Hurry up and wait! How to reduce sales cycle length

 

In B2B marketing, we often fret over the length of the sales cycle – it’s always too long. If the economy gets nervous the funnel slows even further. So we’re asked something like “how do you make your funnel flow faster?”, “how do you reduce the sales cycle?” and “how do you make buyers act faster?” – all variations on a theme.

To answer this, we need to understand why and where the funnel is slow. And that means today we need to expore the mind of the buyer, the efficacy of tactics, buying roadblocks, and hidden failure.

We’re often explaining why you can’t speed up the funnel, but today, we’re going back on all that, and explaining exactly how you can.

So firstly, a reminder about the buyer’s journey and if you’ve heard this a few times, forgive me. Not everybody who is listening to this video blog have. I just need to quickly remind you of the essence of the Buyer’s Journey. I often tell this backwards, but today for brevity, I’m going to tell it the way the buyer experiences.

In the beginning, they don’t know who you are. They don’t have the problem that you can solve. They don’t know you want to solve it and they just don’t care. And in B2B, often, large chunks, like 99% of your market, at any one point in time are in that state. Then, they might know who you are, but they’re still not interested, let alone troubled. And then, maybe they are interested, but still not troubled. And then maybe they are troubled, maybe there’s something going on in their business that’s changed. Maybe you’ve had an effect on their perception of the problem. Maybe your marketing has got this problem to the top of their A list, or at least on their A list. Because often the problem you solve isn’t.

So we started off being ignorant, untroubled, and unaware. I don’t have a problem. I’m unaware that you want to solve it and I just don’t care. And then, at least, I know that you want to solve it, but I don’t have the problem and then I’m interested, and then I’m troubled. And after I’m troubled, I’ll work out what it is that I need. So in order to make that problem go away, that impediment, that risk or exposure, that bad thing, that cost, whatever the bad thing is that I’m troubled about. At some later point I work out what do I need to make that go away. From somebody, maybe from you, maybe not, but what do I need to make it go away.

So my need is understood and maybe even agreed with a vendor. Then, at some later point, I understand your offer and maybe the offer of others as well. And then at some later point, I prefer your offer and at some final point, I’ve made a decision. If they’re all the stages that the buyer goes through, then, let’s all recognize, me included, what we’re actually asking buyers to do when we say, “Can you go faster?”

We’re asking them to go through each of those stages faster, and that’s part of the clue to speeding the funnel up is recognizing it’s not about us, it’s about them and it’s not about pushing but, “How do I help the buyer go through each of those cycles faster? How do I help them become interested faster? How do I help them to become troubled faster? To work at what they need faster?” And I think that does a few things. Firstly, it just gets your head in the right frame, but secondly, it actually makes you much more buyer-centric. Ultimately, your product or service is to do something good for somebody, and it’s all about earning the right to do that good. And so, we need to learn how to help them get to that point faster, through each of those stages.

I’ve blogged on this quite extensively.  I want to show you two recent blogs and one slightly older blog. Here’s the links to all three of them. Basically, what I was explaining in those three blogs is that time really, really impacts a lot of things. Quick couple of take-outs from those blogs. Firstly, if a buyer normally takes a certain amount of time, let’s say, I’m going to use the example from one of the blogs, 51 days to move from top to bottom, then a buyer has been sitting at any one of the stages, between the top and the bottom, for longer than normal. He’s probably not going to buy at all. That’s the first point.

The second point is anywhere in that cycle, if you actually try to go faster than your buyer, you’ll increase failure rate or leakage, as we call it. So they’re contradictory points almost. One is that if the buyer, no matter your efforts, has taken longer than normal to move through any stage, they’re probably not going to move. That’s the first point. And the second point is if you try and go faster than your buyer, they’re almost definitely not going to move. So trying to rush them actually has an adverse effect on the funnel.

So does that mean that we simply can’t speed the funnel up, that we simply have to respect the buyer takes as long as they need? Well, I’ve blogged often arguing much that point, but today, I’m going to counter that. I’m going to take it all back, and I’m going to show you how you can speed the funnel up.

‘Shortly, we’ll show you how to do this in Funnel plan, but before that, we’re going to do two things: share with your our conclusions and invite you to receive other blogs like this. Let’s get to the conclusion first.’

Okay, so I’ve got a fix and it’s kind of in four parts. The first one is to recognize that it’s easier for you to go faster than your buyers. What I mean by that is if you think about one of the primary lag points as just getting diary time, well you can speed that up. How about the proposal? The time that it takes you when you understand the need to build the right solution and take it back to them. You can speed that up. Each of the stages, some of the delay is actually you. So my first recommendation is work out how you can speed you up, not your buyer. Candidly, I’ve looked at a lot of funnels and my experience is that most of the delay is the seller, not the buyer. So take a look at that one first. You might be squeaky clean; it’s rare.

Secondly, set expectations. Help them take each of the steps by understanding what the process is going to be like. Quick, simple example: ‘John, thank you so much for the meeting. I understand, I believe, what it is that you’re trying to achieve and I think I understand what some of the impediments are we’ve spoken about today. There’s a couple of steps that have to happen after here. Firstly, I need to work out with you what it is that you need, whether from me or from somebody else, to fix that problem and there are others in your business that might have different views. We need to get all of those views. Then, we need to…’ and so on it goes.

