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Alison Diana Best Practices for Shortening the Sales Cycle

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 By Alison Diana

A Combination of Sales Processes and Software Technologies Can Reduce Sales Cycles

Shortening the sales cycle is high atop any sales managers wish list. And while there will always be waffling customers and slow moving purchase committees, sales teams can implement best practices that abbreviate the process - and improve your sales teams win rate and company's cash flow.

In most cases, companies must first determine why the sales cycle is too long. Sometimes prospects just don't see enough value to act. Other times the reason customers take so long to order has nothing to do with your clients and everything to do with your internal processes. Aberdeen Group released a telling report about the reasons companies' sales cycles are too long and the methods in which best-of-breed businesses have successfully combated this costly problem.

"We don't convert enough leads to sales," said 59% of respondents in the Aberdeen report, while 32% reported that the cost of their sales was too high. Likewise, 27% of those polled said the average deal size or contract was too small and the same number claimed they had insufficient knowledge of prospects already in their sales funnel, according to Aberdeen. And 26% of respondents said they lost efficiency when they recreated proposals or contracts.

Six Steps to Sales Cycle Best Practices

  1. A centralized customer relationship management software system or other repository of accurate, up-to-date customer and prospect information addresses some of the issues blocking companies from faster sales cycles. CRM software is a prerequisite to efficient and effective selling. Providing sales professionals with easily accessible and complete customer information gives them the opportunity to prepare for their conversations, schedule their activities in advance, eliminate redundant tasks, identify upsell opportunities and keep them on top of all prospects in their funnel.

  2. Although it's been almost a decade since the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act became law, many companies have yet to take advantage of the opportunities electronic signatures afford them. This technology can dramatically reduce the time and expense surrounding hand-written signatures, time-consuming faxes, and the physical presence or overnight-shipping fees typically associated with manual signatures. Perhaps not surprisingly, 26% of best-in-class companies have invested in electronic signature capture solutions, compared with 19% of average companies and 17% of laggard businesses, according to Aberdeen.

    "Just as signing and emailing documents became prevalent with widespread adoption of PDF files and improvements in scanners, so, too, are electronic signatures likely to become more mainstream as people discover the increasing efficiency and security of e-signature technology," according to the AlphaTech Counsel.

  3. It's vital to stay focused on the most appropriate target companies and individuals within those organizations, rather than taking a scattershot approach to a hodgepodge of prospects. Why waste your valuable sales resources, your marketing dollars and customer support talent on potential customers that really don't need your products or services? By leveraging your salesforce automation software solution, you can define a clear-cut path to ideal candidates for your wares while winnowing away less suitable matches for your offerings.

    "Often times we refer to 'qualifying' as a single step in the sales process. In fact, qualifying should happen continually. By constantly assessing the fit between a customer's need and your product or service offering, and only pursuing those opportunities that are mutually beneficial, you can increase productivity and shorten the sales cycle," wrote Mary Gospe in KickStart Alliance. "Sales reps can fall into the trap of continuing discussions if the prospect returns phone calls or their pipeline is weak. But results will suffer."

  4. Automated sales proposal software can shave hours, perhaps even days, from your sales staff's schedules depending on the complexity of your solutions or size of your business. In addition to saving time, an automated proposal may also reduce errors and omissions as well as help you build on your company's knowledge base and expertise from prior customer interactions and experiences. In Aberdeen's study, half of the best-of-breed firms used automated proposal software; while 34% of the laggards had this technology in-place, the report found.

  5. Companies large and small are grappling with social media. Some companies - witness Old Spice's success - have parlayed Facebook and Twitter campaigns into hard dollars and positive consumer responses. Others have had less outstanding results or have been lost in the online chatter. But one thing does seem certain: All businesses are wise to build a social media strategy and social networking presence as another way to interact with both the general public and their buying public. After all, sales are built on relationships and if having a Facebook relationship is important to your end-customer, then it should be important to you.

    "The better you are at building a trusted relationship with your prospects and clients the deeper you penetrate the organization and their long-term strategy. Social media can help to start, manage, and support that close connection. It can also help you to quickly add valuable relationships to your prospect's network," said Bill Rice, cofounder of Kaleidico, in a SalesBlogcast blog.

  6. By equipping themselves with web-enabled analytics tools, businesses add intelligence within their CRM software solutions for their salesforce, further enhancing their ability to forecast, assess sales performance and avoid business bottlenecks. CRM analytics compare sales cycle performance by sales team, sales person, product, region and other factors in order to provide visual reinforcement of which sales cycles are taking longer than others. Used correctly, analytics also can streamline a company's operations by aligning sales with other areas - marketing, finance and product management, for example.

Savvy sales leaders are using technology such as CRM software, proposal generation solutions and electronic signatures to remove many of the mundane and laborious tasks often associated with sales, including repetitive typing, duplicate entries, resolving scheduling conflicts and keeping track of orders and prospects. The overarching goal is to free up their well-trained but time starved sales representatives to pursue new business and take care of existing customers within shorter sales cycles, better client care and increased potential for incremental revenue. End

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Guest Alan Walker
  I've heard CRM analyst quotes that contract negotiation is the longest step in the sales process, consuming anywhere from 18% to 25% of the entire sales cycle. We sell a high tech software solution and although I don't have the data, I'm certain we're at the top end of that estimate, if not over. It would make sense that if you can take a chunk of time out of the negotiation process you can noticeably reduce your sales cycle. We've begun our effort by upgrading our templates for contracts and supporting documents and better defining the process. While we've made a positive dent, we're now looking for more with software automation. We're considering tools like SpringCM to help bring automation to our processes with workflow for things like document routing, approval processes and threshold-based alert notifications. We saw the demo and like the product, but demo's are inconclusive so we're going to look at a few more solutions and talk with some other adopters before we jump in. I'll report back once we've implemented something and let you know if we've further achieved our goal of shortening the sales cycle.
 

 

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Often times we refer to 'qualifying' as a single step in the sales process. In fact, qualifying should happen continually. By constantly assessing the fit between a customer's need and your product or service offering, and only pursuing those opportunities that are mutually beneficial, you can increase productivity and shorten the sales cycle. Sales reps can fall into the trap of continuing discussions if the prospect returns phone calls or their pipeline is weak. But results will suffer."

Mary Gospe, KickStart Alliance

 

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