There is no such thing as a sales cycle. For all you marketing professionals focused on helping your sales counterparts develop tools to “shorten the sales cycle”, you’re focused on the wrong things.
Customers have a buying process, and even the best sales processes can’t change it. If you really want to help your sales team meet and even exceed their quota’s focus on your buyers, not the sales steps.
Early in my career I believed with proper incentives, good collateral and a strong storyline I could actually shrink the sales cycle. I focused on building tools to make my sales team more effective. Were these tools valuable? Yes, the sales team loved them. They felt more productive but really the sales cycle didn’t get shorter, and our win rate didn’t get higher.
After one long weekend searching for the perfect new car, only to be terribly annoyed by the typical process we all go through when negotiating for a new vehicle – it dawned on me. That car dealer wasn’t changing my buying process no matter how many times they talked to “the manager” to get me the best deal. The same is true whether you are buying a new stereo, ERP software or a new home.
At work the next week I did what good marketers do best. I thought like the customer. I stopped thinking of the sales cycle, and started thinking of the buying cycle. While the nature of the purchase impacts the intensity of each step along the buying journey, each buyer goes through some phase of awareness, evaluation and commitment.
What did paying attention to the buying cycle change? A LOT.
By calling it a sales process I was implying that I had control of the buyers evaluation. I finally admitted that I didn’t have that type of control. Instead I focused on the following:
- Listening to how customers buy, rather than solely listening to how the sales team sold, changed the way I messaged products, told stories and developed assets.
- Instead of trying to get prospective customers to skip steps and move straight to commitment, I built tools that served each of the steps.
- I nurtured prospects until they were ready to be engaged by the sales team. The sales reps felt like we shortened the sales cycle, but really, we just managed the early phases of the buying cycle on their behalf.
- By understanding and profiling buyer behavior, I started targeting customers most likely to buy our products within a certain time frame.
- I worked with product management to create more compelling products that were easier to evaluate and offered more strongly differentiated features.
I encourage all of you to repeat after me. “I can not create a sales cycle.”
But we can facilitate an effective buying process by targeting the right people, building engaging assets for how your customers evaluate solutions and never forgetting the buyer is in the driver’s seat. Be at the right place, at the right time with the right tool.