Reducing Sales Cycle Time

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 illuminatedstopwatch 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.


Marketing is the Steward of Opportunity

keepcalm-proactiveSales is blessed and cursed by a misunderstanding of one-dimensionality.   There is a lot to like about a clean logical framework around hunting and farming deals and winning by the numbers.  Of course, like most convenient simplifications, the one-dimensional view of Sales leaves much unconsidered and a lot of room for improvement.

Marketing, on the other hand, tends to suffer from a kind of professional multiple personality disorder.   Marketing is Branding!  No, Marketing is Customer Engagement!   Marketing is Communications!   Marketing is automation!   No, Marketing informs Product and Product Roadmaps!   All of these personalities are valid, but at the end of the day they aren’t a great way to operationalize Marketing to accelerate topline and bottomline performance.   Managing each personality silo independently may create a sense of accountability and progress, but company performance at the highest level will suffer.

I’m going to take a risk and propose that Marketing at heart is two aspects of one concept – piloting the organization’s Opportunity space.   Marketing is the truest, deepest keeper and steward of Opportunites – what kinds, how many, how viable, how well-managed.

The Art of Marketing – Opportunity Generation

What happens in your organization’s future is based on the possibilities it assesses for itself.  Only the possible can manifest.  Every organization has a vested interest in expanding its possibilities in sales opportunities, markets and applications, as well as its brand/reputation.  Expansion of possibilities is a prime responsibility of most organizations.  What percentage of your qualified leads came from new sources within the last year?  How much of your revenues and profits come from products or services released within the last year?  Last three years?

A conversation-based marketing mindset and approach, not not necessarily the department, is well-qualified to keep and nurture the universe of possibilities ahead.   Innovative leadership companies capture and run with possibilities that are discovered and systematically seek discovery.   Discovery comes from conversations internally and with prospects, customers, partners, suppliers, competitors and market observers.  What is your organization doing to systematically expand and capitalize on its universe of possibilities?

The Science of Marketing – Opportunity Management

I rarely encounter a company that doesn’t want more leads, better leads, shorter sales cycles, higher expected deal and customer values with longer customer retention.   All of these goal metrics are dependent on how well your company manages its ongoing opportunities.  And those opportunities are driven and gated by conversations that can resolve positively, negatively or not at all.  Who is managing your network of critical conversations?

A company’s strength in conversation management will show up in the thoughtfulness and usefulness of its Sales Funnel practices and in its Roadmaps for Brand and Product/Service.   What percentage of your funnel practices and individual critical conversation gates/trigger actions have been optimized within the last year?  Are your Roadmaps ahead of, even with or behind your competitors?  What is your on-time promise delivery performance?

Consider committing your organization to perpetual pursuit of increased effectiveness and efficiency in managing the critical conversations constitutive of operational Sales and Marketing opportunities, starting with leads and moving through long term customer value.   The final arbiter of success in this direction is ROI.  If marketing is working, you will be able to measure tangible and increasing ROI on your opportunity generation and management strategies, programs and campaigns.

Promises, Promises

promisesI had the great good fortune to meet Russell Redenbaugh years ago when I was a still-too-ambitious guy learning the what’s whats of marketing.  

Blinded by an accident in youth, Russell blossomed into an elite investor, business leader, family man, world gold medalist in Jujitsu, and for me, a once-in-a-lifetime teacher.

Russell is an avid student and advocate of the teachings of philosopher Dr. Fernando Flores.  Russell brought home many of Dr. Flores’ insights to small groups of equally lucky fellow students.  Dr. Flores’ teachings are anchored in the premise that all human actions take place in conversations – whether with others or just with ourselves and indirectly authors as we read and react to texts, music, movies.

Dr. Flores elegantly showed how human actions and behavior can be deconstructed into atomic speech acts.  One of these speech acts is the notion of the Promise.  For every promise, there is a speaker claiming to address concerns of the listener.  The listener will have criteria, or conditions of fulfillment  in mind when judging the relevance of the promise as well as how well the speaker fulfills the promise.  We make promises, explicit and implicit, every day.  Listeners are always assessing the value of our promises, and how well we fulfill them.  Our reputations and credibility are in large part determined by the promises we make and our fulfillment of them.  As Russell and Dr. Flores say, as human beings, we are Walking Promises.

Businesses are manifestations of the people leading and representing them.  Businesses are also Walking Promises.   What are your business’ promises?  How relevant are they to the concerns of your prospective and current customers?  How well do you fulfill them? It is possible to design your and your business’ conversations.  Do it and you can create and sustain unique competitive advantage.  I promise.

2015 Posts

Boredom is a Warning –  Voltaire warned us boredom was on the “top three” sin list

Diligently Waiting –  Balancing good manners and good clock management

The Source of Credibility – How you make your case says a lot about you

Top-Down Initiatives and Promise Chaos –  Examining on of the reasons hierarchic organizations seem to have so much trouble innovating and progressing

2014 Posts


Moods are the Stage for All Conversation – moods come from our assessments of the future, and conversations come from our moods – it’s the regenerative, recursive power of conversation

Trust – Our Future Depends on It – two simple assessments drive much of how we feel about people and organizations

Discomfort and Learning – discomfort is an important catalyst for action

Blind Spots – What You Can’t See WILL Hurt You – this isn’t just about a great interview question