Aristotle once called the circle “the perfect, first, and most beautiful form.” It’s the basis for the wheel, pi (and pie, for that matter), the Venn diagram, the “circle of life,” and cycles in general.

It’s this last idea — cycles — that I’d like to get into today. In particular, a couple of cycles related to business and sales. The first is the sales cycle — the steps needed to move a person or organization from prospect to customer. The particular steps may vary, but generally speaking they involve identifying the prospect, establishing a relationship, recognizing needs, presenting a solution, overcoming objections, closing the sale, and getting referrals so the process can start again.

Sounds pretty reasonable and straightforward, right? In theory, yes. In practice, though, things don’t always go as planned. One reason for this comes when a salesperson becomes so enamored in the system and a “by the book” approach (i.e., “this is how we do things”) that he or she forgets the equally (or even more) important cycle that is taking place simultaneously — the buying cycle. Like the gears of an engine or riders on a tandem bike, those cycles must work together in sync if the salesperson can hope to close the sale.

As with sales cycles, buying cycles are defined by a series of steps that ultimately lead to a purchasing decision. The difference is, the buying cycle focuses on the customer, rather than the salesperson.

Buying cycles can vary widely from one person or organization to the next and even from one situation to another. These variances often depend on the buyer’s familiarity and level of comfort with the company, product, and salesperson involved. While one person may appreciate a salesperson who shepherds them along toward a purchasing decision, another may view that same salesperson as overbearing or obtrusive. These feelings may ultimately slow the process and hinder the salesperson’s chances for success.

Understanding a customer’s attitudes and buying cycle begins with getting to know that person and their individual needs. That means actively listening, asking questions, and investing time in making the prospect feel appreciated. Yes, I mentioned this as part of the sales cycle, too, but unfortunately, it’s a step that is sometimes glossed over or forgotten in an effort to speed things along to the sale.

A buying cycle focus forces the salesperson to conform to the customer’s expectations, rather than pushing that person through a preconceived model of how a sale should proceed. The salesperson still needs to guide the prospect through the process, but in a way that leaves the customer feeling like they’re in control and are making a wise decision.

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