attend as many sales calls, presentations, and demonstrations and study as many different types of sales interactions as possible over a sixty day period. The research will also provide important feedback about how prospective customers react to your solution, presentation, and messaging.
  2. Interviews with key decision makers and technical evaluators at win, loss, and no-decision accounts. The goal is to have the evaluator comment on the company, selection process, competition, and give their perceptions of their sales cycle experience and product-related opinions. They are also solicited for their advice and recommendations. Based upon previous experience conducting these interviews, customers are extremely open and forthcoming when approached by independent business expert. It is an interesting exercise to map the culture of the company from a technical, business, and political perspective back to the buying process.
  3. Ongoing interviews with sales teams to gather information about their wins and losses. The objective is to uncover patterns of successful behavior that can be emulated by the rest of the teams.
  4. A review of in-bound lead handling to help determine how they should be processed, categorized, and scored. Since the application of the deal profiling starts at the first customer interaction, the in-bound process must dovetail to how the field works sales cycles.
  5. Presentation of results to the sales force via training workshops. Interactive exercise-based training workshops are held to introduce the study findings and educate the field sales force on how to apply the new customer engagement strategies and tactics.

Timeline of Activities
The study typically occurs over a sixty to ninety day period and ends with a customized sales training workshop based upon the study findings along with the introduction of the new client engagement process. Here is a sample timeline of activities.

Study Outcomes

Predictable, Repeatable Sales Success
The problem with predicting which account a salesperson is likely to win is due to the complexity of information that is involved in each sales cycle and that there is conflicting data points between various sales cycles types. In addition, vitally important information about the people/politics of decision-making is hard to categorize.

The study classifies sales cycle types into winnable (higher likelihood of winning), competitive (possible win), and un-winnable models (low likelihood of winning). The classification is based upon the quantitative and qualitative selection criteria from interviews with prospective customers. Information is objectively collected from both customers and sales teams via extensive interviews. Patterns of behavior are identified, interpreted and the common themes collated. The figure below shows an example of how different sales cycle attributes of various wins would be summarized into the winnable account sales cycle model.

The classification of sales cycles focuses the sales organization on legitimate opportunities so they’re not wasting time on futile accounts. It also provides the blueprint for sales success in competitive accounts. These models can also be easily communicated to new sales hires to encourage faster productivity.

The primary objective of win-loss analysis is to classify sales cycle types so the sales organization is focused on legitimate opportunities. There are only thirty days in a month and ninety days in a quarter. Therefore, it is imperative that enterprise salespeople protect their time and utilize their valuable resources on winnable accounts.

Identify and Counteract Sales Cycle Turning Points
Although closing a complex enterprise deal may take many months to complete, every sales cycle typically has a critical moment, or turning point, where it is won or lost. By identifying potential sales cycle turning points you help the sales teams proactively predict the future. Equally important, you can arm them with counteractive business and technical responses to overcome key deal-stopping objections or avoid them entirely (for example, when customers dictate certain proof of concept conditions that will result in a negative outcome). I have found that it is absolutely critical that companies understand the turning points during the sales cycle, particularly in new markets or where customers perceive technology offerings as similar.

Large Account Pursuit Development
The study would also identify the sales process and behavioral patterns sales teams used to close new large accounts so that they can be emulated by the rest of the team. The identification of this “collective intuition” provides real-world strategies and tactics to close enterprise accounts while improving overall sales execution.

Field Sales Training Effectiveness
The study serves as the blueprint for future field sales training programs to help address sales force deficiencies.

Feedback to Other Areas of the Organization
The study results will provide important feedback to improve all aspects of the pre- and post sales process--customer marketing efforts, demand generation, sales collateral, product functionality, consulting, and customer support.

Improved Customer Messaging
The sales organization must be able to succinctly and persuasively message to a diverse set of departments and across all levels of the organization (executive, management, and day-to-day technical operations). The results will help improve overall messaging and solution positioning.

Study Summary and Costs
The problem with predicting where a start-up company is likely to win is due to the newness of the sales teams and the lack of completed sales cycles. Conversely, mature sales forces have to contend with ever-changing competitive landscape as arch-rivals release new products, forge new partnerships, and continually improve their functionality.

The Prospective Customer Engagement Process Study provides the strategic framework to segment and prioritize deals. It will establish the common language used to synchronize on how sales leadership, salespeople, system engineers, marketing, consulting, engineering, and support talk about accounts. Classifying sales cycle into types will focus the sales organization, increases accountability, and improves deal visibility. The study results can be used to determine ideal new hire candidates and greatly reduce their on-boarding process. The process will help minimize the number of technical resources required and apply them to the most important accounts. Finally, it provides marketing with valuable feedback to help them focus money and resources to the profiles with the highest returns. The costs for the Prospective Customer Engagement Process Study will be determined based upon the agreed upon scope of research as described above. All aspects of the study are conducted by Steve Martin.