Do you feel the pressure to perform better and close sales quicker? New sales tools make salespeople more effective, and access to the internet makes prospects more knowledgeable. These factors can result in shorter sales cycles for your products and services. However, acceleration doesn’t happen on its own. It is you who must tweak things as needed at each step of the sales process.
In this post, Belkins will explain the major tactics to accelerate and automate the sales cycle.
What Is a Sales Cycle?
Everything that happens between the moment a customer spots a product and the moment the seller gets the contract signed is called a sales cycle, or a sales process, and can be described, analyzed, scaled, and improved. B2B sales reps need detailed descriptions of sales cycles to analyze the steps required to turn qualified leads into paying customers.
Although you can find many articles and books that discuss the one-touch sales cycle, most teams invest a lot of time before they bring B2B sales to full fruition. The number of steps can vary from company to company, but usually, sales teams find prospects, nurture and qualify them as hot leads, pitch the product or service, and close deals.
Knowing each step of a sales cycle will help your team to be more efficient and get the most out of their time. When sales teams follow effective sales cycles, they can uncover ways to achieve better performance and bigger business growth. A well-managed sales cycle can help your team identify areas for improvement, build buyer trust and commitment, and expand your company’s reach.
What Can You Do Right Away?
Why do you need to know your company’s sales cycle in detail? For one, it gives your sales team clarity: Everyone knows what follows next and what they’re supposed to do. But having a clear-cut roadmap also gives managers an understanding of where something goes wrong or what process requires an adjustment to make it more efficient. Ultimately, sales cycles that closely map out a sales funnel help companies make more money. Let’s look more closely at how you can modify the sales cycle to make it shorter.
1) Map out the sales cycle
To effectively streamline your sales process, you need to first understand how prospects and salespeople currently experience the buying process. To do so, gather all available data to visually represent the buyer’s journey and the sales cycle (which is also useful to improve marketing-sales alignment and provide a personalized experience).
Create a blueprint for sales
Creating a blueprint for sales will help you understand the current flow of the sales process and where your customers are getting stuck. Your first step is going to be identifying what your current workflow looks like.
Use a spreadsheet to evaluate what it takes for your team to close a deal. Make a list of the steps and stages. The first column will list your workflow’s stages and customer touch points. The second column will take notes on relevant metrics (or KPIs) associated with each stage or touch point (i.e., how much time each step takes, how many touch points, and the conversion rate for each stage). The third column will list all the selling activities that go into each workflow step (email outreach, follow-up calls, and so on).
Align marketing and sales
This is a great time to ensure your sales and marketing teams are aligned. When marketing and sales operate in silos, they can’t agree about the kind of people they should be talking to. As a result, most sales teams don’t get many good leads from marketing teams, which is not good for the bottom line. When mapping out the buyer’s journey and sales process, ask both teams about what they have to add to the sales cycle and ensure their input is added to the spreadsheet. This is a great way to connect sales and marketing by having them work together, and it can help support you with the rest of the sales process.
Generic proposals simply do not work anymore. Personalizing your sales pitch is especially relevant for B2B prospects. That’s why it makes a lot of sense to keep personalization in mind when mapping out your company’s B2B sales cycle. At the beginning of the sales process, it’s critical to personalize your messaging so that your prospects feel like you understand their pain points. When prospects think that you get them and understand their challenges, they’re more likely to feel that what you have to offer is the right solution. This builds trust, which shortens the sales cycle by reducing back-and-forth between the salespeople and prospects.
When someone is trying to buy something, it is essential to ask them about their problems. Once you identify the issues, you can offer a good product that will solve them; otherwise, you may suggest the wrong product if you skip this step. For example, to personalize your outreach, use your prospect’s first name in messages and emails, draw upon previous conversations to help guide future ones, and focus on content relevant to the prospect’s specific challenge or problem.
2) Identify the weak spots
After you review each stage and step of the sales cycle — from prospecting to objection handling — find what hampers each deal from closing earlier. If you want to shorten your sales cycle, look for the constraints slowing it down and address them immediately.
