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Six Ways Marketing Can Shrink the Sales Cycle

Christopher Ryan | Feb 21, 2017 223 views 5 Comments

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I often talk about how B2B marketing and lead-to-revenue (L2R) can be massively beneficial to enabling your sales team to meet its revenue targets. And one of the most important things you can do for sales (and your company) is to reduce the sales cycle. I wrote about this topic in June 2015, but wanted to offer some updated thoughts on the subject.

We define the sales cycle as the time it takes for the average prospect (if there is such a thing!) to progress from initial engagement to close of business. In some industries (e.g. enterprise software or industrial machinery), this cycle can be as long as 12-18 months and requires a large amount of time from the sales team. In others (e.g. Amazon.com), the cycle can be measured in minutes and requires little or no personal time from the seller.

Often, people don’t really know how long their sales cycle is — only describing it as “long” or “too long”. The problem is, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. A manual way to find this out is to take the last 20 or so deals and calculate the average sales cycle by determining the length of time between first contact by your sales team and close of the sale.



Note that it’s important not to confuse the length of the buying cycle with the sales cycle. Prospects may be doing research, perusing your website, reading reviews, etc., for some time before they engage with someone at your company. The traditional sales model utilized reps at every stage of the process, leading to much longer sales cycles.

As the below graphic  shows –  today’s prospect will often engage with you only after completing several of the initial steps themselves. They will have self-qualified, conducted their own needs assessment and educated themselves at least somewhat on the attributes, pricing and other details about your offer.

New Sales ModelThe point is that by the time prospects engage with someone on your sales team, they are often several steps along the purchase path and thus the effective sales cycle is reduced by 50 percent or more. Many of the people who came to your website have decided on their own that your solution is not right for their needs — they have disqualified themselves or postponed their decision. This is perfectly okay and assuming they have opted in for one of your offers, you get the chance to nurture them over time and perhaps make a sale in the future.

So how can you accomplish shrinkink the sales cycle while maintaining a strong close rate? In addition to your digital marketing initiatives, here are six effective strategies that have been shown to have positive impact:

  1. Identify target segments carefully. This is important because the more time sales reps spend with people/companies that are legitimate prospects, the more successful they will be.
  2. Deliver qualified leads. There are two ways to do this. First, by being very specific about who your product/service is best suited for (the prospect self-qualification model). Second, by implementing a lead qualification filter to keep unqualified prospects away from the sales team. You can do this with an automated lead-scoring system (less expensive) or with a more expensive but also more effective personal lead qualification process.
  3. Present a powerful message. As with our first two strategies, the idea is to attract the right prospects and let the others go before they use valuable rep time. Your brand promise, value proposition and benefits must be compelling, differentiated and crystal clear. You can find many good ideas on how to do this by downloading this paper on Brand Awareness.
  4. Understand the buyer’s “compelling events”. By this, I mean the factors that are most likely to lead to a sale.  What are the triggers that can motivate the buyer to purchase now? What are the consequences if they decide not to change? How can we put our offer(s) in front of the prospect when the motivations and/or consequences are greatest?
  5. Let your website do some of the heavy lifting. As illustrated by the second sales process graphic above, the right website content can assist prospects at three or more stages of the buying journey. Particularly useful content includes frequently asked questions (FAQs), product specifications, pricing (if that fits your sales model) and how-to guides (both how to use and how to buy).
  6. Provide the right sales enablement tools. By sales enablement tools, I mean anything that helps sales reps educate prospects or themselves, overcome objections, move the sales process forward and capture relevant information. Examples include product training, sales training, competitive analyses and a “knowledge base” of instantly available content.

Follow these half dozen strategies and watch your sales cycle shrink and your overall results dramatically improve.

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5 Responses to Six Ways Marketing Can Shrink the Sales Cycle

  1. Kimberly Reichert February 22, 2017 at 7:18 am (2 comments) #

    Chris, your insight into how important marketing is in shrinking the sales cycle is spot on.
    Although the cycle is shortened and more has to be done in less time, pursuing intelligent strategies that utilize what potential customers are already doing themselves will indeed yield more results. You are so right in reminding us that prospects are already finding out about you before you even know it. This is why it is imperative to front load them with the right information at the beginning: through excellent and thorough website content. Then, you have already guided them to your offerings, and can focus on meeting them at their time of greatest motivation.

  2. Christopher Ryan February 22, 2017 at 12:55 pm (94 comments) #

    Kimberly, thanks for the great comment. Anything we can do to make the buying process easier will lead to a shorter sales cycle and better results.

  3. Andrew Rudin February 22, 2017 at 2:17 pm (219 comments) #

    If sales cycle is defined as the length of time between when a prospect first engages with a vendor to the time that prospect consummates a purchase transaction, I am unclear how these strategies – important as they might be – will reduce the overall time required.

    While your recommendations hold promise for making vendors more efficient, sales cycle time is contingent on many different customer activities, and the listed strategies assume that stuff the vendor does falls on the buyer’s critical path. In other words, these strategies assume that actions or steps on the vendor’s part hold sway over the amount of time required for the overall sales cycle.

    In a limited way, I have seen that to be the case when vendors struggle to provide resources to advance a deal (“We can’t schedule the demo until our development manager returns from vacation.”), or when information handoffs between departments are unnecessarily awkward and bureaucratic (“the lead sat in Marketing over a week before anyone in sales ever saw it!”), or when departments are backlogged (“We can’t get the proposal out of Contracts for another 30 days.”)

    But otherwise, much of what consumes time in the sales cycle is external to the vendor’s organization, and are outside a vendor’s control. Discount offers accompanied by expiration dates can sometimes stimulate a shortened time window for ordering, but overall, the customer’s processes and efficiencies (or lack) account for the greatest proportion of the selling cycle.

  4. Christopher Ryan February 23, 2017 at 9:02 am (94 comments) #

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments Andrew. Your point about the sales cycle being somewhat outside a vendor’s control is exactly correct. But I prefer to think of this as the “buying cycle”. And our job as marketers is to make sure the prospect stays with us during the early stages of their buying cycle as they learn, self-qualify and narrow their options. When you do this right, prospects will buy faster and your reps’ time will be optimized. We’ve also had client experiences where the introduction of a compelling offer (e.g. free trial) at the right time in the process shortened the average sales cycle by as much as one-third.

  5. Andrew Rudin February 23, 2017 at 1:58 pm (219 comments) #

    We’ll maintain a friendly disagreement on this, because your point doesn’t match my experiences. Like you, I certainly want a prospect to stay with me during the early stages of their buying cycle. Many times, that increases the probability of a successful sales outcome. But it’s tenuous to say that it reduces the time it takes that prospect to buy from me. I don’t question that your statement is well-founded based on your sales work, but it’s not consistent with mine.

    Many companies have a hard time getting out of their own way when moving a lead through the sales process. Mostly, I find workflow impediments: pricing that has to be “signed off” by a manager (sometimes, multiple managers!) before a quote can be provided to a prospect. Demo resources that aren’t available when a prospect makes a request for them. Senior managers who are stingy with their time when their involvement could be instrumental in closing a deal.

    Regarding the compelling offer or free trial – I’m interested in learning more. How many accounts were involved? Again, my experience is across the board. For me, free offers have catalyzed some sales, while in other instances, they have done little more than inject additional lead time into the buying process. In a couple of extreme instances, they have killed the sales opportunity.

    Most of my client work is with information technology companies, where there are large risks of product problems and outright failures when trials are part of the selling process.

    As always, I’m happy to continue the discussion over beers!

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