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How to Dramatically Reduce Sales Cycle Times in 2022

Sales
Written by
David Levy

Looking for ways to cut down on sales cycle length? Read this guide for practical approaches to make that happen in 2022.

Your sales cycle should take prospects from knowing little about your product to investing in it with confidence. And the longer your sales cycle is, the more risk that the deal won’t happen.

You can shorten your average sales cycle length by analyzing:

  • Your current sales cycle length
  • Industry average based on deal size
  • Why deals are falling through
  • Ways to drive urgency in your sales cycle 

You may have heard the phrase “time kills all deals” — identifying ways to shorten your sales cycle is essential to onboard new customers and ultimately hit your revenue goals.

Table of contents:

What Are the Phases of a Full Sales Cycle?

The sales cycle refers to the specific phases and actions that your sales reps execute to make a sale. When broken down, the 6 stages of a typical B2B sales cycle are:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Qualifying/discovery
  3. Sales presentation
  4. Objection-handling
  5. Nurturing
  6. Close

Want a faster sales cycle? Try implementing sales enablement at each stage to boost efficiency.

For example, in the discovery phase, give reps better discovery questions to:

  • Help identify pain points
  • Help identify the right leads
  • Disqualify leads who aren't a good fit 

Use the pain points and goals you surface to drive a compelling event, creating urgency to close. 

In addition to good questions, arm your reps with customer story cards segmented by vertical and company size to help your prospect visualize how you can help them.

Sales enablement on how to effectively manage each phase of the sales process will help your reps be more prepared and shorten the sales cycle length. 

Why Is Reducing the Sales Cycle Crucial?

“When you understand the sales cycle, you can experience success more consistently.” — Zendesk 

A shortened sales cycle results in more consistent success plus these 3 benefits: 

1. Improves sales win rates  

The odds of landing a deal improve when you reduce the time that deal is in your pipeline. 

Shorter sales cycles result in higher sales velocity (selling more in less time).

2. Boosts sales productivity 

By winning deals faster and spending less time on unqualified leads, reps have more availability to hunt down new deals.

This leads to better sales productivity because your reps spend most of their time selling to the right people. 

3. Helps identify sales stage slow-ups 

Evaluating your stages helps pinpoint what's causing sales hangups, especially when looking at your metrics. 

For example, after analyzing your metrics, you might find you need to improve sales qualifications based on too many unqualified prospects moving into sales presentations.

A fix could be implementing BANT or the MEDDIC sales framework to isolate your target market better and move the right prospects into a presentation.

4 Factors That Affect Sales Cycle Length

An effective process has the reps thinking in terms of ‘them’ as opposed to ‘us.’“ – Trish Bertuzzi, The Bridge Group

Often, a long sales cycle doesn’t focus on your prospects' needs as much as it should —  these 4 factors contribute to long sales cycle times in most organizations. 

1. Your customer persona(s)

The demographics and behaviors of your target market influence how long they take to buy and why they're buying. 

For instance, a highly regulated industry such as healthcare will require additional security checks that can prolong the buying process. Getting ahead of this by asking the right questions about the security process and starting it as early as the prospect allows saves time by running these processes in parallel vs. sequentially.

2. Your product's value proposition 

The degree to which you can align your product's value proposition with your buyer's pain points and goals influences how and when they buy.

Your prospect's pain points have to be greater than keeping the status quo. In other words, if your prospect does nothing, it is more detrimental to their business than to risk buying and implementing your solution.

In addition to uncovering pain points, the fastest way to show a prospect that your product is a good fit is by finding real business metrics tied to those pain points and having a value proposition that clearly and concisely aligns with them:

  • What pain points your product solves
  • The business impact of those pain points
  • How the product solves that pain point

Prospects that don’t have pain points, or don’t know the severity of those pain points, don't buy, so the better you can uncover them and communicate why your solution can help alleviate them, the faster the buyer will act.