Find out if the conversation goes slower than it could
Regarding sales conversation, it’s always a good idea to check in with your team and see who’s struggling. You must adjust how your sales team pitches until it works for everyone. If you use cold calling, listen to your sales reps’ conversations with prospects to see if they use your templates appropriately. If your prospecting strategy is email outreach, try adjusting your templates and cadence to ensure potential buyers don’t make long pauses between responses.
Sometimes, sales reps are good listeners and talkative enough but need more work on qualifying leads or handling objections. People are social beings and like to have social proof that their purchasing decisions are correct.
Add lead scoring
At this point, you go back to the drawing board and use all the different pieces of information the other teams provided you with. Look at the big picture to see what is most important. That you have an ideal customer profile (ICP) developed goes without saying. Now create a list of attributes and actions that prospects would have to show you to qualify as a hot lead, then assign a score for each step or lack of action and add it to see which is the best.
For example, a prospect gets certain points when downloading an e-book or checklist from the company’s website. They get similar points for matching the industry and the revenue of your ICP and higher points for visiting pricing pages. If a prospect ignores five emails from you in a row, they lose points. You can be very flexible when assigning points. Suppose you can work with multiple industries, but health care is your top priority. Then you would award health care prospects with higher scores so that your sales team gets alerted.
Don’t break out the discovery call and demo into two parts
Even if your product or service is complex, you can have a demo during the first call. Usually, if you separate discovery and demo calls, you assign different people. The prospect has just opened up and felt like the sales rep grasps their pain. Will the SDR lose half of what they learned and what’s happening along the way when communicating it to the account executive? Probably. So let SDRs strengthen the connection they start building with the prospect during discovery.
However, remember that reps don’t need to lay down the entire complexity of the product and all the features during one call. The key to closing a sale is identifying the prospect’s needs, addressing concerns, and showing how your product or service can help solve their specific problem.
Add a free trial
There are different opinions on free trials. While some see free trials as a crutch, others believe that they help relieve high pressure to make a purchase immediately. We firmly believe you shouldn’t make prospects feel like they have to beg for a free trial after you’ve bragged about how great your product is. If it’s really that good, encourage them to try it.
Furthermore, consider persuading your prospects to start on a quarterly payment plan rather than a yearly one. For one, high-pressure sales tactics might make a prospect feel pressured, which is why we prefer to build rapport and sound logical. This approach can help you close deals without putting much pressure on the customer.
But also, if you give a prospect a specific date, it’s already enough commitment. Don’t say, “Here’s your 7-day free trial,” as it means seven days from whenever they choose to start. Instead, you want to create a sense of urgency. So when giving out free trials, put them on a tight schedule. As a result, you create a low-pressure, high-urgency opportunity.
3) Automate your sales cycles
The fact that sales teams need sales automation is pretty apparent. Businesses use sales and marketing software to eliminate repetitive tasks and ultimately accelerate revenue. But technology alone isn’t enough to make your sales team more efficient. Sales teams that rely on disparate technologies will always be slowed down by manual processes and work in silos. Salespeople need software that syncs with their CRM, helping them close more deals faster.
Start automating the key elements of the sales funnel, and you’ll improve the customer journey. Here’s what you can do to make your team more productive.
Sales forecasting software
What is a sales cycle without understanding future opportunities that your business can work toward? Qualified leads can help sales teams identify their most promising prospects and use their resources accordingly. However, identifying and qualifying a lead can be time-consuming and frustrating. Often, sales departments have to deal with an overwhelming amount of data that they don’t have the time or resources to analyze. When this happens, it’s easy to lose sight of your top prospects and ignore the leads truly worth pursuing.
When you start using an effective sales forecasting tool to help your business get a handle on its sales numbers, you can expect:
- To understand the sales process more comprehensively;
- To make important sales decisions with more confidence;
- To improve cross-team collaboration and reduce silos.
