When I start talking about speeding up the sales cycle the initial reaction is that the sales cycle is controlled by the customer and there is just not much we can do about that. I usually counter with, most companies understand that there is an average sales cycle time and if we just agree that there is than there is room for improvement.
My next discussion point is asking, can you describe the typical sales cycle based on the decision making criteria of your customer. At this point, I am again met with resistance saying that they are all different. I once again counter with let’s just take empirical view of a well-known market segment or even if we have to a well-known customer who we would consider “typical.” I do not do this too intentionally classify a customer as average or typical but to establish a base line on how we respond to our customers’ needs.
With that being said, I next ask what the average deviation from the sales cycle is there and if there are common decision making steps that get added or subtracted when this happens. That highlights the variability and creates awareness on how little active management of the process is going on. Further discussion generates reasons for excessive wait times by both parties and considerable rework that we call “fine tuning”.
Why change this? In my experience, the longer the process the more likely the criteria will change as a result of other influences rather than the actual need changing. The length of time does not necessarily equate to a better choice. The choice is based on the conditions, the influencers, the knowledge and if the problem increases substantially. The objective is not to have the customer buy your product.
The objective is for the customer to make the best informed and knowledgeable decision possible. The fundamental goals of your sales cycle should be one of discovery, learning and adaptability with a shared responsibility for a successful outcome. Your ability to generate the required knowledge effectively and efficiently in your customer decision making process will ultimately make you the preferred supplier. The question of course is how do you do that?
In most cases, unless you have already mapped your process (Value Stream Mapping), you will have cycle times that are highly variable and more than likely long. Developing a more consistent pattern with less variability will allow sales teams and customers to develop a higher degree of trust in each other.
One way of reducing cycle time is to create faster feedback loops. First, take one of the stages of the customer decision making process and break it down into multiple loops or cycles. Prioritize the loops and define the work that needs to be done within the first cycle through the use of a user story. The result of this is that you generate fast feedback by offering the customer smaller parcels of information to see if you are on the correct path or gain buy-in of a smaller step of the process.
Early customer feedback results in a better focus on the problem. As a result less work is done on superfluous tasks and more work is done on the required objectives. Little waste is generated because the feedback is so quick that obvious deviations are discarded.
Faster feedback can result in increased quality. There are number of reasons for this. Shorter cycles result in better fit since the feedback can be gathered and applied frequently. Also, faster feedback means that the team can minimize the work required to meet the objectives. Less rework is required (you are constantly tweaking) and this is very advantageous when compared to large time consuming proposals that are many times generated.
Another advantage of this process is that you only do the iterations that are you are comfortable doing. You don’t have to start every task in order. The flexibility of being able to put off some decisions to the last possible moment does not distract from the overall objective. By doing other cycles first, you will have increased knowledge of the cycle that will add better definition to the most difficult tasks.
Putting order into your sales cycle you will find that most of the time spent before is waiting on decisions or task that others are doing. Wait time is significantly reduced because of the smaller cycles are much easier to complete and easier handoffs are created which may simplify the task of others.
Working on the basics, makes a difference. To improve your football team, you need to work on blocking and tackling. To improve your sales cycle, you need to work on your feedback loops.
The Role of PDCA in a Lean Sales and Marketing Cycle
The Little PDCA Sales Loop
The 7 step Lean Process of Marketing to Toyota
Marketing Kanban: Marketing Kanban
Value Stream Mapping