As an entrepreneur, you ought to know how to align business development with customer experience using the lifecycle to your advantage. Now consider how to be in control of sales cycle as part of business development? It is a big question for services businesses and B2B businesses. Many fail at any stage like before making an offer or to clinch the deal during the deal processing stages or in between stages.
For services firms, it is necessary to describe each stage in the sales cycle and how to manage such a stage. It has a contrast to retail or wholesale business where sales happen either across the counter or table and closes by exchanging money for the merchandise. Here not much service involve except after sales for some manufactured items like fridges, TVs or Cars that is also for a limited period.
Impact of technology on services business
You might have noticed it was a different experience if you went to get your automobile serviced, say, 10 or 20 years ago. Today automobile services are increasingly computerised, with pinpoint accuracy in diagnosis. Now, automobiles have become more reliable than they used to be.
Nowadays, technology has almost transformed every business. Businesses were not doing the same things they were doing ten years ago. What they are selling has changed, and the length of the sales cycle has risen in some service sectors.
Here are a few examples of how technology has influenced some business over the previous decade.
|Type of business||Technology imact|
|Consumer goods||LinkedIn marketing The capacity to work from anywhere (mobile) from texting to YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter while utilising Adobe design tools to create enhanced presentations such as PPT.|
|Business consulting coaching||LinkedIn networking Online scheduling/ calendaring e-Newsletter Client connection via online|
|Executive search||Use of LinkedIn for recruiting Using customised recruitment software Use of some social media Referral recruitment|
|Software||Software as a Service (SaaS) Issues tracking solutions for project management Customer Relationship Management as a Service (CRM) Search Engine Optimization customised websites Remote meetings|
|Investment legal||Social media, email Remote meetings SEO and a website to attract customers Proposal template libraries Legal research on the net E-filing of legal documents|
Your offerings, how you market it and how you execute it
In short, you must consider how market forces, such as the increasing pace of technological innovation, are influencing your offering, how you market it and how you execute it.
It makes the sense to improve upon when updating your offer to keep it current. You need not tied to your offer after its expiry period since your offer must be relevant and adaptable, allowing for minor tweaks without posing a risk. Your offer must meet current client needs, be up to date, and technically appropriate. ‘Technically’ refers to your particular expertise, approach, tools, and delivery style. Sustaining your staff’s expertise in this context often necessitates appropriate skills learning, and perhaps investment in their learning. If your employees keep up to date, they can contribute new ideas for your company. They can feel excited about contributing to the company, but be realistic about how much change you can initiate and implement at a given time.
You need to engage appropriate skilled staff to handle each stage of the sales cycle of the business development life cycle
|stage of the sales cycle of the business development life cycle||Skills needed to handle|
|Initial contact/Making customer aware- by marketing staff||Usually creative, detail-oriented, and preferably good with statistics|
|Presenting/Offering – by sales staff||Self-assured, socialising, talkative extrovert, assertive, performing. willing to take chances.|
|Propose/Proposing/Proposals – by subject matter expert||Creditable. Expertly knowledgeable. Exercise Caution about commitment|
|Contract : by proposal writers, contract people||Detail oriented, no ambiguity in proposal writing, detailing terms and conditions|
|Execute deliveries till completion – subject experts, project managers, accounts manager||Task oriented, ensuring deliveries, not yielding to nonviable customer demands|
|Evaluation–by executives/strategists/ quality control/ finance people||Reviews/ look for flaws, strengths and future changes|
Pre-sales is the stage of the customer lifecycle and relationship that lasts from the first interaction to the signing of the agreement. For everyone, pre-sales is a time to get to know each other. You want to appear your best, say the appropriate thing at the right moment avoiding mistakes.
Obviously, you can clinch a deal when a demand exists from the customer, and the prospect is ready to buy. But just because the prospect is ready to buy doesn’t mean you have to become too pushy for closing the deal.
Remember attempting to sell too aggressively can fail, as some aspects such as the customer liking for your product/services, and his trusting you do matter is services sales.
Obviously, the sooner you can enter the conversation during the initial contact stage, the more influence you have over the prospect’s early judgements and decisions. This is the area for marketing staff to target customers and exerting some influence over their early selections.
