Sales fragmentation. Never heard of it? It’s the silent killer of the best laid plans of mice and sales teams.
Nothing prolongs the sales cycle more or derails a sale altogether like it. It rears its ugly head especially during times of uncertainty—most recently in this post-COVID environment. Complex and semi-complex sales already come with their own flavor of challenges. Then throw in uncertainty in the marketplace, companies reorganizing and re-engineering, The Big Quit, and shifting roles. The pressure is on sales leadership to design the right playbook as the sales profile has changed, not to mention the buyer's priorities. Couple all of this with the fact that a lot of ideal prospects are either entirely or half-time remote. It’s a recipe for sales fragmentation—the tendency for both buyers and sellers to disrupt a formal sales process with informal communications, thereby prolonging the sales cycle while lessening the odds of closing a sale.
Think about it. When was the last time your sales team had significant one-on-one face time with a prospect? Virtual meetings are difficult enough to navigate successfully. Prospects might be working out of their house, their car, maybe the local coffee shop. Even in a Zoom call, prospects often don’t show up on camera. This leads to a few words exchanged over an email. Missed calls that go to voicemail. Poor Internet connections that have the buyer and seller exchanging texts on their personal phones. This means communication becomes fragmented. And based on our research, this elongates the sales process—which costs companies valuable time and resources just to get to a deal. Worst case scenario, a good deal falls through.
So the onus is on sales leaders and their teams to keep the sales process as formalized as possible, not allowing those early steps to become fragmented into informal communication. Because we're seeing this fragmented landscape, buyers are now saying, “Send some of your suggestions via email” or “send a proposal and I’ll review it with my team.” At Tyson Group, we have a steadfast rule: sending is not selling. It’s a salesperson’s job to present so they can be persuasive and increase the odds of a sale.
One of our core principles at Tyson Group is to never deal with objections in a fragmented way—informally through an email or text. Not long ago we coached a salesperson who was working a lead at a software company. The company was interested in the service the salesperson offered through some LinkedIn inboxing, so they moved from a needs assessment to a first meeting very quickly. Then the conversation went offline through texting. A second meeting was set, where the salesperson presented a proposal. Shortly after, the buyer requested references from the salesperson.
Now Tyson Group sales trainers and coaches always reinforce a hard and fast rule whenever references are requested from a salesperson: don’t give away anything to the prospect without expecting something in return. References can be inconvenient and time-consuming, and typically aren’t requested…unless fragmentation, for instance, lessened the buyer’s confidence. The salesperson got the buyer the references, but failed to get something in return—a commitment that if the references are satisfactory, the deal will move forward.
The salesperson fragmented the sales process even further and informally reached out to the VP of Sales to ask how the reference calls went. This allowed the buyer to procrastinate and punt the follow-up meeting to the following week.
“I didn’t want to seem pushy,” explained the salesperson.
"But you're playing right into the fragmentation trap,” I said.
So I jumped on a call to get the deal back on track by keeping the sales process formalized. I reached out to both decision makers and said, “It seems like you've talked to our references. It sounds like you heard what you needed to based on our conversations with the references. So it probably makes sense for us to have a formal conversation on Friday at 3pm to clarify any other details and get a decision from you.”
They agreed and ultimately the deal was struck.
ALSD, a proud partner of Tyson Group, is forced to navigate sales fragmentation constantly. The sales team sells premium luxury products and services for events, which are sometimes purchased by private individuals, though most of the time sold to mid-size and large businesses as an asset to entertain clients, vendors, and employees. It is very easy to take a product or service like a luxury hospitality suite and fragment the sales process simply due to the non-urgency of the sale. The ALSD sales team needs to be vigilant and look for where there's momentum in a deal, to make sure the key parts of the sale aren't done in an informal or fragmented way.
Remember, the buyer is going to play into sales process fragmentation because it's easier to communicate informally. But there is also less accountability, which leads to a loss of traction. To close a deal in any sales landscape, keep it formal.