A sales cycle is the process that takes a prospect through the buying journey until they become a client.
In other words, the process that takes them from a lead to a deal.
How long does a sales cycle last?
This is where we mention a piece of string.
The length of this cycle will vary depending on the client’s requirements and the complexity of the solution being sold.
Typical time frames may run from three months all the way up to a year.
And don’t assume longer sales cycles are bad.
It can be well worth your while to let the deal percolate (and unlike in Twin Peaks, there’s no fish, flies or any other problem in this percolator). Taking your time or letting a relationship grow stronger with a client can often secure you a larger deal with more revenue over the longer term.
What makes a sales cycle longer?
Here are the factors that usually will extend your sales cycle:
The number of stakeholders involved.
According to Gartner, the average B2B buying group now consists of six to ten decision-makers.
The diversity of stakeholders involved.
For example, if you are speaking to a buying group composed of buyers from the Finance department only, this will be a more straightforward sell than having Finance, IT, Operations, Marketing, Sales and the C-suite thrown into the mix.
The price of the sale.
If it creates more revenue, it’ll probably take more time as there’s more for the buyer to consider. In such complicated, high-stake decisions you can expect to see a B2B buyer journey that follows a non-linear path and may involve multiple revisits to stages in the journey.
If it’s a competitive market.
Extensive competitor involvement will entail a lot of repeated reviews of information and raised objections. Everyone wants the best on the market so you need to prove that you are.
Are there any benefits to having a long sales cycle?
The Entrepreneur recently identified two dominant trends that are leading to longer sales cycles. It suggested that the combined effects of the informed buyer who has information instantly at their fingertips and a glut of the availability of this information is leading to decision paralysis.
In other words:
👉 On the one hand, buyers have access to more information than ever before.
👉 On the other, they are painfully aware of the implications that a wrong decision may bring.
There is some truth in this but we’d like to take a more positive look at the long sales cycle.
Benefits of a long sales cycle:
The longer you are engaging with your prospects, the better opportunities you have to create a solution that is perfect for them and to discover other needs that you can meet.
You can build rapport with future clients through personalised selling that will create long-standing relationships after the deal is signed.
Through a longer sales cycle you gain confidence in managing the complex, high-revenue deals that most enterprise sales will require.
You create unique opportunities to examine every stage of the sales cycle in micro detail – ensuring you have the process perfectly optimised, in other words, practice makes perfect.
How can I optimise my long sales cycle?
While the longer sales cycle does bring with it a fair few benefits, this is not to say that you should avoid trying to optimise it (i.e., shorten it) where doing so will not harm your outcome.
Ways to shorten your sales cycle:
Review your sales process
The endgame here is to emerge with a clearly defined sales process.
In a survey by Harvard Business Review it was shown that there is a clear correlation between a well-defined sales process and revenue realisation. Companies who have a formalised process will yield an 18% higher revenue than those who still rely on an informal pipeline to guide them.
Formalising your pipeline involves understanding the purchase journey that your clients will take and defining the sorts of actions they will take as they move from one stage to another. Take a look at our blog on the 14 essential sales pipeline metrics to get a better understanding.
Focus on sales management
It’s critical that you continually monitor how your cycle is performing by analysing how many clients are being lost at each stage and how long it is taking for clients to progress through the cycle.
Likewise, you should be monitoring how much time and resources your sales team are devoting to each stage and assessing if these activities represent an effective use of these.
Data can be a drag but information like this can totally renew your sales cycle.
Keep developing skills and approaches
Targeted training that addresses particular sales challenges should be a constant part of every team member’s schedule – that means more 1:1s and team meetings!
Continually align your sales and marketing activities
Just as with training, sales and marketing alignment is a task that is always requiring attention. It is never ‘done and dusted’.
As our sales cycles become more complex it is more important than ever that we are coordinating our marketing and sales messages across our buyers at different stages.
According to MarketingProfs, this coordination can deliver a 38% increase in sales win rates and a 36% increase in customer retention rates.
The bottom line is a successful sales cycle doesn’t always mean a short one. You’ve got to find a good fit for your product or service. It’s not a one size fits all.
As long as you are continually responding to what your buyers need, you’ll remain at the top of the market even if you have a longer sales cycle than your competitors.
How to have a successful long sales cycle
Make sure you define your sales process clearly.
Always analyse and review how you are performing at each stage in your cycle.
Never stop moving or changing if things can be improved.
Refresh your skills for new challenges as they arise and continue to share tactics and strategies across your sales and marketing teams.
Finally, automate to reduce manual tasks – long sales cycles call for short cuts.
Whether you have a long or short sales cycle, Sopro can help you to better understand what works best for your business – and product or service. We are not just an award winning sales engagement platform, we also have a team on hand to help you increase lead generation and business revenue.