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.
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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.
The 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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).
- 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.