One of the most common business challenges is decreasing their “sales cycle”. If you ask why the cycle is as long as it is, the Sales professionals involved will quickly produce a list of all the reasons why deals take so long. These reasons will all have some validity, but taken together, they will not illuminate the path to reducing sales cycle time.
Sales Cycles Run at the Speed of Conversation
The illuminated path comes from understanding the chain of critical conversations that must all resolve with a “OK, great, thanks” from your prospective customer. Typically there will be at least two parallel conversation chains that eventually merge to a purchase decision – the product/technical track and the business track. To realize the shortest possible sales cycle, both conversation tracks must progress without unnecessary delay.
If you now ask the Sales team about delays in these two conversation chains, you are likely to come up with another list of reasons. Some of the typical reasons given will be
- he/she/they stopped responding to my emails and calls
- we needed a meeting to discuss X and it took forever to get everyone together
- they wanted information from us that we either didn’t have or needed to tailor or update for them
- they just don’t seem to understand Y. We’ve explained it to them over and over.
If you are spending all your best-practices time going over the reasons supplied by Sales, you are probably missing huge opportunities to systematically reduce Sales Cycle time.
Try answering these questions:
- What % of leads and opportunities have complete conversation records/timelines?
- What % of leads and opportunities have long time gaps in them between conversations?
- How much Sales time went to leads and opportunities that were lost or died vs. time to leads and opportunities that closed-won?
- For each lead/opportunity stage, what prospect questions must be resolved before progressing to the next stage?
- What approach to answering each prospect critical question has taken the least time?
- How often do you test new approaches to shorten the time to resolution of each prospect critical question?
- What do you do to anticipate prospect critical questions and answer them proactively instead of waiting to be asked?
- What questions for the prospect must be answered at each stage to continue to qualify the lead or opportunity for progression? Do you practice one-time or continuous opportunity qualification?
- What do you do to orchestrate the parallel product/technical and business conversation tracks so that no sales time is wasted and the prospect is always getting timely answers to resolve the current critical question/s?
Map out your sales cycle network of conversations focusing on resolution of critical questions
Effective answers to these and more diagnostic questions will come from your CRM and the Sales team.
The starting point for systematic sales cycle time reduction is to map its network of conversations, identifying all critical gates and motivators to opportunity progression. Usually these gates and triggers are critical questions requiring positive resolution. Reducing the time to anticipate, answer and resolve each critical question will most definitely reduce cycle time. Sometimes the solution will involve better orchestration between your account executive and technical sales resources. Sometimes prepared content can guide the prospect down the critical question path and take care of a large % of the questions offline. Sometimes better continuous qualification can reduce the % of Sales time invested on losing opportunities, freeing up bandwidth for potential winners.
Elapsed time to answer prospect critical questions is key
Encoding, tracking and managing critical question gates and triggers in your CRM Funnel will help shine more light on how Sales is managing the clock. You will begin to build a database of lead opportunity progression in terms of elapsed time measures. With elapsed time data for each critical question, it is much easier to see where the best time saving opportunities are. These granular opportunities bring the sales cycle time challenge into a focus that lends itself to ongoing adaptive innovation – the key to a self-improving system.