Increasing Sales Cycle? What it means for Sales Pipeline Management

Everyone knows that the general sales landscape is changing, but a recent survey offers one very specific way that the sales process is evolving — it’s getting longer. According to a survey carried out by Crain’s BtoB magazine in the beginning of 2013, sales reps and marketers at B2B companies are struggling to keep up with a sales process that is consistently getting longer and more complex. In fact, 43% of respondents said that their average sales cycle is growing.

So what’s making the sales process longer? According to the study, multiple decision-makers and freer access to information about products has resulted in a ballooning sales cycle, which threatens to make sales managers’ jobs harder.

What the study does not explain, however, is what these sales managers can do to combat the lengthening sales cycle. But that’s why we’re here.

A longer sales cycle means that the average sales team needs a bigger pipeline to accommodate long-gestating deals. But a large pipeline is harder to manage and, when handled poorly, results in wasted time and effort from reps who try to juggle too many opps at once. We’ve talked at length about the necessity to regularly purge your pipeline of bad opportunities, but this new research makes that task harder than ever.

So what can a sales manager, struggling to fight against an increasingly unwieldy pipeline, do to help his company? The answer is simpler than it may seem: keep a close eye on soon-to-close opportunities, track pipeline growth over time and be unafraid to regularly prune it of unlikely-to-convert deals.

(For even more detailed information on pipeline management, check out our FREE eBook: The Definitive Guide to Pipeline Management.)


Keep a close eye on your pipeline

In the days of shorter sales cycles, it was possible for reps to manage their pipelines without much worry of losing track of opportunities or letting potential deals slip through the cracks. But those days are gone. Quota-carrying reps must now have an easy way of visualizing their pipelines, and sales managers are responsible for providing them with this information.

In today’s sales landscape, a clear representation of each rep’s soon-to-close opportunities — like the report shown above — is a must. Otherwise, reps are at risk of letting a growing pipeline prevent them from carefully managing their opps.

Track pipeline growth

A lengthening sales cycle may mean a bigger pipeline, but it shouldn’t necessarily affect a pipeline’s net flow, which is an essential metric for understanding your pipeline’s changes over time. Even though sales cycles are longer, your reps should be closing them at roughly the same pace, which means that you need to make sure you are adequately replacing the opportunities that flow out as Won or Lost deals.

The report above, for example, helps sales managers track their pipeline’s growth over time. As sales cycles lengthen, close dates get pushed further into the future, which makes it harder for sales managers to ensure that they are replacing closed deals. Track inflow/outflow to make sure you’re not sabotaging your next quarter by failing to sufficiently replace net opportunities in your pipeline.

Get rid of rotten opportunities

The other risk of a growing sales cycle is letting your pipeline become clogged with bad opportunities. Many sales managers believe this is the inevitable side effect of a growing pipeline, but it’s not. Even a large pipeline should maintain its integrity, which means identifying and purging sub-par opportunities.

What are some of the characteristics of bad opportunities? Large deals, stalled deals and erratically moving deals, just to name a few.

(You can learn about the other 7 in our FREE new Forecast Killers one-pager.)

So, while news of the lengthening sales cycle might be scary for some sales managers, it doesn’t have to be. With improved pipeline management, sales managers can adapt to the changing sales landscape and stay on track to hit their number.