The quarter is over. A great time to reflect on the sales cycle... which I did while doing a little fishing last week. How long is your typical sales cycle? Every sales person knows that there tends to be a direct correlation between the length of your sales cycle and the size of your deal. The bigger the deal the longer and more complex the selling process and the greater the objections you must overcome. But that doesn't relegate the role of sales person to order taker waiting for a prospect to make up her mind.
A well designed sales process - thought through from prospect engagement to contract signing - is like setting your worm on the hook just right, so that when the fish bites, there's solid engagement and you can begin reeling in your catch. There are things you can do to accelerate the process and close deals faster especially using inbound marketing best practices and lead nurturing to create the right sales persona to improve your close rate and shorten your sales cycle.
What Defines Your Sales Cycle?
Pricing and competitive factors are certainly in play, but some of your prospect's reluctance to close the deal may not be related to you products and services. Here are a few common buyer justifications for always keeping the deal just one objection from closing:
- This is a large investment. We want to be sure make the right choice the first time.
- It's nothing personal. We have a formal evaluation process that everyone must follow.
- We're very busy. It's difficult to get our evaluation team together to consider your proposal.
- The market for this solution is changing rapidly. We don't want to get caught with an obsolete offering.
- We have a thorough test procedure that your offering must pass before we commit.
- We're going through big internal changes. We don't know what our needs and budget will be.
Heard any of these before? Ever thought inbound marketing can help overcome these objections and bridge the gap to the close? Read on...
#1 - Address closing objections directly in blogs, webinars and social media
Too often when sales people experience objection their fall back is to talk about how great their products are - as though a prospect is going to drop an objection because they simply didn't understand how the what-ya-ma-call-it feature works. They won't. Instead of fumbling with self agrandizement or product jargon, demonstrate success and real benefit to a prospect who makes an expedient decision. If you haven't asked your customers (those who already bought and are glad they did) for examples of how your solution has helped them achieve their goals, do so! And use those examples to educate your prospects about the benefits they will receive by acting rather than waiting.
#2 - Acknowledge your fans, pursue your prospects
Who do you write your content for? Is your lead nurturing strategy designed to please your fans (the people who follow you, subscribe to and download your content but aren't serious about buying... like the fish that takes your worm.)? Are you creating content for these perpetual top-of-the-funnel prospects hoping that someday they'll love you enough to turn into customers? Are you using targeted content that can help segment your prospects to identify those who are serious about buying? Evaluate your content for its focus on solving the tough problems that lead to a close. This type of content may not get 1000's of downloads but those who do download it are sending you a valuable message.
#3 - Tap your customers to overcome objections
Ask your customers to participate in a webinar that addresses the pain points you helped them overcome and how they did it. Be specific. Show timelines and results. Your goal is to illustrate the paybacks of decisiveness and rapid action. We often talk about results in terms of some lofty accomplishment. How often do we emphasize near term results like first-mover advantage or short term gains in market share? These factors can be crucial to survival and next-stage investment for early-stage companies. For more mature businesses, productivity improvement and efficiency gains are natural outcomes from a more flexible, decisive approach.
#4 - Don't fear the phone
That iconic slogan, reach out and touch someone can be like kryptonite for some sales people. Do you subscribed to the idea that the only time you should pick up the phone is to speak with purchasing about the terms of the deal? If a warm lead has converted on several content marketing offers and has chosen to share a valid phone number, that's an invitation to call them. Email, tweets and texts are all wonderful but fall short compared with the power of a direct conversation. The sooner you begin forging a relationship with your prospect by phone or in person, the shorter your sales cycle becomes. But never forget that the purpose of a call is to consult and educate about the value of your offer. It's not an opportunity to launch an assault with a hard sell. You can tell whether your call has the right motive and timing if you're prepared to follow up with a great piece of bottom of the funnel content.
#5 - Anticipate resistance issues. Use all your resources.
One of my first sales managers once responded to my complaints about objections by saying "The selling doesn't begin until the first objection is raised". Prospects will bring up the reasons listed above for not purchasing now. Some reasons are legitimate. Many are excuses to avoid a decision the prospect perceives as risky. To shorten your sales cycle, remove uncertainty up-front by offering a free trial accompanied by the caveat that the trial must have objectives and include consulting with one of your sales or services reps on a regular basis. Set goals for the trial and review them by phone or in person with achievement being the risk eliminator and gateway to the close.
When it comes to getting buy-in from senior management, especially on larger deals, you need to bring in your own big guns. Get your senior managers involved. Have your management meet with their equivalents on the customer side. Executives have a built-in respect for each other's time and the importance of a good deal to both parties. If you can't get that level of acknowledgement out of both sides, it may be time to set your sites on another deal and move on.
Of course, as an inbound marketing best practice, measure performance. Track the length of your sales cycle from prospect first contact to signed agreement. Prospect for relationships with your content, lead nurturing activity, events and staff. Shortening the sales cycle and making it more predictable has tangible benefits including increased profitability, greater stability, less risk and faster growth. Don't assume that your sales cycle is driven by your buyers. Sales, like fishing, is a process and you're part of that process. Pay attention to what your prospects are telling you, manage your sales process and shorten the sales cycle.
illustrations by michael powers