All sales managers want to shorten their sales cycles. It helps you hit your goals, allows you to bring in more revenue in any given period, and can even give you useful insights into potential inefficiencies of your sales process. In this regard, everyone’s pretty much in agreement: Shortening your sales cycle is one of the most effective things you can do to help your sales team reach new heights.
But there is much less consensus around how to accomplish this goal. In fact, it seems like every sales leader has a different approach. Some give their reps more freedom to discount. Others have their reps start closing hard on the first call. And some (especially in the tech world) work with their product team to make the buying process as automated and streamlined as possible.
While all of these tactics can be effective in certain circumstances, they are ultimately just that: tactics. If you want to have a long-lasting, scalable effect on your sales cycle, you need to attack the problem at its very core.
(For even more information about cutting down your sales cycle, check out our FREE guide: How to Shorten Your Sales Cycle.)
And that means training your reps to be less like traditional closers, and more like project managers. Here are a few tips:
Understand the needs and timelines of each prospect
This isn’t so much a tip as it is the foundation that underpins all of your efforts to train your reps to behave more like project managers. The best way for sales reps to shorten their sales cycles is to go into every potential deal with a tailored game plan for bringing it past the finish line. And this means understanding each prospect on an individual level.
Why is this so important? Two reasons:
- If you try to lop time off your sales cycle without understanding your prospects, you run the risk of sabotaging the deal altogether. Some prospects genuinely need time to evaluate your product and decide if it solves their problems. Pushing these prospects along against their will for the sake of closing the deal more quickly is likely to turn into a “careful what you wish for” scenario: you’ll get them to close more quickly, but it will be closed-lost. This won’t help you reduce your sales cycle, and certainly won’t help you bring in more revenue.
- There’s no one-size-fits-all way to shorten your sales cycle. The only way to shave days or weeks off an opportunity’s sales cycle is to know the opportunity intimately enough to find safe areas to make up some time. If you know that they have a specific roll-out date in mind, or if you know exactly how many stakeholders are involved in the process, you can use this information to nudge the opportunity along without applying too much pressure.
Most inside sales reps have their hands full. They’re working enough opportunities at any given time that it can be hard for them to buy into the fact that they need to treat every opportunity as an individual. But if you explain it to them well, they will see what you see: Ultimately, tailoring their selling approach to each opportunity will save them time (and improve their sales results) in the long run.
Book the next call at the end of each call
A lot of the time between when an opportunity opens and closes isn’t really necessary for decision making at all. In fact, a big portion of it is just dead time when both sides are just waiting to schedule or hold the next call. Sales reps can minimize this wasted time by always scheduling their next call at the end of the current one. Once they’ve settled on a mutually agreed next action (MANA) with the prospect, there is no reason that they pick a time for the process to continue.
Agree to a timeline early
Relatedly, sales reps can easily reduce the length of their sales cycle by getting prospects to commit to a timeline as early as possible. Again, they shouldn’t push it to the breaking point and force prospects into an agreement against their will, but they can always ask the right questions to get a pretty accurate idea of when a prospect thinks the process can end, assuming everything else goes as planned.
Address the elephant in the room
Sales reps ‒ well all people, really ‒ have a bad habit of ignoring inconvenient truths. If they see a potential obstacle on the horizon, they’re more likely to kick it down the road than to address it head on. This may be human nature, but it’s also one of the main contributors to an unnecessarily long sales cycle. If your prospect doesn’t have buying power, or budget, or if there is reason to doubt that your solution will work with their specific use case, bring it up early. There is no point investing a time in an opportunity that has a good chance of falling through at the last minute.
Act as a tour guide
A sales rep has probably sold the exact same product hundreds of times, but a prospect has never bought it. Don’t ignore this fact, use it. Instead of asking prospects how they’d like to proceed, give them suggestions. You know every step of the process, and how they usually play out, so take advantage of this by suggesting a road map for the process and offering guidance at every turn.
Map out the whole process in advance
Part of being a good guide is planning how the process will unfold and anticipating obstacles before they happen. Even though each opportunity is different, sales reps have enough experience with their own sales process to accurately predict every step of the way. Mapping the whole buying process is one of the most effective ways to ensure that the sales cycle doesn’t elongate for avoidable reasons like connecting with all of the stakeholders, agreeing to legal terms, and revising terms and conditions.
As mentioned above, this map of the buyer’s journey is not just for the sales rep ‒ it should be shared and discussed with the prospect as well. This allows reps to get to the “if this, then that” place that helps them achieve MANA and ensure that they really know where they stand with the prospect and can accurately forecast when the buying process will be over.
Sales reps who follow these steps will find that they not only help reduce the length of their sales cycle, but also provide them with a much better and predictable understanding of their own sales process. Most sales reps focus time and energy on improving the very sales-specific parts of their job ‒ sharpening elevator pitches, honing closing skills, bolstering rapport-building techniques ‒ but the truth is that investing in strengthening the project management aspect of inside sales may have the most profound impact on their success.