We’re all familiar with the iconic selling questions. The ones that have prompted discussion and debate since the first reps sold insurance products in the 1800’s. I remember one of those questions from my early days with Xerox. After graduating from college, I embarked on a long summer of training in the famous Professional Selling Skills (PSS) program, SPIN and other powerful Xerox material. At summer’s end, I was off to sales training’s global mecca, Xerox’s International Training Center in Leesburg VA. Upon arrival, I faced the ultimate sales test, the passing of which would earn me the right to stay for the world’s best sales training program. For the unfortunate ones, failure sent you packing, literally and immediately, back to your Xerox home branch to face shame and often termination. Having passed, I proceeded on to intense classes, active role-playing and relationship-building with my amazing cohort of young Xerox reps. We peppered our instructor with questions throughout, mostly prompting his reversing questions, challenging us to think strategically. But for one question, of that iconic variety, he promised not to reveal the answer until the end of our program. And that he did on our final day in Leesburg, addressing “When is the right time to close?”. We awaited the magical secret, the holy grail of interpersonal selling. But my classmates and I were left empty by the answer – “When the buyer is ready”.
This article won’t leave you befuddled like we were by what we thought was a shallow secret. In retrospect, of course, the answer was intended to make us think and to confirm that such a question simply doesn’t have a prescriptive answer. Every account, every opportunity and every prospect are different. And they all must be understood in customized terms. Message received.
Now, we address another one of the classic questions – “When does the sale end?”. In simplest terms, Wikipedia says “When the desired outcome is achieved”, “When the signature has been acquired” or “When the check is received”, to which many would add “….and cashed!”. While there’s certainly some logic in these elementary answers, especially in the transactional world of selling to small and medium-sized businesses, we wouldn’t typically seek such guidance on Wikipedia, would we? We would likely investigate published B2B sales processes used by real selling organizations to discover what their last stages were. Googling that very topic uncovers some interesting final sales process steps, which ostensibly provide the elusive answer to our question. What are some of those final stages? How about “Close”, “Generate Referrals”, “Negotiate/Close”, “Deal”, “Book” and “Follow Up”? Interesting. And again, maybe this type of input, tactical and self-serving as it is, might be somewhat helpful as a transactional selling roadmap. But in selling to and serving large enterprise accounts, such final stages would most certainly be the last step. Yes, the last step in a loss. The precursor to a post-mortem.
So, why does that bring us to T.S. Eliot, the world-famous poet? Because the secret about enterprise selling is that it has no end. And T.S. Eliot’s timeless quote sums it up perfectly – “To make an end is to make a beginning. And the end is where we start”. How true. For the end of your first successful pursuit with a new enterprise account is, very simply, nothing but the beginning. Because enterprise accounts are ecosystems unto themselves – teeming fields of rich, dark, moist soil awaiting the seeds of growth. And the successful “end” of that first sale opens the gate to the planting of those seeds and the “beginning” of a long-term, client-focused relationship. Thank you, T.S.!
Practically speaking, consider the Sandler Enterprise Selling program. It has six stages, not unlike the selling processes previously mentioned. Stage Six is called “Service Delivery”, which doesn’t even begin until after the business is won and the enterprise account relationship has begun. The Service Delivery Stage, then, is not the end at all. In fact, Sandler Enterprise Selling has no end. Why? Because enterprise relationships are built on a continuous process of selling and delivering. Streams of transactions over time in long-term relationships – that’s the enterprise world.
Sounds great, but what can go wrong? Much. There’s the dreaded handoff from sales to delivery. Conducted with a “detach with an ax” strategy, handoffs limit account growth and confuse clients. Then there are the rigid sales and delivery siloes that stifle communication, collaboration and expansion. Your sophisticated competitors, always lurking, will take advantage of ineffective strategies like these and work hard to hasten your exit. No, enterprise selling is not easy. Nor is it for the faint of heart.
So, how do you make it work? Winning selling organizations operationalize the continuous process not through the occasional communication of sales and delivery but through fully integrating them as the “account team”, a single, client-focused unit. Delivery team members actively engage in pursuits, increasing the likelihood of success by “delivering while selling”. And sales team members understand and participate in delivery initiatives, managing account relationships to maximize delivery successes and client satisfaction – “selling while delivering”. True partnering of the account team is the basis of true partnering with the account.
So, when does the sale end? With enterprise accounts, never. That must be embedded in your team’s plan and strategy. But more than anything, it must be your mindset. Live it every day and earn the right to continually win, serve and grow.