Ahh, the never-ending quest to create the perfect, predictable sales cycle. To figure it out would be like discovering the holy grail of sales.
But -- as you know -- the insane number of variables and blockers in each sale makes it near impossible to fool-proof the system entirely. That’s not to say, of course, there aren’t ways to make sales cycles more predictable.
One surefire way to edge closer to a more predictable close is to keep momentum of a deal on your side. Always, always. Here are 12 sales hacks that will help you do it.
How to Speed Up Your Sales Cycle
1. Automate repetitive tasks that are bleeding into your prospecting or selling time
Consider this: An SDR may spend the majority of their time hunting down information on a prospect or a company. A top sales rep might spend hours a day simply organizing or inputting information.
Chances are, sales automation tools can remove these tasks from your plate or make them easier.
Automating repetitive tasks helps reps spend more of their cognitive time working on high-value tasks like building targeted relationships. Start with an audit to determine which tasks you and your teammates are doing again and again. Then, prioritize which repetitive ones should (and can) be automated. Company research or data entry are two good places to start. Once you've gotten the mechanical tasks off your plate, you can start exploring more complex options -- like automating your email prospecting.
2. Set an agreed-upon goal for each sales call
If you can get a prospect on the phone to talk about a deal, that’s great. If you can clearly communicate a goal for the phone call, get mutual agreement from your prospect, and then work together to achieve the goal by the end of call, that’s 10 times better.
An agreed-upon goal helps you create a guardrail for the conversation. When you veer off track, you know exactly where to circle back. Setting a shared goal also prevents one or both parties from guessing where they’re at in the deal cycle at the end of the call.
For example, you might set up a call and set a goal of answering any questions a prospect has about a particular area of your product. Now that you’ve set this goal, you know exactly how to guide the conversation and the prospect understands their role in the conversation. By setting a goal, you avoid wasting time backtracking or addressing misalignment or confusion.
At the end of a call, schedule the next meeting and set a goal for that call, too.
3. Explore prospect objections before you respond to them
Not many people like to hear, “I know exactly how you feel!” right before getting hit with a super general sales pitch. The best sales reps know it’s crucial to not only listen to objections, but also to understand their root causes.
For instance, a prospect might say they don’t have time for your solution. You could interpret that as the perfect opportunity to launch into a “It’s quick and easy to set up!” pitch. Or you could ask them a few more questions about why they don’t have time.
After a question or two, you may realize they feel like they don’t have time because they feel resource-strapped due to small team size.
When you take a minute to dig a little deeper into the objection, you open up doors that lead you directly to the source of a prospect’s pain point/objection. This way, you avoid focusing on untargeted or irrelevant objections and can cater to a prospect’s unique needs.
4. Be clear about pricing (very) early on
When’s the last time you were rung up at a cash register and were excited to learn about an extra fee? Probably never. People don’t like finding out about unexpected costs and fees.
So while it can be tempting to soften the blow of cost by veiling the price, it almost always adds time and frustration to a deal.
Instead of strategically doling out added costs or fees -- which is difficult and time-consuming to explain later -- make it crystal clear what a prospect will be getting from your service from the get-go. It’s a simple thing, but price transparency gives your prospects a reason to trust you and saves you from unexpected pricing objections down the road.
5. Make it ridiculously easy for prospects to sign contracts from any device
What’s something almost everyone has on them every moment of the day? What’s something you probably have on you right now? A phone. A tablet. Some sort of portable device.
No doubt about it, it’s a device-dominated world out there. Top-performing sales teams keep up with buyer behavior and adjust their sales techniques to accommodate it. Online contracts that can be signed on the go using any device cuts down on back-and-forth significantly.
6. Focus on your highest-performing channels
There’s a reason companies don’t advertise certain products in newspapers anymore. Some channels just aren’t modern-day winners for featuring services or products. And focusing on poorly-performing channels will almost definitely slow down your roll.
To figure out where to focus your attention for the highest returns, track which channels perform the best for your team (maybe LinkedIn messages really do get the highest response rate) and continue to build systems that support additional focus on those areas.
It’s important to check your channels regularly. Just because one channel’s a winner in 2016 doesn’t mean it’ll be the clear winner forever. Always stay curious about channel performance and don’t be afraid to experiment by reaching out to new channels.
7. Be a person you’d want to talk to
The positive effect of building authentic relationships can’t be overstated in sales. But it’s easy to slip into a “sales” personality, especially if you’ve got the skills and the expertise to guide a prospect through the sales cycle. Make sure you’re not undercutting these skills by removing the personal part of any sale. Be an expert, but don’t push. Building trust with a prospect takes a bit of time upfront, but it’s worth it in the end.
