Buying Cycles

“Six months later, things are still sounding great and not happening. What’s going on?” 

It could be that nothing unusual is going on. A six+ month buying cycle for anything over 4 figures is normal.

Whenever selling to an enterprise, you should ask your contact:

1. Who is the champion? 

2. Who is the decision maker? 

3. What is the process for each tier? 

4. What should we do the best ensure our mutual success? 

The only reason for surprises in the sales cycle is if you didn’t bother to ask. 

It someone sold a cure for cancer for $1000, everyone would buy it and the world would be healed.

If it cost $10,000, you’d probably have to await corporate paperwork and approval for 6 months and only then start implementation. 

The One Excuse Not to Network

I have found most networking (of any kind) to be an inefficient use of my time. At most events, I always had a little voice in my head saying things like, “Instead of being here, I could be building ,” or “What could possibly come out of this discussion?” I’m also frustrated because so many events don’t have my prospects, but “people who know people who know people who may know a potential prospect of mine”. 

I have taken a totally different approach. It’s really simple and maybe even counter-intuitive. Hear me out: 

Be excellent. Better yet, be “very” excellent. In everything you do. 

If my customer doesn’t think I’m their best vendor, then I have failed. 

This applies to “everything”. In the work that I do. In the products I supply. In the fun their people have with me. In the “outside their box” thinking about every project. In the communication. In the failsafe processes of doing business (Yes, I double check that some has double checked.) In thinking 2 steps ahead of them. In being a trusted partner in that part of their business. In pristine ethics (Don’t underestimate this one; one slip neutralizes “everything else you’ve ever done”.) 

When I conduct business this way, I become a magnet to those who need my services. I call this “passive networking”. I spend no time networking, no time marketing, pay no referrals, and focus completely on my customers. They know and appreciate this. When one of their colleagues mentions a concern at “their” networking meeting, their Tech Club, their restaurant, or in a discussion with their vendors and customers, they think of me. When they care about the people they know, they want the best for them. I always want to be thought of in this way. IMO, “this” is the definition of totally efficient marketing. 

I know it sounds awfully old school and like a cop-out, but doing everything I can to make myself a magnet is the best thing I ever did for my business. So instead of wasting 99% of my time with strangers, I spend it directly investing 100% of it in people that already matter. 

How do I close a sale?

“How to close a sale?” 

Ask your customer, not me. 

I’m not trying to be abrupt, but it sounds like you’ve already done all the right things and your relationship with your customer should have reached the point where you can ask them exactly this question. 

Dealing with institutions can be it’s own animal. The best way to learn how their buying process works is to ask them! In a perfect world, you may still be 6 months away from a sale. You wouldn’t agonize over it if you knew, and you’d know if you asked. 

In dealing with institutional customers, I even take it a step further. Before I invest any time in the sales cycle, I have them teach me what it takes to get a sale, exactly what I have to do, and how long it will take. Real buyers will be happy to tell you all of this; in fact, they may think you’re sales amateurs if you don’t bother to ask. Lots of times the buyer may be frustrated by their own organization and will coach you to be more successful so that they can get what they want. 

There are millions of potential tips: “You have to talk to Joe Smith first.” “Never call Fred on Monday.” If you filled out Form XG7-B first, you’ll save 6 weeks.” “Mary only buys from people she meets through Bill or her Business Group.” “You have to be a preferred vendor of XYZ..” 

I hope you get the picture. Like I said, it sounds like you’ve done all the right things so far. No one here at hn knows what else you need to do. Your customer does. Ask them. Today.

How do you tell your story?

“It took me five years to figure out (a) I needed a story and (b) what the story was. It’s hard. But one story beats a pile of AdWords A/B tests.” 

I have found that there are 2 kinds of stories: classes and instances…

Class: “X can solve problem Y using our product.” 


“Acme saved $30,000 per month by figuring out how to better load their trucks using our optimization software.” 

“The Smith family had their first ever reunion when John and Linda Smith realized how easy our family organizing software was.” 

“Jones Gifts doubled their sales in 3 months using our bolt-on e-commerce solution.” 

The class is good. The instance is better. People love stories and the instance is a real story, while the class is the framework for a potential story. The class is a commercial; the instance is a testimonial. Also, an example cuts through all the clutter right to the reader’s reptilian brain. Naturally, the closer the instance is to the reader’s situation, the better. OP’s story was a class. I would have loved to hear a few instances of that class: some real stories about people who got real benefit from his product. People naturally want to know about other people. 

How do you close the deal?

You have to get your prospects to think that what you’re offering was their idea all along. 

How do you do this? 

Get to know them. Spend time with them. Find out what their lives are like, what they have to go through to compete, and what makes them suffer. Jump into their pool at the deep end and learn how to swim. Walk through their warehouses, customer service departments, and general offices. Sit down at their computers and try to do their jobs. Get them talking. 

Once they see that you are sincere and have something to offer, they will not be bashful. They will tell you everything you need to know to help them. This will do 2 critical things: 

1. It will provide specific feedback about what you’re building or have built, whether or not it makes sense for them, and what to change/fine tune/refocus. It they need it like that, chances are that many others do too. Your first prospects have unwittingly been the best focus group you could have assembled. 

