The Misguided Need for Speed in Sales
I often hear sales pros and leaders talk about how they want to shorten their sales cycle and close deals faster. It seems like a reasonable goal. It would save time, improve sales velocity (not the same as cycle time, see this post), and increase the number of opportunities that a sales rep can work in a given period.
Those are all good outcomes, right?
They’re also very seller-centric.
The Buyer-Centric View
In this way, the “need for speed” in sales is similar to the potential negative impacts of commissions, incentives, quotas, and end-of-quarter crunches. These things aren’t always harmful in and of themselves, but none of them matter to our buyers and customers, and they tend to drive the wrong behavior for sellers. Sales reps who push to achieve these things will often have the opposite effect and may damage their credibility and reputation.
This is one of the many paradoxes of selling. You achieve your goals by helping your buyers and customers achieve their goals. If you lose sight of that and become selfish and seller-centric, you put your own success at risk.
The good news is that you may still be able to shorten sales cycle time. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to flip the switch to become incredibly buyer–centric.
With as much published about buyer-centric selling over the years, it is amazing that it’s still “the road less traveled”. But that’s good news for you. For that reason, it can help you create competitive differentiation. The below advice will accomplish that and help you reduce your average sales cycle time.
Qualify Leads Like a Pro
Qualifying may seem like a seller-centric activity, and partly, it is. You certainly don’t want to waste an endless amount of time and clog up your pipeline with deals that will never close. It can serve your buyer by not wasting their time or helping them gain perspective. Done correctly, it can also build trust and credibility. In Modern Sales Foundations™, we teach a proprietary method that examines multiple factors and criteria, but as long as the methodology you choose fits your company and situation, you should be fine. The differentiating factor is more about how you qualify. As one example, let’s look at a well-known qualifying factor – budget.
We refer to the budget as funding. Many organizations won’t have a specific budget for what you are selling, especially if they weren’t experiencing the problem you solve when they went through their last budgeting cycle. It’s whether they can fund the purchase that really matters.
How NOT the ask about the money:
- What have you budgeted for this type of purchase?
- Do you have a budget for XYZ?
- What is your budget for this initiative?
What works better:
[After quantifying the challenge or opportunity] It sounds like this is a [insert dollar amount] [problem worth solving or opportunity worth pursuing]. Do you have access to the funding yet, or do you need to build a business case to secure it? (Which may also hint at whether other decision makers should be involved.)
Assuming you have uncovered a compelling reason to act and know that funds are available or believe that securing funding is possible, you should do the same exploration with:
- The decision makers/buying committee members and their decision process
- The alternatives they’re considering
- The timing and urgency of resolving the challenge or enabling the opportunity
The Bottom Line
Qualified opportunities move faster, because they’re real issues that buyers want to, and can, solve. You should nurture potential opportunities when the timing isn’t right for whatever reason. But those leads should not clog your pipeline of real opportunity.
The timing may not be right for reasons such as lack of funding, a competitor contract being in place for six more months, or other high-priority projects taking all available bandwidth. When qualifying a deal, reps should nurture the contacts until the time is right.
Specialize in Discovery to Create a Compelling Business Case
Conducting great discovery is the enabler for the rest of the sales process. We call it a situation assessment.
If you understand the prospect’s current state with the quantified impacts of the status quo, and their desired future state with the quantified outcomes of achieving it, you can do a gap analysis and impact analysis to “dollarize the difference.” Conducting a situation assessment like this, is how you create a compelling business case. This will be important for your Financial Buyer and your Champion, especially.
The Bottom Line
Spending $150,000 to solve a $1.5 million problem or achieve a $1.35 million gain, is usually perceived as a good investment. Spending $150K to “improve channel sales” or “reduce scrap rates” is a significant expense for a vague outcome. Compelling business cases move more quickly.
Communicate Value as Defined by Your Buyers
That said, not every decision maker is a financial buyer, and there are needs other than business needs (financial or operational metrics). Some buyers may want to create a better experience (customer, candidate, employee), improve processes, reduce friction, support the company’s mission or vision, or satisfy business-related personal needs. While many of these other Value Drivers can be quantified, it won’t always be the quantification that matters most to everyone. Not everyone defines “value” the same way, or the same way every time consistently. Value is like beauty; it’s in the eye of the beholder, and it’s often contextual.
The Bottom Line
Yes, you should still create a quantified, compelling business case (Business Value), as described in the section on Discovery. You should also include the other Value Drivers – Experiential, Aspirational, and Personal Needs – as they apply, and message them appropriately to the buyers for which they matter. Decision makers who feel understood – and who believe you will satisfy their requirements and needs – tend to lubricate deals rather than stall them.
Focus on Buying Process “Exit Criteria”
Now, let’s take the above concept one level deeper. I hope you’ll begin to see the invisible needle and thread weaving its way through these elements.
“Exit criteria” is a process term from Six Sigma. It refers to the tasks in a process stage that you must complete before you can exit the stage to move forward to the next. Buying process exit criteria refers to whatever each decision maker needs to see, hear, feel, understand or believe in each stage, to feel comfortable moving forward to the next stage with you.
By focusing on uncovering, clarifying, meeting, and confirming acceptance of your efforts, for each decision maker, you are helping your buyers buy, based on what matters most to them. This is far more effective than doing the same thing, the same way, every time, and hoping it will work with everyone.
You’ll find that in any organization, many of the exit criteria in a given stage will be the same or similar. You’ll also occasionally find different criteria for some buyers, and perhaps even opposing criteria. Elite sales producers work to address these issues head-on.
The Bottom Line
The average salesperson ignores this level of detail in the complex sale, leaving their success up to fate, luck, or the most powerful decision maker in the room. That can work for or against you, but taking control and managing exit criteria will give you the best chance of moving deals forward and winning the sale.
“Have a Meeting, Book a Meeting”
There’s an old saying in sales that “Time kills deals”. This isn’t always true, as anyone who manages an 18 to 24-month sales cycle will tell you. But generally speaking, there are things you can do to prevent deals from needlessly dragging on. Especially in a complex sale with multiple decision makers, managing schedules and juggling calendars can slow things down.
HAM BAM is an acronym for “have a meeting, book a meeting”. Practitioners of HAM BAM leave time in agendas to review decisions, open items, suggest next steps that are in the buyers’ best interests, and schedule the next meeting, while the participants are all together.
If you have a Champion in the deal, HAM BAM might be something you discuss with them and seek their support in doing so that it’s occurring from inside the decision team, rather than always from you. And if you have created a compelling business case and can genuinely help your prospect, getting to the right solution and getting it implemented quickly, is in their best interest, as well as yours.
The Bottom Line
HAM BAM keeps things moving forward and can help you reduce your average sales cycle.
In some cases, I’ve seen just one of the above recommendations shorten the average sales cycle for a sales rep or an organization. Certainly, the combination of these approaches is the most powerful.
When you shift to a buyer-centric mindset, qualify intelligently, conduct discovery to quantify the current challenges and possible future outcomes, communicate value in ways that resonate with decision makers, and uncover and meet their buying process exit criteria, you will create differentiation that will not only improve your win rates but also improve your cycle time. If you focus solely on reducing your sales cycle, you probably won’t. It’s the buyer-centric approach to selling that has the greatest impact.