Why selling beads is easier than selling necklaces

Here is a scenario which will be familiar to many. You follow up a sales lead and have a meeting with the prospect. Your solution is a great fit for their business and you go away to prepare a detailed proposal. You put a lot of work into this proposal and the prospect is bound to be impressed. You go back and present the proposal. The prospect is indeed impressed, and promises to get back to you. You have several exchanges of emails and calls, then radio silence. Quarter-end is approaching, you need to close this one. You were so sure you would win it, but now closing seems to be a major hurdle.

This scenario is typical of the “expert sale”, where the seller is highly knowledgeable and concentrates on the solution rather than the level of engagement. Talking through a situation like this with a sales team recently, they assured me the relationship was excellent. It probably was, but the word I used was engagement not relationship. If the prospect is not actively involved and engaged through the development of the proposal, that final close will be a bigger challenge. I liken the sales cycle to beads on a necklace. Each bead represents an activity or event, and are a sequence along the time-line towards a successful sale. Most sales pipeline reporting systems recognise or formalise these beads or stages.

Engaging the prospect early on is vital, and the easiest way to do this is to treat each bead as a “mini-sale” to be closed. You can use trial closes and various types of close (trade, alternative, direct, assumptive, reverse) to gain the prospects commitment to proceed from bead to bead. For example, after the first meeting ask if they would like you to do a site audit. The trade close (also known as an Up-front Contract) would be: if we do that, can you arrange for us to meet and discuss with decision-maker/sponsors?  As you close each step or bead, you are closer to closing the entire necklace. By the time you reach the last stage the proposal has become a joint effort, and the prospect has become used to agreeing to the next stage. After so many smaller closes, the final close of “can we have your business?” is much easier.

Neville Merritt