10 Easy Ways to Lengthen Your Sales Cycle, Right Now!


Share on LinkedIn

You probably clicked the link because you thought I made a mistake in the headline. Why would anyone want to lengthen their sales cycle? The answer is they wouldn’t want to, but many of them do because of the way they approach sales and marketing. This isn’t just about sales because sales cannot work in a vacuum. There is an interconnected system of marketing, lead qualification, deal closing and fulfillment that have to work together; and the need to understand what each group needs from the other. In this first part of a two part series, I’m taking a section from Predictable Revenue called 9 Ways to Lengthen Your Sales Cycles and putting my own spin on it.

A common problem in many companies is an inability to see beyond their products. This is quite dangerous in a world where new products quickly become commoditized or completely disrupted. When that happens, customers begin seeking alternatives as these companies attempt to add value (and cost) simply by adding new features; customers don’t value them nearly as much as the company does. This is what is referred to as over-serving your customer and is the target location for disruption.

Think of it, electricity started as an expensive novelty, then eventually became a utility (cheap and easy to access) allowing higher order products and services to run on the platform; such as radios, televisions and computers. Now computing power has begun a swift migration to the utility-side with the advent of cloud platforms. While CRM is still bloated and expensive, much of it is actually a commodity even if the vendors won’t admit it. If you were to unbundle these systems, which parts would you be willing to pay a premium for, if anything?

Many of the components of CRM can be found as utilities in the cloud. For instance, Google Contacts has become the de facto master repository that other products pull your contacts from (and it’s free). LinkedIn provides more than an empty shell; it provides actual people, companies, and context. The key point here is that being able to see this dynamic environment, and visualize the locations in the value chain that you can successfully attack, is key. It is an essential feeder system into your marketing effort, which in conjunction with your ultimate fulfillment operation is the first step toward operationalizing your strategy…which simply must change over time.

Marketing is a part of the selling system; not a silo where a shot gun approach to finding prospects should be practiced. This should be the beginning of the pull selling process; but what we more often see is the push selling process. Without a sound understanding of the buyer awareness cycle, we tend to enter with guns-a-blazin’ trying to force a square peg into a round hole. You’re…

  • Selecting the wrong prospects
  • You’re targeting the wrong people or groups within the right prospects
  • You’re using the wrong messaging
  • Your products or service no longer meet (or never met) the needs of a market.

To truly succeed, find a systematic means for evaluating customer needs that has a high success rate and is repeatable. You may find you have the perfect solution but are not messaging to the true unmet needs. You may also find you are simply targeting the wrong groups and/or the wrong situation or context.

A consistent, systematic means of performing activities that isn’t working well, is better than none at all. This is because you can’t improve randomness; you can only improve upon a consistent base. However, a selling system is not the same thing as a sales process. The sales process, as commonly supported in CRM systems, is nothing more than a localized, silo’d or functional attempt at optimization. In these pseudo systems, the measures are commonly aligned with internal accomplishments that have little relationship to other contributing organizational factors to profitable and sustained growth. “To sell something” is an end-to-end process (or sub-system of the organization) that spans functional areas of an organization. A selling system must recognize this end-to-end process and the interdependencies between functional areas. The outputs that occur along the way must be discrete and countable, and improvements should strive to decrease variability and increase quality. Having an optimized sales process is meaningless if supplying parts of an organization drive highly variable leads into the top of the funnel, with little chance of closing. Your localized process most likely desires a high quality input and you’re not going to get it if there is little coordination, or the wrong kind of coordination. The sales organization has internal customers as well; and it would serve you to understand their needs and align your outputs and measurements accordingly. You cannot improve the larger system if local areas randomly select how they will operate with complete disregard for anyone else.

You may believe you have a wonderful process, but no one follows it. The problem is you and your belief systems. If they are not following it, it’s probably not as wonderful as you believe. It could be overly complex, or the organization may have imposed performance measurements that conflict with the process; instead of aligning with it. Does each actor in the process receive what they expect or desire? Have you asked them? Have you removed the layers of how and who to get to the root of what? If things don’t make sense to your internal actors – or your external customers for that matter- no one will participate.

  • What are you trying to accomplish as an organization?
  • What is the purpose behind this goal?
  • What will it take to get there?
  • Why will your customers (external and internal) care about this? What job are you helping them get done better?
  • Upon what do you base these beliefs?
  • What data do you have to back this up?
  • Where did the data come from?
  • How will you measure success, and motivate your resources properly?

Each of these things must be clearly articulated (preferably visually) to participants and aligned with the system you ultimately design. You can’t improve a system until the actors actually participate in the system.

Are you still pushing your product on customers who, as a whole, no longer value it? While the CRM market has embraced the likes of Salesforce.com, are you still pushing tired old products and irrelevant services, selecting the wrong new products and services to push, and misunderstanding the services your potential customers need? Are you ceding market share for profit? Is that now starting to fail you? Your customers will always have the same jobs to get done, but that doesn’t mean they will continue to buy the same products. They will always seek new and better ways to get the job, or portfolio of jobs done. Technology changes, new products eventually migrate to commodity or utility status, and those who embrace the business model and pricing premiums that got them where they are today (stalled growth and low profitability) will simply fade away. It’s time for these companies to stop pushing, and starting pulling (and I’m not talking about inbound marketing). Understanding your customers’ problems before they do (with forward looking tools), and putting the right message in front of them when they discover their problem, is critical. You need to help them solve these problems early. If you continue to wait until they contact you for a feature list, you’ve lost. They should never have to solve the problem on their own; but will continue to do so as long as you are pushing features around a product category. Alternatively, a competitor will solve the problem. You lose either way.

End of Part I (stay tuned)

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here