July 8, 2009

Shortening the Sales Cycle

My favorite sales experience involved a national company based in Chicago. I got a call late one evening from a member of the sales vice president's staff. "Do you have proposal automation software?" he asked. "Would you be willing to demonstrate it to us next week?" Yes and yes.

The next week we were in Chicago. I was about fifteen minutes into the demo when the senior vice president of sales leaped up and said, "That's it! That's exactly what I envisioned. Get it." And with that he left the room. Ten days later we had a signed contract and a check.

Unfortunately, most of our sales cycles aren't that short. How about yours? If you'd like to shorten the sale cycle, this is a good message for you. It focuses on how effective follow-up communications can reduce the length of the sales process.

That is our topic this time.

Tom Sant

Shortening the Sales Cycle

Bringing a deal to closure can seemingly take forever. It may be even more difficult today than ever before. Think about the characteristics of selling in today's markets.

Often you are selling not to an individual, but to a team. And that team is composed of people with different, sometimes conflicting views of what your solution should do and how it should be judged.

Typically, you're under severe cost pressure. And the analysis of costs goes much deeper than merely acquisition price.

Finally, you're expected to demonstrate positive business impact. Your decision team is looking for a solution that will improve their operations, their bottom line, their use of technology--all at the same time probably!

So that's a lot to handle. No wonder it takes so long to close a deal.

Here's a little secret that one of the largest high-technology companies in the world found several years ago:

Backing up sales calls with good written communication reduces the selling cycle by as much as 86%!

This is an insight that has also been offered by some of the leading sales training organizations. In fact, the Solution Selling curriculum emphasizes the importance of putting every step of the sales cycle into writing.

Why does it work? And how can you take advantage of this insight to reduce your sales cycle?

It works because good written communications eliminate ambiguity. That's very important in a situation where you're selling to a team, because people often listen with filters on their ears. They hear what they expect to hear or what they want to hear. Sending a document that summarizes the key points of a meeting, identifies responsibilities, establishes the next steps, confirms a timeline, and so forth, clarifies the content of the call and confirms the decisions the team has made.

It works because good written communications reinforce your selling message. Even if the communication is simply intended to confirm the date and time for a meeting, it gives you a chance to demonstrate competence and reliability. And you may be able to slip in a sales message, too. At the very least, a written message extends your "mind share" and helps the decision team remember you.

The best way to take advantage of the power of written communications is to automate the creation of the types of documents you need most often. Be careful not to use boilerplate text or static "templates." Those will actually do more damage than good, because they smell like complacency to the customer.

Instead, implement an automation tool that enables you to build a compound document that contains client-centered, unique content each time.

To see exciting ways to automate the creation of good written communications at each step of the sales cycle, visit santcorp.com/demo.