Long Sales Cycle? That is NOT OK.

I recently sent a note to an entrepreneur friend of mine whose company is doing well, but I heard thru the grapevine that he needed some help in the sales department – that things just weren’t moving along as fast as he would like them to.  So I reached out and let him know that I had some cycles available if he wanted some help putting together a sales plan, and figuring out how to accelerate his growth.

He very quickly, and politely replied that the type of sales planning and assistance that I do at QuotaCrush really wasn’t applicable because, “his product has long sales cycles and long lasting relationships.”

I sat there confused and bewildered for a few moments and then realized that perhaps he was missing something very completely obvious.  If your sales cycles are long – then perhaps that is a result of the fact that your sales people don’t know how to shorten it.  One of the biggest differentiators between good sales people and great salespeople are those that know how to close – and especially those who know how to close quickly.  Sometimes, this means getting the customer “half-pregnant” – or hooked on your product in a small way with a small close and then following it up with a larger sale.  Have a two hundred thousand dollar product?  Find the $99 / mo sampler.  Find something that gets people to become customers and up-sell them from there.

To be satisfied with a long sales cycle means to be satisfied with mediocrity.  I challenge anyone with a long sales cycle to find the shorter sale.  It exists.  It always does.  Part of what I show companies is how to find that smaller and quicker sale.  When you resign yourself to a long sales cycle, you will try to find salespeople who can tolerate a long sales cycle.  Who are sales people who can tolerate a long sales cycle?  “Good” sales people not great ones.  By definition, they are less hungry and less cash focused – which is what you want them to be.  The one exception to long sales cycles are those that sell exclusively to government agencies who are usually tied to large budget cycles.  EVERY other corporation has ways to spend money now to solve a critical problem – not every corporation will buy the shorter sale – but there will be some that will buy the shorter sale – and your overall sales cycle will shrink.  Unless you think like this, you are doomed to just accept the long sales cycle, get your investors to accept the longer sales cycle, and you are in a spiral downward.

What should you do?  Challenge the long sales cycle at every turn.  Challenge your sales team to shorten in.  Challenge your product team to build in ways to help the sales team get people a taste that wants them coming back for more.  This is the path to real success and building a sales engine that produces consistent and predictable results.

The second part of his sentence was also troubling to me.  He didn’t want someone short term because he needed long-term and long-lasting relationships.  A top mistake that companies believe is that people keep buying from you because there is a relationship with you.  In the “mad-men” martini days, this may have partially been the case, but it is no more.  Companies will buy from you consistently because you solve their problems.  I like to think I’m a great relationship guy and I’ve done sales for lots of companies.  What I think is great is that those customers STAY customers after I leave.  They aren’t tied to me.  Why?  Because I sell value and I sell great products that solve problems.  Its not about me.  I get that.  Its about the problems that the product solves.  If that product solves the problem that the company says it will, then those customers will outlive the product.  A salespersons relationship might be able to smooth over problems with the product based on relationship – but that isn’t why my friend needs long terms salespeople — and if you are planning for problems – then there are bigger issues at play.    You should never be worried about how long your salespeople will be around in your hiring process if you believe that you have a great product that solves a big need.

I responded to my friend with a note summarizing this blog post, and I have heard only silence since then.  My guess is that he truly believes that he has a unique situation and long sales cycles just need to be accepted.  Great sales people know this is never the case, but I suppose that is why so many companies struggle with sales – there are established beliefs that are hard to escape.

The reality is… if sales aren’t where you want them to be, if you aren’t closing fast enough, you need to question if you have the right team, the right process, the right pricing, etc.  Challenge it all and accept nothing as a fact of your sales cycle.

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