Throughout my career in B2B software sales, I’ve been intrigued by the fact how some sales processes took 12-18 months to close, while other deals closed in weeks. And this had nothing to do with the dynamics of different verticals (for example the Government being perceived slow’) or selling a different product. I’ve seen this often in the same vertical, with organizations of the same size, selling the same product.
Lots of pipelines look healthy from the outset. Still, in reality, they are cluttered with deals that are stuck’ in the sales process because the prospective customers are not qualified carefully enough by your sales reps or don’t have the right arguments to pull the trigger and drive decision making. Answering this dilemma by giving an additional discount is not sustainable. It’s the race to the bottom, and nobody wants to be involved in that race.
What complicates things is that customers aren’t often fully equipped to drive such a process. Be honest, how often do you buy an ERP system or a Core Banking system. It’s possibly the first (and only) time they do this in their entire career for many decision-makers.
To challenge this, I raised the propelling question: “Imagine shortening your sales cycle by 50% without lowering your price,” in my weekly mastermind with tech-entrepreneurs in my tribe. A lively discussion followed. Let me summarize a few of the experiences from this group that could help you.
Is the stated problem the real problem?
The group agreed that very often, you have to help your customer get their problem crystal clear. Is the problem they state the real problem? If it’s not, the sales-cycle would rather be longer than shorter. Merely following the requirements stated in the project brief is not enough. Ask the critical questions dig deeper, keep asking why’, understand how their business is evolving (not just this department), what external pressures they have to respond to, and aim to tie every requirement in their list to the board-level priorities. Then figure out what internal roadblocks are most valuable and critical to solving to driving success.
Do you understand what they really care about?
Too often, we end up with a very healthy’ pipeline of ‘qualified leads’ that are 100% in your target market, but still a meager closing rate. The deals are qualified based on the fact you have the functionality they are looking for. But that doesn’t mean they’ll buy from you. Let me illustrated that with an example from the company I used to work for, UNIT4. The fact someone wanted to buy a GL didn’t mean we’d sell it, just because we had one even though the company was in the right vertical market, had the right size, and operated in a region we supported. There’s more to this. It’s called psychographics i.e., the stories these decision-makers tell themselves or have to tell their boss. So it critical to be clear about what they believe, what they aspire, and what they genuinely care about.
Deliver Proof of value, not Proof of Concept
A way to shorten sales cycles is to get potential customers to commit to something smaller. Many businesses I know offer a Proof of Concept. But just the fact you can provision an operational system only gets you halfway (or nowhere). As one CEO said: it’s about solving the most valuable and critical problem. It’s about understanding what outcomes (not outputs) your customer dreams to deliver. Focus on driving Proof of Value, and with that, get sniper focused on shortening the sales process.
Who’s in charge of the next step?
Too often, we forget to control the sales process. That starts with orchestrating every meeting to drive the next step or action. Realize your customers have different options (even doing nothing). The CEOs in our Zoom call explained the importance of positioning themselves around their prospect’s biggest problem, the ones that are most valuable if solved, critical, i.e., high on their agenda, and problems where you can exceed their expectations.
Always work towards a high’ so that you build the desire and urgency during each meeting so that customers can only say Yes’ to the next step. Don’t let the customer drive the next action because often they are not organized, and as such, it delays the sales process. Be the guide, show them insights they had not thought about before, and give actionable advice and spoon-feed them with what to do to succeed in the next step.
Are you telling enough stories?
Another tactic that proved to accelerate sales-cycles amongst the mastermind participants was the art of Storytelling. This is often a foreign concept in our industry, which applies to sales reps and pre-sales. One CEO shared a story about how they pay a lot of attention to orchestrate their demos like Hollywood movies. Instead of doing so-called Harbour tour demos’ (you can do this, you can do that), they are using a straightforward structure: Situation, Complication, Resolution. The demos are heavily scripted and optimized to match the right features to hit the right pain points, and, not unimportant, are tuned to create WoW-moments. Storytelling is magic to shorten sales cycles: Stories are memorable; they are ideal for triggering emotions of fear, frustration, or hope. And because of their structure, they provide context, concrete, and simple to comprehend.
Don’t try to convince them yourself, leverage advocates.
Growing your customer base is a process of one at a time’. The better you do with your current customers, the easier your job will be to win others’ hearts. The B2B software sales process is about building trust. They are complex sales to make. There’s more at stake, and as such, this becomes a critical part of your sales process. One of the traits that define remarkable software businesses is their ability to turn customers into fans or better advocates. They deliver value these customers would miss if it were gone and that that’s the magic that makes those customers talk about it with their peers. And this shortens sales cycles dramatically.
Explore the edges
Beyond offering a paid Proof-of-Value project, there are more options to consider to accelerate the sales process, and that’s by providing something smaller. One CEO mentioned selling a core banking system is harder than selling an element that accelerates digital disruption for banks—so focusing the sales process on getting commitment around a deliverable around the edges help to get to a ‘yes’ faster.
The art of timing & creating urgency
Finally, a big one is timing, i.e., developing a sense when is the right time to start engaging in / accelerating a deal. That is when the problem has become a burning problem in needs to be solved urgently. There’s a significant role for your sales team here. You can influence behavior and bring customers closer to get the Aha!’ moment i.e., the tipping point of value. It goes back to item #1 being the guide and helping the customer get the problem crystal clear. You have multiple ingredients to play with: Your customer’s vision, their board-level targets, the external pressures they have to deal with (whether they like it or not). Deals only close when value and urgency are clear. Only then will customers start mobilizing resources
We discussed many more tactics to shorten sales cycles during our mastermind. What makes me curious: Which strategies are working best for you? How do you shorten your sales cycle without lowering your pricepoint?
And if you are a tech-entrepreneur or tech-leader in Marketing, Product Strategy of Sales in the B2B software space, and you got intrigued by the value you’d get from masterminds like this – consider joining our tribe: https://movement.valueinspiration.com