3. Stakeholders and logistics 

The number of stakeholders involved usually affects how long a sales deal takes to close. With more stakeholders comes an increased likelihood of:

  • More meetings
  • Differing views of priorities
  • Higher chance someone says no or wants an alternative solution

This makes it essential to find out who is involved in the decision-making process and leverage your champion to help you navigate the priorities of those involved. 

4. Product price & terms 

Generally speaking, the higher the deal size, the longer it’ll take to close.

This is because you’ll need to involve more people and get higher up in the account to get approval for a larger purchase, engaging with VP or even C-level folks. 

Simply put, if your product requires a heftier investment, more stakeholders will be involved, and higher-level approvals are needed.

How Long Should a Sales Cycle Be?

According to Marketing Charts, 74.6% of B2B deals take at least 4 months to close.

As long as you’re modeling out the leads needed to hit your revenue goals, and factoring in how long it’ll take to close those deals, then you should be OK. 

If you can do things like keeping your sales cycle time to under 3 months, you can engage a lead and close the opportunity within the same fiscal quarter. 

How to calculate your average sales cycle length

You can calculate your average sales cycle length by adding the days it took to close each sale and dividing it by the number of deals.

For example, in Q2, Company X's sales cycle length was 40 days based on the following equation:

50+60+25+34+23+65+29+36 = 322 total days 

Company X had 8 opportunities.

322/8 = 40.25 days 

CRMs like Salesforce and HubSpot will track this metric for you.

10 Effective Ways to Shorten Sales Cycle Times

Shorter sales cycles result in moving prospects through your pipeline faster and closing more deals. Apply these 10 proven methods for shorter sales cycle times across your deals.

1. Overcome objections

Objections are buying barriers to purchasing your product. Overcoming objections require reframing a customer's belief about your product and its benefits.

Objections are common — even when a solution fits the customer, the following can still hold them back:

  • Fear of change 
  • Uncertainty about the product and its use-cases
  • Lack of trust in a product, sales rep, or the company 
  • Lack of urgency 

A HubSpot poll found that 42% of reps reported a "lack of urgency" as the primary contributor to objections. 

Create specific discovery questions to uncover not only the buyer’s pain points but the associated business impact of not remediating those issues to drive urgency. Additionally, create content to help overcome any “lack of urgency” objection. 

Here are card examples you can create:

  • Discovery cards – Create questions that uncover more information about your prospect, including this year’s goals and current pain points they have
  • Product (value prop) cards — Clearly communicate your product's value. Explain how and why it's a worthy investment to handle any objection based on value. 
  • Competition — Address how you differentiate from a competitor and give your customers a better ROI when a prospect brings up a competitor's use case.
  • Pricing — Show that your value prop or ROI is higher than the price of your product when there's a pricing objection.
  • Customer stories — Tell stories of previous customer successes that resonate with the buyer – choose customers of a similar size, vertical, and use case.

All of the enablement done around these areas should be complemented with tools and insights the rep can reference live in a meeting to help move the deal forward.

Aircover’s AI transcription feature detects conversation in real-time and gives reps bite-sized information to overcome objections. 

Reps increase their odds of winning deals and speeding up sales cycle times by addressing customer objections on the spot vs. needing to schedule a follow-up to discuss does not help with buyer inertia.

According to Salesforce, high-performing reps are 2.8x more likely to use AI than underperforming reps. 

2. Identify sales stage gridlock 

Deal slowdowns are typical when you don’t know what's causing them or where in the sales cycle they’re occurring.

For instance, maybe you’re not speaking with the right stakeholder that can help you get the project approved.

Fix this by tracking metrics such as stage duration and conversion rate of each sales stage. Additionally, review the number of parallel touchpoints you’re making in the account (multi-threading) as opposed to being connected to one person (single-threaded), which is a deal risk.

When you identify which stage(s) is causing most hangups, you can find solutions to remove them.

For example, if you're having issues going from stage 2 demo to stage 3 POC, you might need to ask different discovery questions that uncover more business pain.

3. Create a personalized customer experience by segmenting your value proposition based on the buyer persona 

It's paramount to speak to your buyer needs, expectations, and desires. 

