Thomas Nies; Never a sales cycle, always a buy cycle

Thomas M. Nies, Founder and CEO, Cincom Systems Inc.

Winston Churchill once said, “I am always willing to learn, however I do not always like to be taught.” I’ve always admired this phrase, but speaking as a salesperson, I feel it can be adapted easily to have more resonance in the field. One might say that we are all eager to buy, but we do not particularly enjoy being sold.

Understanding this fact is important when it comes to understanding our customers and their buying processes. While we may be involved in a “sales cycle,” our prospects are not. They are involved in a buying cycle.

Moreover, since prospects seek to buy, they may resist and perhaps even resent efforts to “sell” them. That’s why sellers must see themselves much more as an assistant purchasing agent rather than a sales agent. I employ the term “servant sellers” at Cincom to convey this role, with the emphasis being on the idea of a servant who seeks to help prospects buy what they value, want and need, rather than as a seller who seeks to sell them only what the seller wants to sell.

We must begin to think in these terms instead of those that are more typically used. Instead of a “sales cycle,” we must begin to think of it as a “buy cycle” or as a colleague of mine at Cincom once helped me to see, we might metaphorically see it as a bicycle.

A bicycle lets you get where you’re going much faster and using much less energy than if you were walking or running. Thinking of customer interactions as “buy cycles” will help a salesperson get to a sale faster than if they were thinking in terms of a “sales cycle” because we are looking at the interaction from their point of view. Instead of selling them, we will help them to buy by being a “servant seller” and identifying the value a product can provide for them.

A bicycle is also a machine that has all of its mechanics completely exposed. Everyone involved in the buy cycle needs to openly communicate with one another. It is helpful to express appreciation and respect, build positive affiliation and association, recognize the autonomy of others and never intrude or impinge upon the other’s desire for each one’s own autonomy. Just like a cycling team competing in events like the Tour de France, there are many different individuals on each “servant selling” team and each has their own job that works toward the goal of a victory. It is a group of different people with different skills and perspectives all interacting to come up with ideas that they might not have individually.

There are many other ideas and analogies that show the similarity between a bicycle and our “buy cycle” if we look more closely.

For example, the wheels on a bicycle are very important—the front wheel provides direction and represents the strategy and vision for the buy cycle. At the same time, the rear wheel is the source of power or fuel that energizes the cycle. The bike becomes much more difficult to ride without either of these wheels. Similarly, strategy and direction have to be present along with energy and action in a corporation if a sale is to be made. 

Each of the closer analogies that can be made can be substantially expanded upon as one digs deeper into the features and functions of a bike. This is why the bicycle is a great tool for us to think about as we work to become better servant sellers in our various buy cycles.

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems, Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance. Learn more about Nies at