Whenever we talk to folks, one of the most common goals we hear across every industry is a desire to speed up the sales cycle. This typically comes in the form of either shortening the cycle as a whole or increasing the velocity of their sales process. On the surface, these would both appear to be logical and effective strategies. The faster you’re selling, the more money you’re making – who wouldn’t want that for their organization? Yet when we dive deeper into this ambition, it can prove more complicated than many initially realize.
Upon evaluating which approach is best, there are two key factors to consider: current cycle length and current cycle velocity. First, how long it does it take your team to sell today? We find most businesses do not really know. When asked, front line salespeople are fairly accurate with their estimates. But we have found that as you go up the levels of an organization, for some reason, the envisioned length of the sales cycle decreases! This might be influenced by what parts and how much of the sales cycle executives see on a regular basis, on top of when one decides to “start the clock.” If you think of your sales cycles begins when you first engage with a prospect, you are missing all of the activity that went on in the Buying Journey before that moment. If aiming to be objective, we believe the timer should start from the first time a buyer recognizes a need or a desire up until you receive the order. This means one of the best ways to shorten the sales cycle would be not talking to customers until they are ready to buy.
Although I say that in a tongue in cheek manner – how many MQLs are rejected because the prospect does not have a budget? In all likelihood, these leads are not being coy with you, but are actually just at an early stage of their Buying Journey. Therefore, you will only increase the length of your sales cycle if you’re spending time selling to someone who doesn’t know if or what they can buy yet. However, before you dramatically change the way you qualify leads, making contact earlier can have its own set of benefits. So where else could you save time? The honest answer is… nowhere. At least not practically speaking.
It is very unlikely your salespeople are intentionally leaving their prospects hanging for days or weeks, procrastinating endlessly on returning calls, scheduling demos, or sending out proposals (if they are, you might have a bigger problem!). So even if you wiped the whole sales team’s calendars clean of any internal meetings and equipped them with every conceivable resource to manage a single account, your efforts might save you a grand total of a few hours or days on your sales cycle depending on the product or service.
When laid out like this, it should quickly become apparent that the majority of your time to sell does not take place within your corporate office. And this simple fact ties directly into the second key factor, velocity, and where the delays and hold ups actually are.
The counter intuitive truth is that the only thing yielding business is the buying process – not your organization’s selling process. As we have said many times before, buyers cannot be pulled through any form of sales process, but rather go through a specific set of steps, headed from interest to adoption based on the particular market and offering. Our fifteen years’ worth of research show that buyers do not even connect with sellers until they are 50%, or more, of the way through their Buying Journey, and more importantly, that salespeople are actively involved in less than 10% of buying activities. In no uncertain terms, this means that 90% of your “sales cycle” is controlled by the customer. You can certainly feel that imbalance when you are waiting for multiple departments to approve a proposal, no matter the rate of your selling.
If at its core, your goal is to see more profits sooner, then what you really want to do is speed up your customer’s buying. Like we said before, if you engage early in the Buying Journey, the sales cycle will lengthen; yet if done correctly, this comes with the added benefit of increasing win rates and average order size. It is phenomena such as these that are exactly why positively influencing your customers Buying Journey will give you the results you are after – and why speeding up your sales cycle is ultimately a futile venture.
Like with any business problem, the answer must always start from the Outside-In™. Managing and then accelerating the Buying Journey begins with gaining an in-depth knowledge of your market’s specific buying process. What happens across the entire end-to-end spectrum of activities? who gets involved? what do they value? where are the anxieties and concerns? and how are decisions made? Though at times the Buying Journey can be meandering, the opportunities lie in discovering where you can help your customer buy, thus speeding up the buying, not simply by selling faster.