Effective messaging and positioning, coupled with customer stories, are 2 effective ways to enable your team when speaking with different buyers:

  1. Messaging and Positioning — Explain your core idea, product, and benefits that the buyer most values and cares about, and relate it to the segment you’re speaking with. 
  2. Customer stories — Share customer wins from a past customer in the same segment.

The goal of segmenting your buyers is to help the respective stakeholders come to a decision faster because you’ve aligned your solution with their needs.

4. Build product and company trust 

Building trust allows for more prospect buy-in and is often the deciding factor in whether a deal closes.

One of the best ways to build trust is by leveraging social proof. 

G2 found that 92% of B2B buyers are more likely to purchase after reading a trusted testimonial.

The following are different forms of social proof you can utilize:

  • Written testimonials 
  • Video testimonials
  • Case studies
  • Online reviews
  • Social media advocacy via customers or credible industry names

Another way to build trust is by sharing educational value.

Educate your prospect on the broader ecosystem you operate in (not just yours, but also general info) and offer resources to help with their challenges, pain points, and goals. This gives them helpful information that builds your sales rep's credibility as a trusted advisor.  

Here are tools AEs can use to educate prospects and build trust:

  • Product cards 
  • Industry cards (trends, statistics, etc.)
  • Customer story cards 

Showing higher expertise than your competition can help position you ahead as your customers want to invest in a partner vs. a vendor. 

5. Closing for next steps: Improve action item management

The end of a call is a crucial moment. Often, reps make the mistake of ending a call with an "I’ll follow-up through email" rather than with actionable next steps to move toward closing. 

Closing for the next steps is what happens after the call — it ensures everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect next. 

Ideally, you’ve identified some kind of timeline that your buyer is operating against, and you can work backward to help map out the process from now until then to have a successful rollout.

What your next steps will consist of depends on where you are in the sales cycle and can be influenced by things like your sales methodology (i.e., do you need to find the decision-maker before entering into a POC?). 

Creating a structured sales process allows for a more predictable (and happier) customer journey and more effective communication between a seller and their manager on what the next steps should be in the deal.

Not closing for the next steps on the call can lengthen your sales cycle, or the buyer might get distracted with other priorities, pushing the deal altogether.

Communicating the next steps internally is the job of customer-facing teams. 

Teams in charge of the deal can use Aircover's AI intelligence to bookmark important moments in their meeting automatically for follow-up action later.

Let’s say a CFO prospect says, "Can you send me a pricing sheet?" — that transcript would get saved as an action item and assigned to a team member. 

Team members can then be assigned different action items with a due date.

**Complete action items quickly to move deals along faster and shorten your sales cycle.

6. Systemize Your Scheduling 

Systemized scheduling is repeatable with meeting scheduling and cadences that lead to success.

For example, reps should book the next meeting while still live on the call with a prospect. This is good sales hygiene.

Because we all know that even when your prospect intends to book a follow-up meeting with you, things come up. 

Without scheduling the next meeting before your call ends, your email can get lost in their inbox or low on the to-do list. On the other hand, nailing down what comes next on the call drives deal momentum and keeps the prospects moving through your sales cycle stages.

Another example of systemized scheduling is establishing bi-weekly meetings during the POC phase. In these meetings, you can answer questions and offer insights to ensure the prospect fully understands product value.

Additionally, use scheduling software to schedule meetings and send automated reminders to ensure prospects don’t forget or miss meetings.

7. Focus on qualified leads

Often, deals that sit stagnant in your pipeline are because of unqualified prospects. 

Unqualified prospects typically:

  • Have no budget for your product 
  • Don't have the authority to make a decision 
  • Don't need your product 
  • Lack urgency for your product despite knowing they need it
  • Have an adoption timeframe that is too far into the future

Shifting to more qualified prospects ensures that reps spend time with higher buyer intent prospects.

Finding qualified prospects begins with the proper marketing messaging to the right audience. Once that core audience enters your pipeline, your sales methodology and qualification framework will make finding the right people easier.

