"It usually takes a long time to find a shorter way."
I spend a good percentage of my time selling. I also teach selling to professional service providers. And one issue that comes up time after time is, "How do I get prospects to buy faster? Why don't people respond to my proposals, my calls, my e-mails, or me? How do I shorten the sales cycle?"
My flip answer, "Have more in the pipeline at all times, so the sales cycle just seems shorter."
Of course, that rarely makes anyone feel better. So based on our research and experience, here are my Ten Commandments to Making the Sales Process Move More Quickly.
1. Thou Shalt Create A Crisp, Clear Value Proposition
In the course of my work, with all manner of professional service firms, I hear a very common lament. "We are becoming a commodity. The prospects just seem to buy on price. We are really good. How can I possibly separate myself from the crowd?" If you don't know how you are distinct, how will the prospect know? Ask your clients, your colleagues, your network – how do I provide value in what I do. Once you get an answer, refine the message, practice it, and refine it again.
2. Thou Shalt Talk To The Right Person
Why do so many of us end up wasting our time (and stretching out the sales cycle) by talking to prospects who have neither the budget nor authority to buy our services? Is it lack of confidence in our abilities to deliver, to sell, or both?
Whatever the reason, the shortest distance to a faster sale is the one to the decision- maker. Go into a prospect company at the highest level possible. If you can't start high, find out as quickly as possible who controls the purse strings and who makes the decisions.
3. Thou Shalt Uncover The Prospect's Needs
How directly are you connecting what you are offering with the needs of the buyer and those of her company? Too often, we talk to the prospect, rather than with the prospect. Ask questions that will allow you to find the most pressing and compelling needs that your services can address. You can then draw a straight and direct line from their needs to your services. As the saying goes, "The shortest distance..."
4. Thou Shalt Engender Trust And Confidence In Your Company
Unless you have the good fortune to have been introduced through a referral, your buyer has a long list of reasons not to buy. As you are selling, he is asking himself, "Can you do what you say you can?" "Do you really understand my company and what I am facing?" "Will I get the return on my investment in your fees?"
Provide stories, case studies, and demonstrable examples of how you have helped similar companies. Don't talk about how good you are, show it. The sooner you can reduce the trust barrier, the faster you can move your prospect along to making a decision.
5. Thou Shalt Deal With Objections Early On
Contrary to popular belief, objections are helpful to the buying process. In fact, I have a client who insists that objections are buying signals. When a prospect tells you that there is an obstacle to her buying your services, she is engaging you in the selling process.
The earlier objections come up, the earlier you have the opportunity to fully explore what is getting in the way, dealing with it, and moving on. The worst possible scenario is for the prospect to nod in agreement and then disappear once you are out of sight (no phone calls, no e-mails, and no answers) because you never had the opportunity to hear what was standing in the way of the sale.
6. Thou Shalt Plan Each Conversation
What do you want to have happen during (and after) the first conversation? The second? The third? The sales cycle gets stalled more often than not because the service provider (or seller) doesn't have a plan. Prepare for each conversation by asking yourself:
- What is my goal for this prospect?
- What is my goal for this conversation?
- What are my strengths going in?
- What are my vulnerabilities?
- Based on the answers, what can you expect and what is your planned next step?
Improv may be fine for comedy, but nothing will derail the sales express faster.
7. Thou Shalt Advance The Sale (And Avoid Continuances)
An outcome of good planning will be your ability to advance the sale to a next step. How often do you or your colleagues call to follow-up with a client and say those uninspiring words, "I was just checking to see how things were going?" "Fine," the prospect replies. (Pause.) "Thanks for calling." (Really long pause.) End of conversation.
Supply answers to questions, new information, a reason to have a new discussion about how you can and will meet their needs. How can you help the prospect see the value you will provide?
8. Thou Shalt Make It Easy For The Prospect To Buy
Even after you have refined your value proposition, engendered trust, uncovered needs, planned, etc., the prospect still might have a hard time buying that $300,000 assignment as a first engagement. How can she try out your services to feel comfortable with a larger project?
The best way is to have an entry-level service that shows what you can do in a more manageable fashion. This can take the form of a pilot program, an upfront assessment, or a day of strategy development.
9. Thou Shalt Provide Value In Your Marketing
When you sit down at the table with a prospective client for the first time, you might encounter one of two possibilities:
Possibility #1: "I've never heard of you. I don't know what you offer. I don't know why you're here. Now what did you want to sell me?"
Possibility #2: "I've read two of your white papers, saw you speak, and regularly read your newsletter. I love your website and your ABC Methodology. I've been looking forward to speaking with you for years now."
Of course, Possibility #2 is what you want to hear. You can accomplish this through your marketing activities, if you create and leverage value-based offers and experiences in your marketing efforts. If you do, the sales cycle will have already started before you even have that first exchange.
10. Thou Shalt Be Persistent
The average complex sale takes five conversations to close. How often do we drop out of the running, because we lose interest and quit the cycle half-way through? In the end, slow and steady wins the sale.
By now, you may be wondering if all this effort is going to be worth it. Where's the shorter path in this sales cycle? I can assure you it is well worth it for you. But take heed of our friend Anonymous' admonition, there really are no shortcuts. Sales success in professional services takes a consistent and value based approach that works over time.
And maybe, just maybe, the flip answer was the right (and short) one.
About the Author:
John Doerr is Co-President of Wellesley Hills Group. He is also the Founder of RainToday.com and co-author of the book Professional Services Marketing (Wiley, 2009).
Reprinted with permission of the Wellesley Hills Group, 2010.