Are Sales Cycles Really Getting Shorter?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Dec 11, 2009 @ 10:12 AM

I read an article that claimed that winning sales cycles are getting shorter. 

While I agree with everything else in the article, I questioned the 23% shorter because our substantial data does not support this claim.  So where could the discrepancy be?

Let's start with the author's statement, "from qualify to close has reduced by a little more than 23%".  

I've previously written that more than 90% of salespeople we have assessed don't have or follow a formal sales process. Despite that, even in companies lacking a formal process, there may be a milestone called "Qualified" but, exactly where, and when, does this milestone take place?  Some companies attempt to qualify far too early in the process and, as a result, either fail to convert their opportunities, or their process drags on for much longer than necessary.  Why?  Because "qualified" is not a buying motivation - it doesn't compel anyone to take action.  On the other hand, if a company is using a time-tested, proven, sales process where qualification takes place immediately after determining that the prospect has:

  • compelling reasons to buy,
  • compelling reasons to buy from you,
  • some urgency to solve a problem,
...the sales cycle will accelerate.  This includes a lightning fast qualification where the prospect cooperates in qualifying themselves instead of withholding information.  Why?  They're motivated!  So a company that is qualifying at the right time should shorten their sales cycle from that point forward.

The next question revolves around criteria.  What is the criteria for "Qualified"?  In most car dealerships, if you are able to walk in under your own power, you are a qualified buyer.  In B2B sales, surprising as it may seem, many salespeople continue to take that approach.  How do they know the prospect is qualified?  One of the answers I heard recently was, "They seemed interested and they agreed with what I said".  There can be as many as 30 qualifying criteria that a company may incorporate and all companies must have at least the following eight:

  • prospect is committed to solving the problem identified;
  • they will spend more money to do business with you;
  • you know their time line to have a solution in place;
  • you know their criteria for a decision;
  • you know their process for making a decision;
  • you have spoken with the decision makers and are aware of others that may be involved;
  • you know they have and will spend the money required to solve their problem;
  • you have both a needs and cost appropriate solution;

So even if a salesperson is qualifying at the right time, the number of qualifying criteria has a great deal to do with how qualified an opportunity actually is and the more qualified it is, the more likely it is to close.  For example, if we added three more criteria:

  • competition has been eliminated;
  • doing it themselves is not an option;
  • putting it off until is not an option

...the percentage of qualified opportunities that convert to closed would increase further still.  As you can see, the timing and number of filters has more to do with how likely things will move along than anything else.

Since the article's author used client data as the basis for his statistic, I would simply guess that the 23% reduction in time from qualified to closed represents a before and after picture of their clients - a comparison of those who:

Were previously not qualifying as outlined above (before they became clients).


Adopted and/or formalized their process so that they were qualifying as outlined above (after they became clients).

Objective Management Group's data on the salespeople we've assessed tells us that most salespeople are providing their quotes and proposals at inappropriate times (85% to early), presenting at inappropriate times (84% too soon) and following up inappropriately (92% don't have a reason to follow up ).  The reason?  They weren't qualifying at the appropriate time!

So, 9 of your 10 salespeople aren't qualifying at the right time and with the right criteria.  You decide to get some help to create a formalized, optimal sales process.  You get your salespeople trained long enough and effectively enough to master the consultative skills necessary to develop motivated buyers with compelling reasons to move forward.  They now qualify effectively and appropriately.  How much shorter will the back end of your sales cycle be then?

Since 90% of your salespeople are now converting 50% more prospects to motivated buyers, who have the urgency to self-qualify, in order to get their problems solved, it should be a lot more than 23% shorter!

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, Sales Force, sales cycle, sales qualifying, sales assessments

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned awards for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog for eleven consecutive years and of the more than 2,000 articles Dave has published, many of the articles have also earned awards.

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