Are You Experiencing Selling Cycle “Creep”?

Selling cycle creep isn’t a new dance or rock bank; it is the ever-lengthening time it is taking customers to move through the selling cycle. In 2009, many customers just didn’t enter it at all, choosing to “just say no.” Today, customers are expressing interest, investigating new products and services, but stalling when it comes to the purchase decision. Interestingly, they aren’t saying no, they just aren’t saying yes. As a result they stay in the selling cycle longer, lengthening the time from “prospect’ to “close”.

This appears to be the case in just about every industry, from real estate to consulting. Customers know they need to make changes and find better solutions that are faster, easier or higher quality, resulting in increased revenue or productivity. Yet, when it comes time to decide, after all the information is gathered, there seems to be a reluctance to pull the trigger.

Understanding why is the easy part. While customers realize that they need to make a change, they aren’t ready to part with hard earned dollars. In addition, since purchases have been delayed, there are likely more needs than there is money, so businesses are taking it slow. They are hoping, perhaps wishing, that needs get resolved or maybe the economy will pick up and they won’t have to spend it after all. Or they lack a plan that provides clarity of which direction to go, so find it hard to prioritize their needs.

The harder part is figuring out how to help the customer make a decision. It is natural to want them to say yes. However, getting a decision, the right decision for the customer, is the goal. (Selling something to someone that won’t benefit may do more harm than good long-term, as unsatisfied customers harm your brand.) If the purchase will help the business improve (become more competitive, reach a broader market, and/or increase productivity), delaying the decision just slows down the benefit and increases the cost of the purchase. For example, if a consultant can help find a solution to a problem or increase revenue, every month of delay is a month of unrealized potential that will never be recovered. The total cost to the business of purchasing those services three months later may not be higher in absolute dollars for the service, but costs more due to the lost potential. Getting customers through the sales cycle more quickly is a benefit to them.

Servicing a growing number of customers stuck in the selling cycle takes its toll on the supplier, as well. If a normal selling cycle is 3 months and now it is taking 6 months to reach a decision, a salesperson is working with twice as many potential customers—and trying to figure out how they can keep each moving along, requiring a greater time commitment and reducing their ability to find as many new leads as they work hard to close the current prospects.

If your company is experiencing selling cycle creep, here are a few suggestions to keep prospects moving through the pipeline:

  • Sell results, not features: When sharing benefits of the product or service, focus on the results—how they will help generate revenue or save money —as opposed to the features. Be as specific as you can. In today’s environment, these are strong motivators.
  • Share the cost of delayed decisions: Create a sense of urgency by sharing case studies of results and doing the math, showing customers what a decision today will yield vs. a decision 3 or 6 months from now.
  • * From the “horses mouth”: Use testimonials to convince them that the time is now. Those who have walked in their shoes have more credibility in persuasion than a salesperson might.

  • Create a sense of urgency: Set an expiration date for the offer. Prices don’t stay the same forever, so indicate that the proposal or sale price is in effect for a specific time period.
  • Incentivize the decision: I am not an advocate for discounting, but bundling benefits is one way to increase the value, providing a better package with more benefits. If you have more than one product or service that a customer is interested in, bundle them together in a manner that encourages them to take both.

If your company’s selling cycle is getting longer, then be proactive and break out of your own routine with some of the ideas above. We would love to hear from you–what have you done to help shorten the sales cycle?

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