There are many different qualification frameworks such as MEDDIC, BANT, CHAMP, etc. A simple example with BANT:

  • Budget — Can they afford your offer?
  • Authority — Are you speaking to a decision-maker? 
  • Need — Is there a need for your product?
  • Timeframe — What's the timeline in which they're ready to buy?

Your qualification questions should center around these BANT pillars. Here's an example of qualification questions for each pillar:

  • Budget"Is this a project sponsored by your management team, or is this something you are exploring on your own? Is this a budgeted initiative?”
  • Authority"The last time you purchased a similar solution, what did the process look like?"
  • Need"How are you accomplishing X today? Do you see any gaps? What else is a priority over the next two quarters?"
  • Timeframe"When would you like a solution to [insert challenge or goal]?”

Answers to BANT questions help your reps understand if this buyer is a good fit for your product. Once you find your qualified leads, implement lead scoring to rank marketing qualified leads (MQL) and prioritize the most buyer-ready ones. 

Sales teams are 33% more likely to prioritize leads based on "propensity to buy" data insights than intuition alone.

8. Improve meeting prep to accomplish goals

Sales meeting agendas and objectives are essential aspects of meeting prep to accomplish your goals.

Your objective is what you want the prospect to do or take away from the meeting (e.g., involving more stakeholders on their end, starting the legal and/or security process, articulating any objections, etc.).

Your agenda is what happens in the meeting to help accomplish your objective. 

I like using the framework PAO — Purpose Agenda Outcome to help drive effective meeting outcomes. 

Here’s an example:

Purpose: Aircover feedback call with [customer]

Agenda:

(1) Initial feedback from [customer] team on usage of Aircover

(2) Identify other areas of value we can add into Aircover from both a content and workflow/automation perspective

Outcome: Find a working cadence for feedback with the [customer] team. Identify other folks that should get involved in the rollout.

Poor meeting prep can slow deals and increase sales cycle length when meetings aren't valuable for the prospect. 

This can lead to the prospect having difficulty finding what sets you apart from competitors and motivates them to take no action or find alternatives.

When pinpointing your objective for meeting preparation, ask yourself these 2 questions:

  1. What does the prospect want to get out of the meeting, and why? (you can use the information they gave in the discovery phase to form your answer)
  2. What is the prospect inferring about the product without saying it?

9. Upgrade the lead nurturing process

Lead nurturing should have a cadence based on the segment you're dealing with and where in the buyer journey your prospect is.

For instance, some industries have a more extended vendor approval process, requiring more touchpoints than others.

A great way of making the nurturing phase more dynamic is by using sending platforms.

Sending platforms let you send personalized gifts to prospects, keeping you front-of-mind without every touchpoint being related to selling. It lets you stand out from competitors and enhance the buyer experience.

When evaluating where touchpoints should be stepped up, look for which sales cycle stages have the highest duration.

For instance, maybe there isn't enough follow-up after a qualified lead shows a lack of interest during discovery. Circling back a few weeks or months later could be enough to get them on a second call.

10. Prioritize leads that are ready to speak with sales 

Leads come with different interest levels, needs, budgets, and timelines.

It's essential to identify leads that are ready to speak with sales. Engaging leads too early can be a waste of time for sales and frustrate the prospect along the way.

Tools like account engagement software are designed to find high intent leads that can integrate directly into your CRM. 

They effectively track various signals and surface an intent score on the lead. Train your team on the lead scoring methodology and how to engage with leads that are more or less likely to purchase based on their score.

A Final Wrap Up of Reducing Sales Cycle Time Frame

Speeding up the sales cycle reduces deal risk and increases the likelihood of reaching sales numbers.

It's crucial to analyze your different stages to identify bottlenecks and make the proper adjustments (e.g., sales enablement by stage)

Prioritizing leads, selling value to the right segments, building trust, and proper qualification are ingredients for a faster sales cycle.

But the secret sauce is the addition of in-meeting enablement tools that deliver real-time insights and promote the right selling behavior.

This is where Aircover shines, helping reps manage action items, overcome objections, and surface the right information that moves deals forward. 

Get early access to Aircover and bring modern solutions that will help shorten your sales cycle.