In sales, time is money. The more quickly you can close deals – or kick nonbuyers out of your pipeline – the more money ends up in your pocket. While everyone dreams of scoring the big win, that’s only half the equation. Sales velocity –how many deals you close in a month, quarter or year – is just as important. And it’s easier for salespeople to influence velocity than deal size – because it’s often the salesperson who’s gumming up the works.
Here are 10 ideas you can start putting into practice today to accelerate your sales cycles:
1. Don’t fall in love
When qualifying prospects, look for evidence suggesting that they’re not a real buyer. The reason: A psychological phenomenon known as “confirmation bias.” Once we form an initial hypothesis about a prospect – “This person might be a buyer” – our brains look for evidence that confirms the hypothesis and ignore evidence that contradicts it. As a result, prospects look more promising than they are. So you waste a lot of time on nonqualified prospects and later wonder why you didn’t see the warning signs earlier. Research shows that the best way to counteract confirmation bias is by trying to disqualify your original assumption. Ask yourself, “What are the reasons this prospect might not buy from me?”
2. Prune your pipeline
Salespeople love a fat pipeline; it’s like a security blanket. But be careful you don’t get smothered. A pipeline clogged with marginal buyers eats up your valuable selling time and keeps you from focusing on real buyers. One study looked at salespeople at a large company, and found that those with a lean pipeline (30% fewer opportunities) made more money (50% more sales).
3. Get an introduction
Referrals accelerate your sales cycle in two ways: (1) You connect more quickly with the prospect, and (2) referred customers close at a much higher rate than ordinary sales. Yet many salespeople only view referrals as an afterthought, and fail to consistently ask existing customers and prospects to connect them with other potential buyers. If you want more sales in less time, don’t be shy. Ask for referral.
4. Make a shopping list
In a typical 6-month sales cycle, how much time is actually spent working on the sale? On a tough sale, you might spend 50 or 60 hours – talking to the prospect, identifying needs, designing a solution, presenting and closing. The other 900+ hours is mostly spent waiting – waiting for the prospect to return your call, waiting for the information you need to prepare the proposal, waiting for your contact to get the proposal in front of the right people, waiting for them to review and discuss it. To reduce waiting time, make a “shopping list” of all the information you’ll need to get the sale. Gather as much of it as you can as soon as you can, so you’re not wasting time only to discover at the last minute that you should be talking to someone else, or there’s no budget this year, or your product doesn’t meet a critical requirement that the buyer forgot to mention.
5. Ask the awkward questions
Salespeople worry way too much about “building rapport” early in the sale. So they’re afraid to ask the tough questions. “The prospect will be offended if I put them on the spot,” they tell themselves. Tire-kickers might get offended; real buyers won’t. They’re busy and don’t want you to beat around the bush. So go ahead and ask: “Do you think your boss would sign off on this if it made sense? If the problem you described is really important, why haven’t you been able to solve it? Assuming you want to do this, how would you get it budgeted?”
6. Find the “mobilizer”
Research shows that the person who brings you to the ball is seldom the person you leave with. That contact who’s so friendly and talkative in your initial conversations is also the person most likely to throw you under the bus if their colleagues or bosses push back. The key is to look for a “mobilizer” – a person who has a track record for getting things done in the organization. If you can win them over, they’ll go to bat for you.
7. Ask for the order
Hard to believe, but most salespeople don’t actually ask for the order, according to a massive research study. “Asking for the order” means asking the prospect to commit to the next step. Sales cycles drag out when salespeople fail to pin down the prospect. “Call me next month,” the prospect says. “Will do,” says the average salesperson. “Let’s put it on the calendar,” says the great salesperson. “Also, what exactly will we be trying to accomplish? And can we get it done sooner.”
8. Never, ever, “check in”
Salespeople who call customers every month to “check in” are wasting their time and the prospect’s. It means another month wasted without any progress toward the sale. And it comes across as lazy to prospects. Every call needs to do one of two things: (1) move the sale forward, or (2) disqualify the prospect.
9. Find four problems
It’s easy to feel that you’re making good progress when you’ve identified a customer problem. But one problem means only one opportunity to close. Research shows that salespeople who identify multiple problems during sales discovery are much more likely to get a sale. The magic number, according to this same research, is four – fewer problems means you’re missing opportunities; looking for more than four makes you lose focus.
10. Close in the morning
Studies show that people are much more likely to say “yes” when they’re well rested and their energy level is high. As you get more fatigued, you tend to take the path of least resistance – which means to stick with the status quo. If you want your buyer to take action, get them while they’re fresh.
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