Proposal and quoting software
A sales proposal is one of the customers’ first interactions with your business. An off-brand template can leave lasting impressions, so it’s essential to get this process right. If your company uses outdated methods to give proposals and quotes to customers, that’s what you can improve to shorten the sales process right away.
Nowadays, many businesses make proposals and quotes to show how much a product costs. It is slow and has a risk of error. Find an app that will make it quicker and easier and significantly boost your sales team’s productivity and accuracy.
Modernization of this process will result in:
- More time for selling for sales reps;
- Less time spent on manual data entry;
- Better proposal and quote accuracy.
Contract management software and order forms
Order forms and contract negotiations are often a sticking point for both parties if they do not fully understand the discussed terms. Sales of new products and services is a long process that involves a lot of checking and fixing contracts, order forms, and paperwork. Make it easier by automating the checking and fixing parts. If you get an email that a salesperson is working on your order, there isn’t a way to check on it or see any progress. If you use software, you can check on it and see how the salesperson is doing.
Provide the paperwork online. This makes the sales cycle faster and easier to see who is responsible when something goes wrong. Here’s what you get if you digitize this process:
- An opportunity to monitor your contracts more closely;
- A superior experience for the customer.
- Accelerated time to revenue.
Digital signature software
It is hard to move sales and other business processes forward without signatures. But because most people now work on or with computers, businesses can buy different software for capturing signatures. Plus, you want to get your papers signed legally and quickly, which can be a significant challenge, especially if the people don’t work for or with the same company.
However, business owners can use software programs to help them get the signatures faster and cleaner that is completely compatible with their existing solutions. Thus, they could make more deals with other companies. Use a digital signature tool and:
- Save precious time and streamline your signature process;
- Speed up approvals;
- Make sure you don’t sign a bad agreement because you must physically sign it;
- Verify that the customers signed the paperwork.
Invoice generation software
As long as customers are paying their bills, what can possibly go wrong? Many things, actually. They sometimes pay too much, or they don’t pay enough, or they get the wrong bill, all because salespeople can make mistakes when generating bills and invoices. Accurate billing is a critical component of your company’s reputation.
Automate the process of tracking the invoices you send and the payments you receive, and voila — you:
- Save your company time and money;
- Improve visibility into the sales process;
- Make billing and invoicing more accurate;
- Reduce operating costs.
Customer onboarding software & SOW
When you onboard a new customer, it’s important to create a great first impression, starting with on-time delivery of the proper documents. Because onboarding documents — statements of work (SOW), company guidelines, etc. — are distributed at different points in the process by other people, there can be a disconnect between when each document is delivered and when it’s needed.
Automating the customer onboarding process provides more opportunities to gather information and documentation from various sources while improving collaboration with other teams in your organization. By digitizing customer onboarding, your company will get:
- More accurate information and documents;
- Improved cross-team collaboration;
- A better customer experience.
Contract renewal software
Re-contracting is an important time for companies. The new way is to use a tool to reengage your current customers. It is cheaper, faster, and easier, so they are more likely to continue using your product. However, by using a slow and inefficient contract renewal process, companies risk losing customers and the revenue they generate regardless of their successful business models.
Late or missed renewals increase costs for your company and can lead to missed opportunities. Plus, when using automation, people don’t make mistakes. This saves time so you can renew the contract before it runs out and avoid missing renewals. If you automate the renewal process, here’s how you benefit from the right software:
- Reduce customer churn because you’ll be able to contact customers before they leave;
- Spend more time with them and provide better service.
- Increase renewal rate.
What Else Can You Do to Shorten the Sales Process?
Do you remember the sales cycle definition? It’s numerous steps, or elements, that make a sales process. So if you want the product’s sales cycle to shorten, you need to work on each step. When thinking about the ways to accelerate your deals, keep the following considerations in mind.