So in explaining the process, I cannot only condition you for those progressions, but maybe I can even make time with you now, for each of the steps. Don’t do it one at a time, do it in serial. Now, I know these two recommendations so far are pretty obvious. The third and fourth ones are probably going to be obvious as well. The point is, if  you want to speed your funnel up, those are two very simple things you can do. I’m going to give you two more now. The first two again, recognize that it’s probably you, in large part. Secondly, help set their expectations.

Thirdly, remove friction. Now, this one is about the buyer, absolutely. Work out at every single stage why buyers stall or stagnate, why it takes time. Understand their processes, and by that, I do mean administrative processes, but also understand their cognitive processes. What do they need to cycle through and think about and move through? Understand what it is that’s slowing that down and fix it. Again, I know that’s obvious, but you can have a big impact and I’ll give you a quick example.

Often, opportunities stall at the very last hurdle. So they now have identified what they need. They understand your solution, and now they’re trying to work out whether they prefer it, or they might even prefer it, and we’re now waiting for them to buy. When they’re at that point, they’re weighing up the cost of moving ahead versus the cost of not moving ahead. And obviously, the cost of moving ahead needs to be way less than the cost of not moving ahead. Sounds obvious, but of course you need to address that. But what about if there are just questions, risks, exposures.

A little example from a client that I worked with quite some years ago. They were selling a solution that cost about $400-500,000 and they were an unproven company selling unproven technology. Now, they knew it worked, but their market didn’t. So they were asking their customers to take on all of the risk, and that took time. Sometimes the time was, “Gee am I ready? Am I not ready? Am I ready? Am I not ready?” So, the buyer was just equivocating. Sometimes, it’s digging up reference material, sometimes it’s thinking about alternatives because your solution is so risky.

Simple solution? Let the vendor take on the risk. You take on the risk on their behalf and offer it to them on a monthly plan, rather than a capital sale. Small example, but in that case, the delay was trying to get my head around the risk. The solution? Remove the risk. So look for opportunities to remove friction at every individual stage. Analyze, or even ask, why are they stalling at each stage and look at where can I remove friction to help them to be ready and to be comfortable moving forward faster.

The final one, is a bit of a data geeky story. There is a lot of hidden delay in your funnel. What do I mean by that? You’ve got prospects who are never going to buy from you, but they’re in your funnel and they’re making your sales cycle look long or your funnel look slow. Remove them. If it normally takes 30 days to go from stage two to stage three and somebody’s been stuck there for 60, they’re probably not going to go ahead. Take them out. Put them into your nurture program and put them back in the funnel when they are ready. It’s obviously not a pressing enough priority for them right now.

So admit that, stand down gracefully, “Hey, thank you so much. I recognize that this isn’t a priority for you right now, so I’m going to stand down. Let’s re-engage when it is a priority, but in the meantime, I’m going to…” and then I would explain what the nurture program’s going to look like to keep us positioned and to slightly travel down the track.

So there you are, four specific recommendations to speed your funnel up. Now, I want to show you in the Funnel plan why going faster actually doesn’t have that much effect anyway. So I’ve just given you a whole load of juice about why, well, how you can speed it up, but I do, in all good conscience, have to show you that it’s not going to matter that much. There’s something else that matters much more.

‘If you’ve enjoyed this blog, then likely, you will enjoy others. If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to receive this blog by visiting align.me.com/blog or by visiting our YouTube channel. If you have a colleague who may be interested, we would be so grateful if you invited them to subscribe. Why don’t you do that now and when you come back, we’ll show you how we do that in Funnel plan.’

So you’d be well familiar with the concept that the Funnel plan is a great way to capture your objectives, your strategy, your velocity, and your tactics for your go to market plan. Today, obviously we’re talking about velocity. So let’s zoom in on the velocity section and take a look at one key thing I want to show you here. So the velocity model shows you how many buyers need to move through each stage every month, every quarter, every year. Across the three years in this particular example, to get 150 decisions, we need to start with 750 new names. Just remember that 753 number.

I want to flip across now to the Funnel plan software, and let’s take a look at the plan that produced that very same PDF. Now, if we need 753 names to get 140 closed deals after three years, let’s take a look at what effect it would have if we got great at reducing lag or time. So I’m going to head down into the velocity section of Funnel plan, and you can see the velocity could be described by these four very basic numbers. It takes 13 weeks to go from top to bottom. We lose half between ‘Lead’ and ‘Proposal’ and another half between ‘Proposal’ and ‘Sale’. It takes three and a half meetings. The meetings is not relevant to today’s conversation.

Now, if I generate the velocity, okay, so there’s the 753. It takes 753 new names to get 140 decisions. Now, what if we reduced the lag? We did an amazing job and we got it down from 13 weeks to, let’s say, we halved it and took only six days. So what benefit would we enjoy? Let’s take a look at the velocity now. So by reducing the lag from 13 weeks down to six weeks, instead of needing 753 names, we need 677. It’s barely worth the effort.

Why do we only need a minor change in the number of buyers? Because if it takes less time, we simply get the new names a little bit later. Not much else has changed. So my argument is why focus on lag if it has such a small benefit? Instead, focus on reducing your leakage. Don’t focus on hurrying your buyers up. So, that’s it. I wanted to use Funnel plan to make the point that although you can reduce the time that it takes buyers to move through the funnel, why bother?

So sticking with the theme of buyers and how long they take to move between stages and responsiveness, in next week’s show, I want to explore the relationship between responsiveness and leakage. But for now, may your funnel be full and always flowing!

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