Everyone wants to shorten their sales cycle: it increases revenue, allows you to reach your goals faster, and can even help you close deals more effectively. But that’s not always as easy as it sounds – there are a variety of factors that could be slowing you down, from overburdened sales staff to poorly defined internal processes. Companies need to look at each stage of their sales and marketing cycle to identify which issues are affecting them most and then use that information to create strategies to make it as effective as possible.
According to Salesforce’s State of Sales report, 25% of sales teams consider reducing the length of the sales cycle to be amongst their most important objectives in the coming year. This is likely because longer sales cycles tend to be less effective for a number of reasons:
“Time kills all deals” is a cliché for a reason – the longer a sales cycle is, the less likely a prospect is to convert.
The longer it takes to seal a deal, the more time the competition has to steal it away from you.
Longer sales cycles consume more resources.
The longer the sales cycle, the longer you wait to see profits.
The State of Sales report also shows that 17% of those sales teams see an overly long sales cycle as a top sales challenge. The length of a sales cycle can be affected by a variety of factors, including:
Your Sales Process is Too Formal:
In Salesforce research from 2016, email and a more relaxed tender process were revealed to be the secret weapons for a quicker sales process. For example, the UK had the quickest buying process of all regions studied, taking just 9.1 weeks on average. This could be because 40% of businesses prefer to use email and only 1/5 employ a formal tender process. We see this in reverse in Germany, where most businesses still issue formal quotations. This suggests that methods of communication could be slowing you down.
Sales Reps Spend Too Much Time on Other Things:
With so many peripheral tasks to manage, members of sales teams often lack the time they need to focus on selling. In fact, research from Pace Productivity shows that sales reps typically spend only 22% of their weekly working hours selling. Some examples of activities that make demands on their time include:
Administrative tasks: nearly half of the respondents to the State of Sales report that excessive administrative tasks prevent them from having enough time to sell.
Chasing cold leads: One study found that 50% of sales time is wasted on unproductive prospecting.
Providing content: Docurated’s State of Sales Productivity infographic shows that sales reps spend up to 31% of their time creating or searching for content.
Ineffective or Poorly Defined Sales Process:
An inadequate sales process can slow down the whole sales cycle. Problems can range from poorly defined individual roles in the sales cycle to unnecessary or poorly organized steps throughout the different stages. In addition to the administrative tasks mentioned above, State of Sales respondents cite a variety of reasons why ineffective internal processes are a major sales challenge, including lack of time for face-to-face selling (22%), limited insight/lack of timely insight (21%), and poor alignment with marketing (19%).
First Things First – Identify the Issues:
On their website, Objective Management Group states that 92% of the companies they evaluate have inadequate sales processes, but go on to explain that the real issue has more to do with identifying why they are ineffective. Because there is such a wide range of factors determining the length of your sales cycle, the first step in making it shorter would be to identify what is slowing you down. Then, you will be able to take a closer look at the stages of the sales cycle, and adjust your processes and lifecycle management according to your needs.
Create a Well-Defined Strategy and Sales Process:
A report by the Aberdeen Group shows that nearly 60% of best-in-class companies use regular collaboration to define lead qualification as a strategy for accelerating the sales cycle.
Defining the best leads is just one way of keeping everyone on the same page. It’s important to provide sales staff with a clear understanding of the company’s goals and long term vision, so that they can more effectively nurture and convert leads by knowing what to look for, and being able to provide consistent, relevant service. Once you have identified any issues in your sales process, it can be useful to clearly outline each stage, and re-evaluate how effective your process is at regular intervals.
For example, if you find that overly formal communication methods slow you down at certain stages, you may want to agree on more relaxed strategies for interaction with customers. This type of planning will help your sales team function like a well-oiled machine.
Use Technology and Automate:
These days, advances in software and technology can be used in many different ways to manage the tasks that are slowing you down.
Consider the Role of CRM: Are you getting the most out of your CRM system? Migrating processes to your CRM, and storing information in the cloud will provide your sales team with a central hub to help manage a variety of aspects throughout the sales cycle.
CRM can help you outline your sales process, reduce data entry, store all sales information, manage contacts, connect to marketing automation software to track leads, streamline processes, and enhance availability of customer information.
With all these benefits, it’s clear that ignoring your CRM software and its capabilities would be a mistake: an infographic created by Cloudswave shows that CRMs have increased sales conversion rates by over 300%, and that 24% of companies saw an increase in sales productivity using CRM mobile apps.
Let Artificial Intelligence Take the Wheel: In Salesforce’s 100 Sales Tips for 2017, marketing expert Sean Zinsmeister suggests using “artificial intelligence (AI) to look past vanity metrics and identify top performing content through deeper insights about which pieces attract the highest quality leads, drive larger deals, or accelerate deal velocity.
This real time assessment cuts down on sales cycles and lets you invest energy into the programmes that are going to drive the most value to the business.” AI enabled software can automate a number of processes and sort through vast quantities of data, freeing up sales personnel to focus on selling.
Pay Attention to Data: With CRM and AI, your company will be armed with highly sophisticated data analysis tools that can process information faster than any human. This means you can more effectively score leads, gain greater insights into customer wants and needs, and focus on targeting the best leads with the best possible timing.
It’s important to look closely at how your company is managing the sales cycle to properly determine what is slowing you down and how to fix it. Clearly defined strategies and goals are crucial to success, while automation can help save much needed time and resources.
This post is part of our Navigating the Sales Cycle series. Download the e-book and discover the 7 steps to sales success.