1. Proactively engage the entire account
Instead of one by one, try a new way. Figure out who are the best people to talk to at each company. Go to those people first, and then go to others. It’s called account mapping and is a proactive way to close deals. Instead of approaching account sales linearly, create an account map to see the relationships among all stakeholders within each organization. You’ll find that talking to each stakeholder works better for you. This way, you can start working on another if you get a no from one contact. That proactive approach will help you meet higher sales goals.
2. Know everyone on the account
An account map is a visual representation of your sales pipeline. It shows who you’ve talked to and their roles in the organization. Account maps are the kind of insider information that is incredibly useful when SDRs get promotions or leave. It helps new team members get up to speed faster, making it easier to track deals and monitor progress throughout the sales cycle. Besides, an account map gives a bird’s-eye view into the sales cycle so sales managers can help salespeople identify and nurture key relationships, which may otherwise go unnoticed.
3. Switch your attention between different stakeholders
B2B sales is not a one-person show. You may start with someone in procurement who controls the budget, but a multithreaded deal means that the purchase decision has company-wide visibility. With that many people involved on the buying side, you need to understand each project’s stakeholders and know who has the final approval to complete the sale.
But don’t worry that the more decision makers are involved in a deal, the harder it is to close. Even though multiple people have to sign off on a multithreaded sales deal, it’s good. Your efforts are spread across more than one decision-maker, which means your organization will be more involved in the purchasing process. This is great for generating interest and securing more buy-in from your stakeholders.
4. Manage internal resources wisely
When it comes to closing big deals, it pays to have more people working the deal. Multiple decision-makers mean less chance of losing the sale or starting over when someone leaves the company by keeping momentum toward closing quickly. Sales leaders need to build valued partnerships with clients. The first step is understanding your prospective client and what’s important to them. Use your internal resources to move things forward, then go over the sales plan until a final list of action items is determined. In the end, it takes a team to close a big deal.
5. Avoid hanging on to a deal for dear life
When a potential customer takes time to make a decision, be sure to give them room to process. However, if the client wants to talk only about price or indicates that they are going elsewhere with their business, walk away. By eliminating prospects who won’t close soon enough, you will have time and resources available for opportunities ready to sign on the dotted line.
6. Use project manager thinking
Setting expectations for sales reps and holding them accountable for meeting their deadlines is paramount to a successful project (or sales) management strategy. Furthermore, your customers expect they will receive your product or service by a certain time. As a sales rep, you should set reasonable deadlines for yourself. It’s about how long it will take to get your customer up and running with your product or service, and you must plan out all the steps needed to meet those dates efficiently. If you don’t plan your sales cycle, it could take years before a deal closes — and that’s not what anyone wants!
7. Follow up in a timely manner
As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to keep track of the myriad moving pieces involved in the sale. This can be tricky, especially if prospects and key stakeholders don’t always promptly return your calls or emails. To ensure you stay on top of everyone’s progress, set up regular follow-up meetings with everyone with a responsibility or action item that influences the sale. At the end of each call, these meetings should occur with a prospect and/or key stakeholder. Without being annoying, ensure you are both talking about what you need to discuss — don’t just let them rant about their day at work while you sit silently on the other end of the line!
8. Know how to keep the momentum up
Maintain your sales momentum throughout the contract negotiation phase. Knowing how to keep going without rushing your prospects can help maintain sales momentum without putting too much pressure on key decision-makers. Three weeks before you get a signature on the contract, follow up with prospects daily. Be patient with decision-makers and understand that each of them may need more time to evaluate your proposal. Remember that you’re acting as a project manager and tailor your sales cycle to each opportunity accordingly.
What is the sales cycle of your choice?
Selling to businesses is a challenge. A prospect has to take many steps, from identifying a need to making the buying decision. Salespeople must handle many stakeholders, including colleagues, managers, and customers. Businesses need to leverage social proof — reviews, testimonials, media coverage — to increase the chances of a sale. People tend to be inconsistent and make mistakes; so do companies. Technology is your answer for some elements of the sales process. Project management skills, relevant expectations, and sensibly allocated internal resources will all help you make deals come through quicker.