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 nearly impossible to entirely perfect the system.
However, there are ways to make sales cycles more predictable.
One surefire strategy for edging toward a more predictable close is to focus on improving the call cycle process and maintaining deal momentum.
Let's talk about some other smart strategies to speed up your sales cycle.
The Art of Call Cycles
Maximize your sales cycle by implementing a call cycle into your process. Call cycles refer to the number and cadence of sales calls reps make to maintain contact with their key accounts and prospects during a specific time period.
Call cycles allow you to keep in touch with prospects on a regular basis, but how often you touch base with prospects depends on your business model, sales goals, and the unique needs of each prospect. These conversations keep your product or service top of mind as the solution to the prospect’s main problem or objective.
For example, if you work in B2B furniture sales, implementing a quarterly call cycle with prospective customers to share the newest designs or features that come with each season’s pieces could be a helpful exercise.
This keeps your prospects primed for the sale, potentially speeding up the sales process.
As a sales professional, you want to enter each stage of the sales cycle making best use of you and your prospect’s time.
How to Shorten Your Sales Cycle
- Automate repetitive tasks.
- Set agreed-upon goals for each sales call.
- Explore prospect objections before responding to them.
- Be clear about pricing (very) early on.
- Make it ridiculously easy for prospects to sign contracts from any device.
- Focus on your highest-performing channels.
- Be a person you’d want to talk to.
- Use incremental closes.
- Create a plan for sales meetings.
- Surface objections early and often.
- Take the back-and-forth out of scheduling meetings with prospects.
- Leverage social proof
- Regularly clean your CRM to eliminate cold leads.
- Keep alignment with your marketing team around sales goals.
- Create a personalized experience for each prospect.
Let’s review a few smart strategies that will help you land the sale even faster.
1. Automate repetitive tasks.
Consider this: The average SDR spends 21% of their time writing emails, and 17% of their time prospecting and researching leads. It is not uncommon for top sales reps to spend more hours in a day organizing or inputting information than actually selling.
Sales automation tools can remove these tasks from your plate or make them easier to complete. 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 tasks should (and can) be automated. Company research or data entry are two good places to start. Once you've got 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 the 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 schedule a call with the goal of answering your prospects questions about the new document-sharing feature of the project management software you sell. 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 generic 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, “What tasks are eating up the most time in your day?”.
After a question or two, you may realize your prospect feels resource-strapped due to understaffing on their small team.
When you dig deeper into the objection, you open doors that lead you to the source of a prospect’s pain point or objection. This way, you avoid focusing on un-targeted 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 in the eleventh hour.
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 get from your service. Pricing transparency gives prospects a reason to trust you and saves you from unexpected objections down the road.
5. Make it ridiculously easy for prospects to sign contracts from any device.
What’s something almost everyone has with 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.
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, and on any device, significantly cut down on back-and-forth with your prospects.
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. Focusing on poorly-performing channels will almost definitely slow 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 InMail really does 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 this year doesn’t mean it’ll be the clear winner forever. Always stay curious about channel performance and don’t be afraid to experiment by trying new prospecting techniques.
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. When in conversation with a prospect, here’s what this could sound like.
Salesperson: “Hi, [Prospect Name]. My name is Alex, and I help IT managers source computing equipment and technical support for their company’s remote employees. Is your company planning to offer more remote working options this year?”
Prospect: “Currently, remote work is handled on a case by case basis, but beginning this quarter my company plans to offer full-time remote employment.”
Salesperson: “What has been your biggest pain point in sourcing computing equipment for remote workers?”
Prospect: “Our team is incredibly busy supporting our on-site employees, and we haven’t been able to ship equipment or provide troubleshooting support to remote workers as quickly as we would like.”
Salesperson: “I hear that quite a bit, and have helped clients through similar challenges. I would love to learn more about the year ahead, and to share how we may be able to help.”
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 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 your prospect’s 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 for sales meetings.
You’ve helped dozens, hundreds, or even a thousand 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, your prospect has a far easier time navigating the buying process, and 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 the rep was unsure if the product was a good fit, they probably wouldn’t have asked such a bold question.
The prospect was more engaged: With their anxieties resolved, the prospect could turn all of their attention to the product’s features and benefits.
The demo was more relevant: The extra insight allowed the sales rep to tailor their presentation to the prospect’s top-level priorities.
The takeaway: Ask for objections early and often. The exact points at which to ask varies based 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. Take the back-and-forth out of scheduling meetings with prospects.
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 three full days to simply scheduling your call.
A scheduling tool like Meetings can completely eliminate this time-suck. Meetings integrates with your favorite calendars including Google Calendar, Office 365 Calendar, and Hubspot CRM, 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 their peers’ opinions and/or testimonials will hold a lot of weight. In fact, nine out of 10 buying decisions are made with recommendations from peers. Leverage the power of social proof to win their 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, they’ll be far likelier to respond to an introduction via their 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.
13. Regularly clean your CRM to eliminate cold contacts.
Keeping your CRM contact list up-to-date with contacts who are interested in your content and products will make your sales process more efficient because you’re communicating with people who want to hear your message.
Additionally, when you don’t have disinterested contacts on your list, your email deliverability improves, ensuring your message gets to the right people at the right time.
Take the time to clean and maintain your contact list. Delete contacts who've bounced or unsubscribed. Segment your contact list based off the last email opened, last email clicked, last reply, and/or last delivery date. If it has been several relevant sales cycles since a contact has interacted with anything you’ve sent and you think they have turned into a cold lead, create a “cold” list and delete or archive their record to exclude them from future communications.
14. Keep alignment with your marketing team around sales goals.
In many companies, marketing and sales operate independently, working on opposite ends of the funnel. When sales organizations were asked about the quality of leads generated by their marketing teams, they reported only 7% of leads they received from their marketing organizations as high quality. When sales and marketing teams are not in alignment with the type of leads that should be coming in, the entire company can suffer.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways sales and marketing organizations can work together to achieve their common goals. If you want to start working more closely with your marketing team, have marketing and sales work together to map out the buyer’s journey and create buyer personas. This is a great way to create alignment that can support the rest of the sales process.
15. Create a personalized experience for each prospect.
When was the last time you felt moved to make a purchase based on a generic pitch that didn’t speak to who you are or the problem you’re trying to solve? Chances are, you don’t do this very often.
Especially at the beginning of the sales process, personalization is critical to helping your prospects feel heard and understood. When your prospects receive a message or have a conversation with you that makes them feel like you truly understand their problem, they’re more likely to feel like what you’re offering is the right solution.
With this level of trust, the sales cycle becomes more efficient because there is less back and forth. Here are some best practices to help you create a more personalized experience for your prospects:
Always include their first name in emails and messages, so they don’t feel like a mass pitch.
Use information from your previous conversations to help guide future conversations.
Share content or solutions that are relevant to the prospect’s specific challenge or problem.
How effectively you sell makes a difference to the bottom line. How quickly you can effectively sell can make an even bigger difference.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.