You may gain this influence in two ways. First, analyse where the customer is looking and see where you can put yourself. The benefit of this strategy is that the customer is already in the lifecycle, albeit at a very early stage. You must establish links between your business development initiatives and the customer’s lifecycle. This method requires work by some marketing and sales staff.
Second, create an offer whose worth is immediately apparent to everybody with whom you speak. If the responses show positivity, you’ll be in a good position to decide whether or not you can create a need. If not, the customer may refer you to their other business contacts or keep you in mind for the future.
Presenting/Offering and Proposal stages
In the presenting/offering/proposal stage, you’re expanding the customer relationship from the individual you first spoke with to other key players on the customer team and your own. Unless you’re a one-person organisation, buyers want to know that you’re not the only one in the company.
Customers must have faith in the first contacted person from your side as their primary point of contact. You also need to understand how others from the customer side might make the decision, and who will be in contact regularly if this deal happens. A salesperson and an account manager from your company must follow up on the lead until it is closed. Then, a project manager or a senior specialist can implement it, and an account manager would maintain the customer relationship during and after implementation.
As the owner of the company plan in advance for customer meetings, avoid dominating the discussions. Allow your team members to speak up and demonstrate their expertise. Start thinking about who from your team will be in charge of what. Teamwork at this stage facilitates the easy transition to actual work, which clients appreciate.
During this stage, your goal is to ensure building prospect’s trust in your deal. You can build your market reputation by properly treating the prospect, even if the deal did not take off.
The first part of the sales/ customer lifecycle transitions goes from the above two stages to now contractual business. The shift from proposal to commencing work is tough, but it improves as you work together. Just remember that you must deal with it; you cannot avoid it or compromise to your detriment.
Contracts have an essential role in the customer’s perception of you. Do not conduct business without one. You absolutely need the contract or the agreement in writing and signed by the customer that outlines your responsibilities, customer’s responsibilities, payment and other terms and conditions. If you begin work without that agreement, you lose leverage and it is tough to reclaim.
Managing the After-Sale Process
Remember, Customer relationships are vital since they boost sales. If there is a sale there is a customer relation that will continue from pre-sale stage to post sale stage and beyond in the future.
You want to set the tone for the connection and continue to handle the customer relationship with care and attention, just as you did in the previous section’s pre-sales phase. Someone needs to be in charge of the relationship and deal with the customer on a regular basis. You can call them the account manager. If at all possible, this person should be distinct from the person in charge of the implementing task – the project manager. The account manager’s focus differs from that of a project manager. Account management is frequently assumed by salespeople.
Now you are in the executing or implementing and deliver stage in the customer/sales life cycle. This is a delicate part that needs careful handling. You know the specifics of what happens when your firm provides its services, but clients frequently experience a sense of uneasiness as they come into contact with new set of executives in the implementation stage. This transition from the first to the second stage of the client experience is a tricky manoeuvre. Someone, usually account manager must be in charge of that transition, and the time invested fine-tuning this manoeuvre can save you a lot of trouble later on.
Here are some general guidelines for the account manager that can help save trouble later on in the customer experience.
- Understanding the scope of work: Ensure your team understands the scope of the work, the contract, its conditions, what the customer is required to provide, contribute, or perform, the deliverables. Also know the method for engaging with the client, and who will involve on the customer side. Sort out all this in a meeting with the customer.
- Organising meeting with customer team: let your team sort out all the above matters in the first meeting with the customer team. The meeting can be organised online or offline as convenient to both the teams.
- Project managers: both the teams’ project managers should be friendly with each other, understand and trusted so that they can see no problems arise. Organise regular meetings to review problems, progress between both the teams/project managers.
- Continue the cordial relations throughout: Give customers relevant information occasionally, call to check how things are going, and take them out to lunch. Show an interest in their opinions on how things are progressing on the project.
Once the project is implemented and delivery is complete, tie-up all lose ends if any. Get feedback from the client’s management and follow it with a friendly review meeting, apart from final meeting with the delivery team. You get feedback on how the project went – what the customer enjoyed, and what it didn’t like or would have appreciated more of, and how to enhance your relationship with it.
By doing so, you may get their future business also or perhaps they may refer you to others which you can request them to do so. With their permission refer this success with other prospects by building case study, getting testimonials.
Often customer relationship management is neglected for building the business. If you maintain a cordial relationship with your customers, they are more likely to grant you further contracts and refer you to their contacts.