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.

1. Disqualify, Disqualify, Disqualify

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.

If your sales team suffers from long sales cycles that seem to be drawn out even more because they’re spending too much time with unqualified prospects, watch this video:

2. Align With Objectives

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.

3. Be a Consensus Builder by Talking to More People in the Account

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.

Dave Brock on The Two Ways to Reduce Sales Cycles

More Ways to Shorten Your Sales Cycle

You may be in marketing, but chances are, you’re just as responsible for the health of your sales cycle as your sales team. In this day and age, marketers have far more power over the pace of the sales process, which explains why many companies are placing a greater emphasis on sales enablement. When marketers have the power to help the sales team close more deals, faster, why shouldn’t they use it?

If you’re wondering how you can help shorten the length of your sales cycle, take a look at a few ideas below, many of which are made possible by marketing automation.

Objective Lead Qualification

Blended lead scoring and grading ensure that only the most qualified leads get passed on to sales (note: a lead score measures the amount of interest that a prospect has shown in your company while a lead grade determines how good of a fit they are for your product or service). Using both a score and a grade helps marketing and sales teams find common ground when it comes to defining a qualified lead. It also keeps sales from wasting time on leads who aren’t good matches for their product, and makes it easier for marketers to automate the assignment process once leads have reached a threshold score.

Lead Nurturing

According to Pardot’s State of Demand Generation study (a webinar recording summarizing the study will be up soon!), 77% of buyers want different content at each stage of their research. Using lead nurturing, marketers can cater to these preferences by “dripping” appropriate content to prospects over time depending on where they are in the sales cycle. You can then track responses and adjust the next round of content accordingly. When consumers have completed their research and reached a sales-ready state, they’ll already be educated, meaning that sales won’t have to waste time guessing at their pain points and needs.

Nurtured leads produce, on average, a 20% increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads. (DemandGen Report)

Detailed Prospect Tracking

With marketing automation, your prospect’s location in the sales cycle is never a mystery. Real-time alerts delivered straight to your sales reps’ desktops or phones give them detailed information about which types of content their prospects have engaged with, what actions they’ve been taking on your website, and what their interests and pain points might be. This makes it possible for your reps to respond quickly with relevant information, increasing the effectiveness of sales calls and increasing your chances of a lead turning into a closed deal somewhere down the line.

Prospect Lifecycle Reporting

Lifecycle reporting, which combines all of your marketing and sales reports into one dashboard, can help diagnose the health of your sales funnel — including areas where prospects are stalling and areas where they are moving at an optimum pace. Metrics collected by the Lifecycle report include net new prospects, new opportunities, won opportunities, and percentage change over time. Having this detailed insight, along with data like the average amount of time spent in each stage and the total revenue of all won opportunities, gives you the information you need to ensure maximum speed through the pipeline.

Faster Follow-Up

When follow-up isn’t automated, it can be easy to forget. While your sales and marketing teams may recognize the importance of a prompt follow-up when trying to close deals, they’re often too busy to make it a priority. Instead of wasting time covering their tracks and rebuilding relationships, they could be using marketing automation to define appropriate follow-ups for specific situations. These messages can then be automated so that sales reps get regular touch points with prospects, reducing time spent on manual tasks and freeing them up to focus on closing deals.

A Quick Recap Of Sales Cycles

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As a Digital Marketing Expert and Systems Integrator Karl zu Ortenburg focuses on getting businesses to succeed with their marketing on the Internet. He has worked with companies such as Bertelsmann, Random House Publishing, Philips, Dow Chemical, Deutsche Bank etc., as well as with a range of clients, from smaller entrepreneurs, to business owners who made over $200 million in 3 years. Karl zu Ortenburg publishes about Marketing Automation, Mobile Marketing, Artificial Intelligence and has written a handbook about Search Engine Optimization.