One of the most common objectives stated in discussions with front-line reps, senior executives, and everyone in between is how to shorten their sales cycles. While I would argue that at one point you hit the “optimal” cycle, and trying to shrink it further is just not a good use of time and energy, on the whole, it does make sense to continue to shorten the cycle until you find that optimal point. Here are three proven elements you can execute to shorten your cycle in a positive way.
Sales types like to talk about qualifying, and for good reason, but once you are actively engaged with a prospect, you should start thinking about disqualifying, specifically deals that are not likely to close now ("now" meaning current or the next sales cycle), rather than having them take up space in the pipeline. Not all prospects become your buyers, if your Sales Qualified Lead to Close ratio is 4:1, three of the four will not close this cycle. The quicker you remove those, the better you are able to marshal your time, skills and resources to sell the one that will, thereby shortening your cycle.
To do this well, you need to implement a deal review process that examines all losses, wins, and “no decision,” allowing you to recognize and respond to the attributes of each, earlier in the deal. If something is clearly exhibiting characteristics and features of a “non-closer,” park it, and move to those that have the characteristics of a winner. Remember, leads and prospect are recyclable, time is not; you can always revisit them in the future as market conditions or their characteristics change.
It goes without saying that you need to go out and prospect for replacements for the opportunities you disqualified, but that is better than noodling dead opportunities in your pipeline.
The downside to selling “solutions” is the assumption of a problem, more importantly, recognition of one by the prospect. Many argue that people do more to avoid pain and negative things. It is also true that they will commit quicker to things that bring pleasure and positive experiences. What is more positive than achieving stated objectives? While they can always take an Aspirin to suppress, ignore or delay the pain, they need to do something to get closer to objectives they’ve set. Especially with Status Quo prospects, engaging around their objectives, you can not only get them to act, but act with urgency, which will accelerate your cycle. Knowing which objective to focus will come from some research, and leveraging the same deal review process described above. Objectives buyers are driven by, and willing to act on, are one of the attributes that surface in the reviews.
The last economic downturn ushered in The Age Of Consensus. Decision previously “championed” or made by individuals, are now consensus or committee bound. Spending is scrutinized and re-scrutinized, and need to be thoroughly rationalized; all of which makes sense, but takes time.
You need to get proactive, develop a pursuit plan that includes all the people involved, and provides what they require to make the decision you want. With the plan in hand, reach out to all the required parties, from finance, to the senior individual, the implementers, users, and everyone impacted in any way. Make it easy for them by doing some of the legwork, providing the data and other factors they need to make the decision. Let them use their time and energy making the decision, not gathering things you can provide.
Sales people still ask me if it’s OK to call on beyond their natural buyer. Not only is it OK, it is part of the job, including learning the various languages of all those involved. Your upfront effort all leads to more decisions in less time. In most cases these are things you will have to do, but rather than waiting to be asked, get ahead of it, reach out, deliver, and reduce everyone’s effort, and time involved.