Everyone is familiar with the saying “time is money,” but a lot of business executives may not realize the exact relationship between the time it takes a customer to go through the sales cycle and their ability to achieve their annual financial goals.
When companies start making forecasts, for example, there might be a lot of assumptions built in about customer behaviour that simply don’t pan out as expected.
It might take longer than expected to identify the best target customers and prospects for your marketing efforts.
Converting leads into a meeting or call might involve jumping through a few extra hoops.
More experienced reps might also move through the buyer journey more seamlessly than someone just starting out in sales.
Then there’s the gap between making that initial sales presentation or pitch to a deal actually closing, which can sometimes seem to drag on interminably.
This creates a lot of pressure for sales teams, of course, which can become worse when senior leadership teams don’t have a better view into what’s going on.
There might be anxious queries about the status of a potentially large deal, or an impatient order to “nudge” a customer again before they’re ready.
These disconnects can wind up hurting sales, and can even make the sales cycle longer.
It could be that companies struggle to master sales cycles because they don’t treat it as a metric in its own right. Things like “productivity” might seem easier to track, because you can look at how many cold calls a rep has made.
The number of closed deals, win/loss ratios, wins by territory — these are all things executives are used to seeing on a pie chart or bar graph.
When you start measuring things like sales cycle length and deal velocity, however, you begin to identify process improvements that do more than have a positive impact on sales.
Reducing the sales cycle can also make life better for those in marketing and customer service, because it means you’re developing an overall more compelling customer experience.
Once you’ve gotten sales cycle length as an agenda item in your next senior leadership meeting, here are some of the areas you could cover:
If the CEO or someone else on the senior leadership team asks what sales reps are doing all day, you’ve got a problem.
These might have been the same people who said no to proposed investments in technology that could automate some of the most repetitive — and arguably lowest-value — tasks for a sales professional.
When a sales rep doesn’t have the benefit of a CRM like Sales Cloud, for instance, they might take hours combing through disparate sources of information to find contact information for a particular customer or prospect. They might also have to research their target customers from scratch every time, if there’s no record of previous engagements.
The same goes for writing emails that could be replicated for multiple customers but personalized based on data within a tool like Marketing Cloud.
Start with one of your reps and ask them to provide an estimate of how long some of these things take today, and it will be pretty clear where the first cuts to the sales cycle should begin.
There are always going to be some curveballs in selling, but as you get more comfortable with using data from CRM you might start to see some trends and patterns that can inform the process reps take.
Look for grey areas like the time between a customer agreeing to a call or meeting and making it happen. Does the rep leave the scheduling question open-ended, or does it tend to work better with an email that suggests three different possible dates and times?
Once those meetings are over, what tend to be the followup questions that customers come back with when they’ve talked to the rest of the team? Pre-empt those questions with resources (perhaps developed with your marketing team) that reps can send out as a thank-you email immediately following that first touchpoint.
Also look for what kind of content overcomes objections and leads to a faster close. This could be a demo of the product, but it could also be a case study, return-on-investment (ROI) analysis, spec sheet or other kind of lower-funnel resource.
Sales teams that work in closer alignment with their peers in marketing and customer service will almost inevitably close the gaps that make buying cycles longer.
If the same data-driven approach you’re applying in sales is extended to marketing, for example, you’ll probably begin to see that there are certain channels or kinds of assets that are generating the best quality leads.
This could mean the marketing team focuses more on eBooks and amplifying them through an email newsletter, or using webinars and promoting them on social media.
Whatever you do, the end goal should be minimizing the time spent on leads that don’t convert.
The same goes with customer service. Reps often get feedback — and not always positive feedback — when they approach a customer a year after the initial sale about problems with the products they purchased.
If these issues weren’t resolved, it’s obviously going to take a while to convince them to make another purchase.
Insight from sales reps can help service agents develop troubleshooting tips or answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs). Strong communication between sales and service will also provide valuable insight into customer feedback and expectations before they find themselves in “pitch mode” again.
Although there’s no guaranteed way to reduce the length of the sales cycle that will work for every organization, giving it the attention it deserves is bound to lead organizations towards a viable strategy. Then keep at it, because the clock never stops ticking on your opportunity to sell, improve and grow.