Your sales cycle length has a critical effect on your company’s performance. The length of your sales cycle directly impacts your cash-flow rate, budgetary planning, inventory management, marketing schedule and sales strategy. The bottom line is, the quicker you can turn around sales, the faster your business will grow, while the slower your sales cycle, the higher your risk of running into cash-flow problems and going out of business is. So a strategy to speed up the sales cycle is something you can’t afford to ignore.

Unfortunately, sales cycles are often unsustainably slow. For example, an Implisit study of hundreds of B2B companies found that the average length from lead to opportunity is 84 days, while it takes another 18 days to get from an opportunity to a close, for a total sales cycle length of 102 days. This means it can be over three months before your company sees any revenue from your sales efforts.

From these numbers, it’s clear why constantly working to improve and speed up your sales cycle should be a high priority for sales leaders and small business owners alike. You can imagine the impact that a faster and more efficient sales cycle would have on your bottom line. Here are four winning strategies your business can use to push leads through your sales pipeline faster and accelerate your company’s revenue flow.

Talk to the Decision Maker

One common mistake that can slow down your sales cycle is wasting too much time talking to someone who isn’t the decision maker in the buying process. For example, companies that sell technology often focus their marketing efforts on IT departments, but one-third of purchasing power for technology sales has now moved outside the IT department, says MindTickle co-founder Mohit Garg. When this is the case, a sales representative could well be slowing down the sales process by trying to pitch to an IT person with no decision-making authority.

To identify the decision maker and speed up the sales cycle, MindTickle recommends starting by developing personas for the individuals involved in your prospect’s buying process. There are usually five types of roles in the buying process:

  1. Initiators begin the buying process
  2. Influencers persuade others they need the product
  3. Deciders actually make the purchasing decision
  4. Buyers write the check
  5. Users use the product.

In some cases, these roles are distributed among different individuals; in others, a single individual fulfills multiple roles. Use these categories to map out your prospect’s buying experience to help your sales team develop qualifying questions that let them recognize which type of persona they’re talking to and who they need to talk to.

Know Your Prospect’s Concerns to Speed Up the Sales Cycle

Another common snag in the sales cycle is addressing your sales pitch to a different problem than the one your prospect is concerned with. This misses the target, and it can even drive your prospect away. You need to make sure your presentation addresses the needs that matter to your prospect to speed up the sales cycle. It’s important to ask good probing questions that elicit your prospect’s true concerns.

To assist with this process, some sales professionals break probing questions down into four categories represented by the acronym SPIN.

  1. Situation questions gather facts about your prospect’s situation. For instance, you might ask, “What type of equipment are you using?”
  2. Problem questions seek to identify points of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the situation the prospect is in. For example, a problem question would be, “Are you satisfied with your current equipment?”
  3. Implication questions address the consequences of the problem: “How much productivity do you lose when your equipment breaks down?”
  4. Need questions point toward the solution to the prospect’s problem: “How much would it help your business to have more reliable equipment?”

To make use of this approach, sales representatives should prep for sales meetings by writing down potential problems prospects might have, along with what types of Problem questions might be used to elicit these problems, what types of Implication questions could be used to underscore the consequences of these problems, and what types of Need questions could be used to suggest your company’s product as a solution for these problems. Doing this type of preparation for individual prospects will make it easier for representatives to anticipate likely concerns and be ready with good questions to elicit and address them. Doing this will ultimately speed up the sales cycle.

Show Your Prospect a Solution

Asking good questions to clarify prospect concerns and show how your product addresses these concerns is also a step toward overcoming another potential drag on the sales cycle: failing to show how a product solves prospect needs. Often, sales representatives memorize lists of benefits and emphasize the benefits they think will appeal to the prospect, without ascertaining that these are the benefits that truly matter to that individual. Making sure your sales presentation actually solves the prospect’s problem can speed up the sales cycle by going right to the heart of your buyer’s needs.

Selling solutions is more problem-oriented and personal than selling benefits, says digital strategist David Schools. For instance, saying that a pain reliever helps you feel better is emphasizing a benefit, whereas saying that it takes away your headache so you can get to sleep on time and not feel lousy at work tomorrow is emphasizing a solution. In a B2B sales context, solution-oriented sales can be targeted at solving the pains experienced by the decision maker involved in the sales process. Using the SPIN method described above to develop Need questions is a step toward communicating how your product solves your prospect’s concerns.

However, Need questions only tell your prospect how your product solves their concerns. Actually showing them your solution in action is more persuasive than merely promising a solution verbally. Empower your sales representatives to show how your solution works by developing good demonstration techniques, collecting social proof such as case studies and testimonials, and offering risk-free trials of your product or service.

Use Leading Questions to Steer the Conversation Toward a Close

Focusing on questions about your prospect’s concerns is an example of using leading questions, which represent another shortcut to a quicker closer. Too often, sales representatives try to tell prospects what they need instead of asking them what they need, says real estate sales legend Tom Hopkins. Instead of taking this approach, leading questions give prospects room to voice their true needs so that you can steer them toward a close.

After you’ve addressed needs, benefits and objections, you can also use leading questions to determine when prospects are ready to close the deal. For example, after you’ve successfully addressed an objection, you might ask, “Other than that, do you have any other concerns that would keep us from moving forward?” If the prospect doesn’t raise any other concerns, this leaves the door open for you to transition into your close. Using leading questions in this way can accelerate the closing process by letting you know when your prospect is ready to buy.

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