8. Use incremental closes
To speed up your prospect’s buying process and prime them for the purchase, use incremental closes.
Making a series of small commitments -- or "micro-connects" -- deepens the buyer’s investment in the deal, puts them in the habit of saying “yes,” and helps you acquire valuable information.
First, map out the request you’ll make at the end of every interaction. These requests should benefit both you and your prospect. They should also grow in size and significance as you get to know your prospect and earn their confidence.
For example, you might end the connect call by asking for their cell phone number, so you can get in touch more conveniently. After the demo, you could request an introduction to the budget authority or a meeting with their procurement team.
9. Create a plan
You’ve helped dozens, hundreds, or even tens of hundreds of customers make this purchase. Your prospect, on the other hand, has probably never bought this exact solution before -- or even anything in this product category.
Use your experience to guide them through the buying process. Not only will doing so help you gain the status of a trusted consultant, you’ll also shorten their time-to-purchase by pointing out potential obstacles and identifying the best next steps. They won’t need to spend precious time figuring out these strategies on their own.
If you wait for your prospect to request help, however, you might be waiting forever. Proactively volunteer your expertise by asking during discovery, “Have you ever purchased anything [in this category, of this complexity, to solve this issue] before?”
Follow up with, “Would you like some suggestions?”
Together, craft a detailed timeline along with an installation, implementation, or delivery plan. Include the key stakeholders, at which point they typically get involved, their likely objectives and/or priorities, and how to appeal to each one to get them on board.
With this plan in hand, your prospect will have a far easier time navigating the buying process. Your sales cycle will be noticeably shorter.
10. Surface objections early and often
Hiding from objections doesn’t make them disappear. In fact, the longer you wait to surface the buyer’s reservations, the stronger they usually are. The deal will end up stagnating in the later stages while you try to convince your prospect to buy.
Consider delving into their concerns as early on a possible. I once heard a salesperson begin his demo call by asking, “Are there any reasons you see [product] not working for you?”
Pinpointing potential blockers before the buyer had even seen the solution had three main effects:
- The rep projected confidence: If he was unsure whether the product was a good fit, he probably wouldn’t have asked such a bold question.
- The prospect was more engaged: With her anxieties resolved, she could turn all of her attention to the product’s features and benefits.
- The demo was more relevant: The extra insight allowed the salesperson to tailor his presentation to his prospect’s top-level priorities.
The takeaway: Ask for objections early and often. The exact points at which to ask vary on your sales cycle; however, most salespeople should start seriously hunting for objections after the discovery call. Prospects will voluntarily voice objections before that point, but these often turn out to be brush-offs like, “It’s not a good time to buy,” or “We’re happy with our current vendor.”
11. Make it ridiculously easy for prospects to book a meeting
Nothing is less efficient -- or more frustrating -- than sending a series of back-and-forth emails to schedule a call.
Suppose it takes you and the buyer half a day on average to agree on a meeting time. If your sales cycle typically requires six meetings, you’ll waste lose three entire days to the task of scheduling.
A scheduling app like Meetings can completely eliminate this time-suck. Meetings integrates with your calendar tool, so prospects can view your availability and book a time that works for them.
Getting an appointment on the calendar will take seconds, not hours -- and you won’t have to do any work. As an added benefit, the easier it is to schedule a meeting with you, the more likely your prospect is to do so.
12. Leverage social proof
Your prospect may not automatically trust you, but her peers’ opinions and/or testimonials will hold a lot of sway. Leverage the power of social proof to win her confidence -- and ultimately, the deal -- more quickly.
Here are several strategies:
- Get a warm intro through a mutual contact: Use LinkedIn to find a first or second-degree connection at your prospect’s company. Even if you don’t have a direct line to your prospect, she’ll be far likelier to respond to an introduction via her coworker than a random email.
- Send your prospect case studies: Evidence of your product’s impact or ROI is extremely convincing. If you have multiple case studies, look for one featuring a company similar to your prospect’s organization.
- Bring them to an event with current customers: Allowing every prospect to speak to a reference usually isn’t feasible; after all, it’s time-consuming for your client and can delay the purchasing process. A good shortcut? Inviting buyers to an event where they can mingle with your customers. They’ll inevitably end up hearing positive reviews of your product.
- Mention similar companies: Simply bringing up companies your prospect can relate to -- because their organization is dealing with a similar challenge, has similar characteristics, or serves a similar market -- builds trust.
How effectively you sell makes a difference to the bottom line. How quickly you can effectively sell can make an even bigger difference. What am I missing, sales teams? I know there’s more.