2. You will be offering exactly what they asked for so they will have few excuses not to buy. Do not underestimate the solid gold of this approach; it works incredibly well. 

Call this good sales and marketing if you want but I never have. I just call it doing whatever it takes to help your customers. Becoming successful is a byproduct. 

How do you find customers?

How do I find customers? I just talk to people. All the time. I allow my inquisitive nature to take over. But most importantly, I really care. A mentor of mine once told me that lots of people need what we provide, so it’s our responsibility to find them and see what we can do to help. 

If I’m in someone’s business (even as a retail customer), I often ask to watch as they enter data into their customer facing system. This invariably leads to some discussion and who knows what else. I attend events and network regularly, even if it’s just staying in touch with acquaintances and asking what others are up to. Email works really well for this. 

I don’t have a solution in mind because I want to listen to the other’s problems first. If something I have written (generally small business or e-commerce) sounds close to what can help them, I may go down that path. Anything else, I pass, but gladly provide a referral to someone who “can” help, if I know of any. 

I don’t cold call in the pure sense. That’s just not my nature. If I ever got good at that, then I wouldn’t need to be a programmer, I’d just sell someone else’s product. 

What are the Spending Authority Cut-Offs?

The #1 question to ask when selling to the enterprise is, “What are the spending authority cut-offs?” Nothing means more. 

Funny, in my experience, the 5K and 100K numbers are pretty accurate. 

I recently assisted in the purchase of business intelligence package. The CIO (my contact) had authority to spend up to $100K. Anything more had to go the board, and that “just wasn’t going to happen”. One vendor knew what to ask and bid $93K. The two others were much higher. Guess who (automatically) got the sale. The other 2 may have been better, but we’ll never know. They were effectively eliminated by rules they never asked about. 

At the low end, almost everyone has authority to spend up to $5K, even users. They bring in desktop software or SAAS under IT’s radar. There’s “huge” demand for solutions to their problems that fit under their spending limits. 

The Answer is Always “Yes”

Buyers of software products, like small children, hear one word more than any other: “no”. “No, it can’t be done.” “No we don’t do that.” “No, if you did that it would screw up everything else.” “No, that’s stupid” It doesn’t matter if you’re right, all that matters is that you’re just another person saying “no”. 

You differentiate yourself from others by giving the exact same answer, but with the word “yes” instead of “no”.

“Yes, in order to do that, we’d also want to look at…” 

“Yes, let’s make it ‘pop’ using some of the things we bring to the table…” 

“Yes, no one even thought about that, and we should now before we get any further into this thing…” 

or even the extreme: 

“Yes, there’s a way to do that. No one has ever done that before, so now is the time for someone to be first…” 

As I’ve told my customers many times, “The answer is always ‘Yes’. You may not want to do it once you understand what it will take, but the answer is still ‘yes’.” 

No other word has helped me more to find myself and do my best work for others.

How do you crack the enterprise world?

I have been on both sides of the enterprise software sale many times and have concluded that a) it always sucks and b) it’s rarely in “anyone’s” best interest. 

So instead of examining the current model and making suggestions for accomodating or improving it, I prefer to suggest an alternative. 

I believe the best way to crack the enterprise software market is the same way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time through the soft underbelly… 

Find a critical business function being done in Excel and provide an alternative web app. 

Find a “business within a business” and automate it with modern technology. (Examples are small independent business units, warehouses, job shops, sample shops, “anything” a user has set up that “can” be autonomous.) 

Provide a modern satellite system to augment and integrate with an existing enterprise monster. (A separate module for one function like payroll or fixed assets, special processes for marketing, engineering, manufacturing, etc.) The possibilities are endless. “Somebody” is not getting what they need out of SAP, Oracle, or whatever. 

Provide a separate business unit with everything they need. This may be cheaper than the customer adding more licenses to their ERP system. 

The key to this approach is staying under corporate IT’s radar. The way to do that is by keeping your prices below your customer’s boss’s threshold. 

How do I know this can work? Because it has, many times. I have implemented dozens of apps in enterprises that they thought they could never have because of the existing software and sales model. 

And I remember history. At one time, IT departments were very threatened by PC’s. They challenged their ivory tower with a mainframe and dumb terminals. So users just bought their own PCs from their expense budgets and forced IT’s hand. 

Lightning can strike twice. Users are once again tired of waiting 18 months for a fix and are ripe for a custom 37signals type of solution. Let the app rush begin. 

What Makes the Top 1%?

Selling and marketing, knocking on doors, and touting your products and services “shows you as an idle developer”? 

Actually, it shows you as a go-getter, exactly the type of person I’d want working for me. 

The biggest difference between the top 1% and everyone else? They never stop selling.

I’ve done the same thing as OP and it works. Better yet, if you have office space, invite your neighbors over for wine and cheese (or beer and soda) Friday after work. Socialize and share. They may not become customers that day, but when they (or someone they know) needs what you offer, who do you think they’re gonna call?