The length of the average sales cycle is a concern for many B2B sales leaders, and with good reason: successfully shortening average sales cycles enables sales organisations to increase sales capacity without having to increase sales resources. From everything that I’ve observed, the key to systematically shortening average sales cycles lies in selling smarter, not harder - and I’d like to share 3 proven ways that could help your organisation achieve the same:
1: Never rush qualification and needs analyses
Research conducted by Donal Daly of the TAS Group has shown that rushing through the qualification and needs analysis phases simply stacks up problems for later in the sales cycle. Failing to take the time to qualify that the problem is real, that the prospect is likely to buy, that the vendor has a good chance of winning and the opportunity is worth winning can result in an enormous amount of effort being wasted on opportunities that should never have reached an advanced stage in the pipeline in the first place. If you’re likely to loose - or if the deal isn’t worth winning - it’s far better to find this out early on.
All the top sales people I’ve observed hate wasting their time. They know that their resources are best focused on winnable deals. If they are likely to lose - or if the deal isn’t worth winning - they want to find out early. They are prepared to invest upfront in finding out whether the problem is really painful enough for the prospect to act - and in ensuring that the prospect’s needs are well aligned with the solutions they can deliver. If they can’t satisfy themselves, they are prepared to qualify out and look for a better opportunity. Average sales people often rush ahead and then cling on to poorly qualified deals like a drowning sailor holding onto a life raft. You need to persuade them to let go.
2: Focus on the prospect’s buying process, not your sales process
It easy to confuse activity with progress when you manage your pipeline according to the actions your sales people have undertaken, rather than looking for evidence of where the prospect is in their buying decision process. If you are to systematically shorten sales cycles, you need to systematically eliminate the barriers and constraints that may be preventing an otherwise well-qualified prospect from deciding to move forward to the next step in their Buyers’ Journey with you.
First, you need to understand where they are - and then you need to work out what it would take for them to move forward with you. Using key steps in the buying process (rather than sales stages) to define your pipeline stages is a good and necessary start. But you also need to anticipate your stakeholders’ likely concerns and motivations at each stage in the buying decision process - and develop targeted sales tools and actions that serve to eliminate any concerns and motivate them to take the next step.
3: Measure velocity at every stage
There’s little point in measuring the total time an opportunity has been open if you don’t also pay close attention to the amount of time each deal spends at each stage of the buying process. The time spent in each stage gives you a clear sense of the velocity with which an opportunity is progressing - and gives you the chance to highlight deals that appear to be stuck. You’ll almost certainly find - as the TAS Group research showed - that losing deals take far longer to reach a conclusion than winning ones.
Establishing benchmarks based on the stage-to-stage velocity of winning deals allows you to identify opportunities that appear to be stuck - and to review the need for remedial action or qualifying out - before the opportunity simply fades away of its own accord. Comparing velocity benchmarks (and stage-to-stage conversion rates) between products, campaigns and sales people enables organisations to identify the bottlenecks in their sales and marketing processes, and to take steps to systematically eliminate them.
So there we have it - three proven ways of systematically shortening your sales cycles. These recommendations can also serve to increase average sales win rates and improve sales forecast accuracy. Of course, there are a number of other initiatives that can contribute to the same goals - what’s worked for your organisation?