Most people define sales cycle as the time that elapses from the first contact between salesperson and prospect to a done deal. The sales cycle varies radically for different types of products and services, for different prospects, for deals of different size and scope, and for quite a few other variables.
In recent years, many companies have seen sales cycles get both shorter and longer. A big reason for shorter sales cycles is that prospects often do a great amount of homework, investigation, and vetting before ever contacting a salesperson. Once they do, the interaction can move so fast as to leave the salesperson breathless (and either delighted or quite frustrated). Often these deals come and go so fast they never even get posted to the pipeline. This short sales cycle reality is something we’ve written about before, and I’m sure we’ll write more about in the future.
Reasons for the Longer Sales Cycle
At the same time, many firms are seeing sales cycles lengthen out, regardless of whether the first contact was initiated by the prospect or the salesperson. You can list the reasons as easily as I can, but surely they include:
The difficulty in getting an appointment with a prospect the salesperson has targeted
The growing complexity in RFPs
The increasing number of alternatives available to the prospect
The extreme caution that results from increasing risk-aversity
The existence of more stakeholders and decision-influencers
Long sales cycles make many potential deals look almost like permanent residents of your sales pipeline. All that thick goo in your pipeline can make you look incompetent, or at least inefficient. Revenue projected for a given month or quarter slides to the next and the next, and putting a probability on any projection gets more difficult.
What to Do About It
The reasons are real, but that doesn’t mean they make good excuses. We can acknowledge the factors that are beyond the salesperson’s control while bringing renewed attention to the many opportunities that remain for the salesperson to keep the deal moving and shorten the sales cycle. Sometimes the salesperson is stuck having to move at the prospect’s speed, but often the actions taken by the salesperson spell the difference between stepping up the pace or dragging it down further.
What are some of the actions salespeople can take to shorten some sales cycles and keep their pipeline flowing? I’ll suggest some in Part 2 of this two-part post tomorrow.