To thrive in today’s competitive, dynamic commercial environment, accelerating the sales cycle is not just a goal but a necessity. The landscape has evolved, with buying behaviors becoming increasingly conservative and consensus requirements reaching new heights. The challenge? Many sellers find themselves poorly equipped to navigate these changes effectively.
The first step toward improving sales velocity is understanding the current market dynamics. A recent CEO survey revealed that nearly 70% of executives report flat or declining commercial productivity. This trend isn’t a temporary phase; it’s a reflection of deeper changes in buying and selling practices.
On the buying side, we see growing risk aversion. Buying groups are expanding – adding more influencers such as risk management; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); and information security. Approval requirements have become more stringent, and operating complexity has increased as organizations adopt more technologies.
On the selling side, seller readiness has not kept pace with the evolving landscape. Emerging out of COVID and the Great Resignation, many sales roles were quickly filled, leading to a wave of inexperienced sellers. Training and skill enhancement have fallen behind, with only a fraction of sellers reporting regular coaching or skill development.
Through our research and experience, we’ve identified four distinct sales approaches that sellers are adopting: Narrowing, Provoking, Translating, and Anticipating. Each of these approaches is characterized by a unique set of benefits and challenges.
This approach focuses on driving buyer urgency by simplifying choices and moving them through the sales process. It’s about prescribing criteria and next steps while removing distractions. However, while conceptually this seems desirable, the Narrowing approach paradoxically can extend sales cycle times by 20%.
Let’s illustrate this with a scenario. Imagine a seller, Emma, working with a client overwhelmed by choices in cybersecurity solutions. Emma streamlines the decision process by focusing on the client’s key pain points – effectively narrowing down options to those that directly address these concerns. This targeted approach not only simplifies the decision for the client but also positions Emma as a trusted advisor who understands their specific needs. Unfortunately, if Emma is focused only on the requirements of one stakeholder, she ends up getting surprised when other influences and requirements emerge late in the sales process.
Here, sellers attempt to reframe how customers perceive their business issues. The Provoking approach involves insight-based selling and high-quality thought leadership. Although it’s less common, this approach can also lengthen the sales cycle by up to 22%.
Now, consider a different situation with Jack, a seller in the software industry. Jack uses the Provoking approach by challenging a client’s current workflow inefficiencies – providing insights into how their existing processes are hindering growth. He doesn’t just sell a product; he provokes thought, compelling the client to reconsider their current operations, which opens the door for his solution. Unfortunately, this may extend the process while Jack takes time to educate all the buying influences and gain consensus on this new, provocative direction.
This approach is all about customer-centricity. Sellers using this method focus on speaking the customer’s language, quantifying challenges, and tailoring solutions to the customer’s context. This approach not only shortens sales cycles but also increases deal sizes, due to the seller’s ability to connect with the buyers and expand the sales conversation.
Here’s a practical example. Sarah, a sales rep in the medical equipment field, employs the Translating approach. She does extensive research in advance and presents her products not just as stand-alone equipment but as solutions that fit into the unique ecosystem of a healthcare provider. She uses data to demonstrate how her products will enhance patient care and operational efficiency – speaking directly to the hospital’s mission and values.
The Anticipating approach is proactive, helping customers foresee and navigate potential obstacles. Sellers using this approach are often seen planning in advance and collaborating extensively to remove barriers before they impact the sale. By working collaboratively and de-risking the decision-making process, the approach results in shorter sales cycle times.
To bring the Anticipating approach to life, imagine Alex, who sells enterprise-level IT solutions. Alex excels at foreseeing potential objections and barriers in the buyer’s journey. Before they become an issue, he addresses concerns about integration and support, collaborates with his team to develop contingency plans, and presents a comprehensive, risk-mitigated proposal to the client. This forward-thinking approach keeps the sales process smooth and maintains momentum.
The key to accelerating sales cycles in today’s market lies in shifting from push-based to pull-based engagement. Push-based methods, like Narrowing and Provoking, often backfire, making buyers feel pressured rather than understood. Pull-based methods, exemplified by Translating and Anticipating, align more closely with the buyer’s context and needs.
These methods stand out in their ability to minimize misunderstandings, ensuring that every part of the conversation matters to the buyer. They foster a dialogue that’s deeply empathetic to the buyer’s situation, which not only accelerates the sales cycle but also builds trust and strengthens the buyer/seller relationship, leading to more significant and quicker commitments.
To leverage these approaches effectively, sales teams need strong coaching and enablement programs. For instance, regular training sessions focused on collaborative selling techniques and proactive problem-solving can significantly enhance a seller’s ability to use the Translating and Anticipating approaches effectively.
Additionally, technology and data play a crucial role. Tools like conversation intelligence software can provide insights into customer interactions, helping sellers refine their approaches based on real-world feedback.
Perhaps the most critical aspect of adapting to the new sales landscape is fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement. This culture encourages sharing knowledge and experiences – helping the entire team evolve and adapt to market changes more rapidly.
Accelerating sales cycles in today’s market requires a nuanced understanding of evolving buyer behaviors and a shift toward more empathetic, customer-centric sales approaches. By focusing on developing relevant skills and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, sales teams can navigate these challenges effectively, leading to shorter sales cycles and more significant deals.
This journey toward sales excellence begins with the right training and tools.
Transform your team’s approach with our Value-Driven Selling™ workshop, which infuses essential skills and dynamic tools for a collaborative, pull-based selling strategy. Click here to learn more and empower your team to become trusted advisors aligned with your customers’ needs.
Ray Makela is the general manager of sales training at SRG, a part of SBI, the benchmark for sales training and growth advisory. Anchored by SBI’s analytical go-to-market expertise and amplified by SRG’s established sales training programs, SBI propels client success – enhancing revenue, margin, and enterprise value beyond previous boundaries.