How to Shorten Your Sales Cycle?


I have a friend Barry, a specialized driver who regularly drives from Toronto Ontario to Long Beach California, a trip of approximately 4,100 KM. I have done the same excursion a number of times, so we often compare notes about restaurants, places of interest, etc. We also talk about how long the excursion takes, and what is interesting is that if you take the weather out of it, he tends to make the excursion in about 2.8 to 3 days, while it usually takes me 4.75 to 5.5 days. We both go to the same destination, covering the same ground, driving within permissible and safe speed limits.

Looked at another way, if we both got $2,500 every time we got to Long Beach, and another $2,500 every time we got back to Toronto, Barry would collect $187,500 in a 225 day work year; while I would only collect $102,272 in the same period. Wow, not what you’d call chump change!

We see a similar occurrence with many of the sales people we work with, some close a sale in 16 weeks, while the lady in the next stall closes the same kind of deal in 12 weeks. What ever other skills and abilities may be at play, it is clear that with a shorter cycle, she will sell more, earn more, and probably last longer in her position than Mr. 16 Weeks.

Shortening your sales cycle is one of the easiest and most efficient ways for an organization to increase sales and simultaneously reduce the cost of sales. This in itself is not news or a revelation, most Sales VP’s I work clearly state that they want to help their people reduce the sales cycle, but many are just not sure how to do that, some without the conviction, but as always, some just do it intuitively and can’t seem to sustain it over time.

To begin with, many sales people just don’t know how long their sales cycle is, we ask and we hear things like “depends” (sometime it fits), “it changes” (it always seems longer during Daylight Savings Time), and the all time favorite, “well you know it’s different in our business”. Well it’s not really.

inner this is the fact that many reps and organizations do not know what their sale looks like, they have not deconstructing their sale, identified the basic building blocks to clarify and truly understand what it should look like and when efficiencies can be had. One facet of this course of action is covered in “Working Backwards From Your Goals”

While there are a number of ways to affect the length of the sales cycle, by far the easiest to implement with the highest rate of return, no technology required, is to always obtain a next step with your prospects. Sounds simple enough, but for some reason, it is hard to get reps and managers to adopt.

Session after session, we implore sales people to always conclude meeting with a clear and mutually agreed on next step that commits both you and the buyer to not only a specific time and action. More often than not however, this either does not happen at all, or only slightly.

Reps tell us “my step is a call next Tuesday”

We ask when?

“In the morning”

What time?

“Around 10:00”

Did she agree to that time?

“Yes she said Tuesday morning would be fine”

So she agreed to 10:00?

“Well Tuesday morning”

So if we looked in her calendar, there would be a scheduled call with your name and related actions?

“I guess, ya!”

What does she think the call is about and what does she have to do to get value out of the call?

“I said that I would follow up to find out ……; and position a follow up”

What does she have to do to be prepared for the meeting


The above is typical of discussions we have with reps. They either do not pre-plan their desired outcome for a meeting, or get a tangible indication of interest by the prospect.

“In selling, a “Next Step” is tangible evidence that someone is working with you – playing ball with you. It’s not a “gut feeling” that the person is interested in playing ball with you, but proof of that interest.”

Next steps can take different forms, could be a confront to confront meeting, a call, or an action taken. But what they have in shared, is that they commit the prospect to meeting with you to proactively move the time of action forward. They should include some commitment on the part of the prospect; after all they should have some skin in the game in addition. This could be as simple as forwarding production schedules, current tariffs, plans that may help you understand their requirements; or a conference call with their technical team; a copy of their financial statements, etc.

The meaningful is that it be more than just the willingness to meet with you; other than their time, what commitment are they making? You however are going to go back, include resources in your company, invest your time to come up with something to present to the prospect, all without testing the commitment level of the other party.

In most instances, a next step does not always have to be quantum leaps, just remember that already a small movement forward gets you that much closer to close. But if you don’t obtain a next step, have you progressive at all?

Another shared occurrence is meetings ending with the prospect saying “great, I am glad we had a chance to meet, I really like what I heard, I want to bring my team up to speed so call me next week, and we can discuss things further.” Worse the rep says “I’ll call you next week”. already with straight and honest intentions, you usually end up playing phone tag, and when you finally connect you end up setting up a meeting a week or two out. You can easily save a few weeks, at times as much as a month, by scheduling the next meeting at the end of the current meeting, an additional assistance is avoiding the stress brought on by the whole ritual of phone and voice mail tag.

Getting next steps is not as easy as just asking for one, although it may be in some situations. The hypothesizedv next step has to make sense to the prospect. In order for that to happen you have to have planned out your meeting; you need to know, plan and move towards a logical conclusion to the meeting. As you execute your plan, you need to be cognizant of whether your dominant next step will pan out; if not do you will need to revert to your secondary next step, (yes you have to plan that too), or other alternatives. Please remember this does not have to a complicated and laborious course of action, once you know the building blocks of you sale, the same building blocks you uncovered during the deconstruction course of action, the basics become easy to manage and plan, and then it is down to execution.

In most instances, when we deconstruct a sale with one of our clients, we find one of the easiest things to help them shorten the cycle is the insistence that anything in the pipeline have a real and clear next step (as we define it). Let’s confront it, if you don’t have a next step, what do you have? What’s in your Pipeline?

There are other ways to help teams shorten and tighten up their sales cycles, next steps is one of the easiest.

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