Sales cycles can drag on forever. Getting to YES is great, but sometimes even getting to NO can be preferable to endless conversations and “what if” puzzles.
I remember a sales manager asking a salesperson if it had ever occurred to him that a particular prospect just liked to talk. Appointment after appointment, phone call after phone call burned up hours of sales time and produced no revenue.
Boost Sales Velocity
Moving the process along is important. Reducing the interval between initial contact and quotation is frequently associated with sales effectiveness. The fact is, a lot can be done to boost the velocity of the sales cycle and to help the rep get the quotation completed.
Six Strategies to Shorten Time-to-Quote
Here are six specific strategies to consider if you need to shorten your time-to-quote interval.
1. Disseminate Tribal Knowledge
If your product is more complex than, say, paper clips, you likely have a body of tribal knowledge located between the ears of your senior sales staff, engineers and product managers. Those folks know the product by heart; they understand how it is used and how it can be misused.
Novice salespeople and customers, as well, likely do not have any inkling of most of this knowledge because they simply do not have the experience nor time on the job. Sadly, those folks who do possess this knowledge are sometimes less than happy to share it until an opportunity arises that makes it personally advantageous to do so. And, even if they are perfectly willing to share, they would no doubt prefer to spend time doing their own jobs.
Building tribal knowledge into selling scripts and including it in prospect questionnaires and discovery conversations can save weeks, if not months. Asking the right questions upfront saves wasted time in building solutions that are inappropriate to the customer’s needs.
There are many ways to do this. Configuration tools offer one method. Selling scripts are interactive in nature, response-driven and can be built by those who actually possess the knowledge required.
2. Expedite Product and Price Knowledge Acquisition
Closely related to the first point is the acquisition of general product knowledge and pricing familiarity. New hires struggle with learning about unfamiliar products and new pricing strategies. New products are rolled out, which presents a learning hurdle for all reps.
Reps can’t sell what they can’t discuss. Again, the use of selling scripts and automating the configuration process of products allows much of that knowledge to be maintained within a support system. Reps can simply guide the sales interview, collecting all of the needed information required to create a solution perfectly aligned with the customer’s requirements.
Sales can concentrate on selling and stop wasting time on rote memorization of product and pricing data. They will still acquire the knowledge over time, but it will not be a show-stopping requirement when the product, or the rep, is new.
CRM systems and configuration software with pricing capabilities are ideally suited to take up the knowledge slack from your sales force. Your time-to-quote will not be delayed by endless calls to engineers or product management. The knowledge will drive the questions asked, and the options offered by Sales.
3. Use Script-Driven Prospect Interviews
Sales reps will balk at this, but it should be understood that script-driven interviews don’t literally mean your reps are going to be reading a prepared script.
Interviews need to cover specific subjects and gather specific information in order to move the selling conversation along. Reps that “wing” this or figure they will just remember all of the right questions are apt to end up with a delayed quotation.
A sales-interview script is more a matter of organizing the sequence of questions to be asked. The script contains the possible answers to those questions, the possible follow-up questions and finally the options or choices available based on the information provided by the customer’s answers.
No wrong turns, no misunderstandings, no forgotten conditions. Scripted interviews get the job done quickly.
Most configuration tools are driven by scripted interviews that in turn are driven by AI. So analyze the responses and produce the correct responses in the form of options and product choices.
4. Improve Qualification of Prospects
Selling is time-consumptive. The key to avoiding time-wasting and dead-end conversations with unqualified leads is to better match the leads to the relevant qualification attributes.
Let’s say you are selling a product that supports recreational deep sea fishing. Rather than simply looking for “large manufacturers of boats,” look for large manufacturers of fiberglass recreational watercraft rated for saltwater. This means the contacts you are going to approach will be smaller in number, but much more likely to have some interest in your product.
For existing customers, cross-selling and upselling opportunities can be mined from CRM files and also from configuration data maintained by the configurator systems used by Sales.
5. Let Tech Handle the Early Cycle Sales Process
Sales reps hate answering the same basic questions that repeatedly come up during the early sales cycle. At the same time, buyers are not in a hurry to talk to reps in that early information-gathering phase of the buying cycle either.
A properly designed customer portal can automate so much of the early cycle product education process and answer most of the FAQs that come up from buyers early on.
Customer profiles and user stories provide real-world examples of how your product is helping companies and how your customers value your company as a partner and a resource.
More and more buyers are happy taking on the research and product education that Sales previously handled. This is a good thing for Sales because it eliminates most of the tire kickers and merely curious from actual one-on-one contact. Sales reps can spend their time with qualified, interested and motivated buyers.
Technologically, these online customer resources require an investment in time and expertise in terms of design and implementation. eCommerce, extensive searchable content and marketing-automation tools are essential in organizing and presenting that content and tracking the online behaviors of your visitors.
When the time comes to initiate direct contact between Sales and the prospect, both seller and buyer are ready to move forward.
6. Automate the Configuration and Pricing Process
Complex products are many times intentionally complex because that complexity delivers flexibility, which in turn provides all manner of economic advantages for the manufacturer. But it also makes the pricing and configuration process critically important and at the same time, all the more complicated.
Sales cycles for complex products often involve a lot of trial and error solutions. Reps and prospects will examine and consider all manner of alternatives and options in their search for the perfect solution to address the prospect’s needs.
Automating the configuration and pricing process eliminates much of this unnecessary activity by building the configuration process into an interactive interviewing process. Questions are asked, the customer responds and those responses drive the options presented during the configuration process.
As the configuration is finalized, pricing is calculated, BOMs and itemized part lists are generated and the quotation is automatically created.
CPQ software is the key to eliminating unnecessary iterations of product presentations, pricing and configuration errors and time-wasting discussions about solutions that ultimately prove to be useless to the prospect.
Time is a Valuable Commodity for Salespeople and Customers
Shortening the time-to-quote process is good for everyone involved. Time is a monetized commodity for Sales, and reducing the time spent on useless interaction is time made available for revenue-generating conversations with other prospects.
For customers, time is likely just as important. The quicker the customer can solve their issues, the better. Working efficiently together, Sales and prospects can get through the product discussion quickly and move on to completing the deal.