I recently wrote about the five most important KPIs when tracking a sales pipeline. One question that keeps coming up in discussions with sales managers is how to shorten the sales cycle.
I want to shed some light on this question, as I believe it’s crucial and can’t be fixed without changing old sales behaviors.
The power of the status quo
The most overlooked thing in sales is the power of the status quo. Neuroscientists claim that our sub-consciousness controls 95-99% of our daily tasks. We often follow a routine, even if and when it delivers a sub-optimal result. We don’t always think things through and often lack information, knowledge and skills required to perform tasks in an optimal way. This is why behaviors are so difficult to change.
In business, it’s more than likely that your prospect or customer already has some sort of solution in place, even though you can help them do it better. They have a system in place and it involves more than one person. They have also invested time and money into their current solution, which will hold back change, as we’re all hard-wired with the sunk cost bias (when a loss feels more painful than an equivalent gain). In order for them to make changes to their status quo, they will need to overcome their sunk cost bias and risk awareness, and be in consensus. The sales person is the coach that needs to make this change happen.
Understanding your buyer
The length of your sales cycle is very dependent on your buyers. Is this a simple purchase with low risk for them or a strategic investment with high risk? Do they understand what they are buying? How invasive will your solution be to their operations? Have they made similar purchases before? What happens if the initiative fails - what risk is involved and for whom? Are they ready to cut their losses with the existing way of doing things? Have they tried changing in the past without succeeding? Are all the stakeholders aligned and ready for change? Who’s your internal ambassador and who is pushing for the status quo?
Adjust your sales process to drive a new behavior
Too often, sales people rush to present their solution and hope that the customer’s internal change management will solve itself. If you allow this to happen, sales cycles can drag out forever and the likelihood of customers sticking with the status quo rises. Proper qualification from lead all the way to closure is crucial. Asking these types of change management questions early in the sales process does not come natural for most people, which is why you must build it into your process and follow up on the execution.