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Sales Timelines Explained for Geeks

Hand crafted by Michael Boeke on November 1, 2012

When we were first starting up Backstop, we would watch eagerly as each new customer advanced through the sales pipeline, and tear our hair out as deals seemed to drag on forever. Years later, I still hear the development teams I work with at Braintree asking ”when will deal X be done?” So, I thought it might be useful to write down this explanation I came up with for that early Backstop dev team.

The best way for a geek to understand the situation is to think about the deal as an entity with a dual quantum nature, similar to light. It possess both the linear characteristics of a wave and some decidedly non-linear characteristics that suggest a particle nature.

In the early or middle phases of deal negotiation, things progress along a fairly linear and predictable path. All parties involved agree that they are headed for completion at a reasonably forseeable date.

Deal moving forward

However, near the end of the deal negotiation process, lawyers, bosses, procurement departments and other gatekeepers get involved. You can think about these gatekeepers as a reflective box with a diffraction grate on both sides. The wave-like deal hits the first diffraction grating, and it appears as if it should emerge out of the other side at a predictable point in time. However, once the gatekeepers get involved everything goes quantum. The deal takes on a particle nature, and those particles bounce around inside the box for an indeterminate duration, until one of them happens pop out of the slit on the other side. This is effectively random and can’t be predicted by any of the parties involved, much to the chagrin of everyone whose livelihood depends on the deal.

Deal going quantum

What is to be done about this? Not much. Most sales and business development people know enough to try to skip the lawyers, or to at least get contracts in front of them as as early in the process as possible. For development teams, it’s best to realize that completing a deal is a lot like fixing a pernicious bug - it’s almost impossible to predict how long it will take. Embrace the truth that the deal is done when that particle randomly pops out the other side of the box and both sides put ink on paper.

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Michael Boeke is a designer, product guy, and startup veteran, who currently designs and manages products at online payments company Braintree.