My friend Barry, a professional driver, regularly drives from Toronto Ontario to Long Beach California, roughly 4,100 KM. I have done the same drive so we often compare notes about restaurants, places of interest, etc. Interestingly, he tends to make the drive 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 acceptable and safe speed limits.
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 phenomenon with many of the sales people, some close a sale in 16 weeks, others close the same type of deal in 12 weeks. What ever other skills and abilities may be at play, it is clear that with a shorter cycle, Mr. 12 weeks will sell more, earn more, and probably last longer in his 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, but many are just not sure how to achieve this. Here are some suggestions.
First, sales people need to know how long their cycle is now, and most don’t; we ask and we hear things like “depends”, “it changes”, or “well you know it’s different in our business”. Well it’s not really. They need to deconstruct their sale, identify the basic building blocks and truly understand what it should look like and what efficiencies can be had.
There are a number of ways to affect the length of the sales cycle, by far the easiest to implement, no technology required, is to always secure a next step with your prospects. Sounds simple enough, but it is hard to get reps and managers to adopt.
Group after group, we implore sales people to always conclude meetings with a clear and mutually agreed on next step that commits both you and the buyer to not only a specific time but action. More often than not however, this either does not happen at all, or only partially.
Many reps do not pre-plan their desired outcome for a meeting, which makes it hard to get the next step. In selling, a “Next Step” is tangible evidence that someone is working with you – and is engaged in the buying process. It cannot be a “gut feeling” that the person is interested in continuing the process with you, interest must be tangible, in the form of a commitment to moving forward to the next step.
Next steps can take different forms, could be a face-to-face meeting, a call, or forwarding documents. What they have in common, is that they commit the prospect to meeting with you to proactively move the process forward, and yes it involves commitment on the part of the prospect; after all they should have some skin in the game as well. This could be as simple as forwarding production schedules, current tariffs; plans that may help you understand their requirements; a conference call with their technical team; their financial statements, etc.
Action on the prospect’s time is key, if not, other than their time, what commitment are they making? You on the other hand go back to the office, engage company resources (pricing), invest your time coming up with something to present, all without testing the commitment level of the other party. Remember that even a small movement forward gets you that much closer to close it need not be a quantum leap. But if you don’t secure a next step, have you advanced at all?
Meetings often end with the prospect saying “great, sound interesting, I want to think it over and bring my team up to speed, call me sometime next week, and we’ll discuss further.” Worse, often the rep says “I’ll call you next week”. No set time, no action, nothing to demonstrate engagement. Even 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, a month, by scheduling the next meeting at the end of your current meeting.
There is more to getting next steps than just asking for one, it needs to be planned so you can move the meeting to a logical conclusion, and needs to make sense to the prospect. As you execute your plan, you need to be cognizant of whether your primary next step will pan out; if not, you will need to revert to your secondary next step, (yes you have to plan that too), or other alternatives. This does not have to a complicated and laborious process, once you know the building blocks of your sale, which you uncovered during the deconstruction process, 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 face it, if you don’t have a next step, what do you have? There are other ways to help teams shorten and tighten up their sales cycles, next steps is one of the easiest.