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Increase sales velocity by shortening your sales cycle

Still waiting for a response from that website you were browsing last month? Maybe you got a reply, but not soon enough. Just last week I completed a web form on the site of a large CRM vendor who specialises in customer experience. Guess what. Nobody followed up my enquiry! I ended up chasing them via chat (which worked really well). It's okay, these things happen. But not everyone would've given them a second chance. It made me wonder how many other companies are missing out on business because they're sluggish responding to leads?

When you make the effort to enquire about a company's products or services, it's usually because you've finished your initial online research and you're now ready to speak to a real person. When you finally send the first email or make that first call for help, it's a decisive moment. How a company helps you cross that threshold is crucial. If you're expecting the door to be flung open and to be welcomed with open arms, but instead someone's fumbling around looking for the keys, well, that just feels plain awkward.

The top companies keep your buying momentum going. They understand you have deadlines and you need answers fast. So they use technology to facilitate the conversation and to streamline essential activities in their lead management and sales processes. They use CRM tools to complement human contact, not to replace it. They know that freeing their sales team from trivial tasks allows them to spend more time with customers. Top companies and top salespeople grasp that the longer it takes them to respond to a lead, the less likely they are to win that business. They realise, too, that the sooner meetings take place and paperwork is signed, the sooner they'll enjoy the financial benefit of the sale. 

Increase sales velocity by shortening your sales cycle

Naturally there's a certain amount of delay in any B2B sales process – the time it takes to sign an NDA, advance notice for large meetings, time to review the proposal, time to make decisions, and of course, the time it takes to confirm contract details. Nevertheless, suppliers have the advantage today of being able to choose from hundreds of CRM applications and integrations to reduce lag time. There are many CRM features designed to reduce the administrative burden on salespeople, simplify the buyer's journey and shorten the average sales cycle.

What is sales velocity?

One crucial sales performance metric when evaluating your sales pipeline is how long it takes to move an opportunity through the pipeline, from start to close. HubSpot, one of the leading marketing automation platforms, defines sales velocity as follows:

Sales velocity is the measurement of how quickly deals move through your pipeline and generate revenue. A sales velocity equation uses four metrics (number of opportunities, average deal value, win rate, and length of sales cycle) to determine an organization's sales velocity and how much revenue they can expect to generate over a specific time period.

Source: https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/sales-velocity

These days we're accustomed to 1-click ordering (which is especially dangerous for bookworms, like this one, during the Coronavirus outbreak). However, many companies' internal operations and complicated business processes prevent customers from making B2B purchases as quickly as they do B2C.

Complex sales may take months or even years to close. But the faster the contract's concluded, the faster that revenue starts hitting the business bank account and boosting your cash flow. So it would seem sensible to do everything in your power to allow new business to be signed swiftly. I don't believe in forcing a client to proceed faster than they wish to, but I do believe it's our responsibility to help customers advance as fast as they'd like to (and are able to). 

Why is the length of your sales cycle important?

At the risk of stating the obvious, there are (at least) three reasons you should optimise sales velocity: 

  • You'll make life simpler for your customer
  • You'll increase your chance of winning business
  • You'll improve your cash flow

Customer experience shouldn't favour the seller over the buyer. A missed call, a missed email and missed website enquiries waste your customer's time and impacts your sales. So how about making a few changes so that doing business with you is as easy as Apple Pay.

Five tips for reducing the length of your sales cycle

You can treat the following tips as prompts to confirm you're already doing the right thing (in which case, congratulations are in order!) or to highlight gaps where you could improve. I recommend focusing on one area at a time, rather than trying to implement too many changes at once.

1 - CAPTURE THE RIGHT DETAILS FROM THE VERY FIRST ENQUIRY

Less is more when it comes to web forms, so we shouldn't ask for more information than is needed in order to respond to a customer. However, keeping your forms too simple may also negatively impact the customer experience. I was in a situation recently where it wasn't until I was in the first meeting with a CRM software vendor that they asked where my client was located. It emerged I would need to speak to another salesperson in a different region because my client wasn't actually headquartered in the UK, like me. My time in the meeting was wasted and I had to wait another day before being able to have a meeting with the right person. You need to capture the least, yet most pertinent information that allows you to assign a lead correctly the first time. 

Speed up lead assignment with simple web forms and auto-assignment rules

If knowing the location of a company's headquarters is essential to allocating a lead correctly, then you need to include a question that captures that data in your lead form. As you'd expect, marketing automation platforms like HubSpot and SharpSpring include customisable forms, landing pages and sophisticated workflow automation, so you can tailor your questions and assign leads automatically to an appropriate member of your sales team. You'll find that even standard CRM solutions like Freshsales, Insightly and Salesforce also provide simple web-to-lead forms that can be embedded in your website and some level of auto-assignment. 

Don't forget to: 

  • Capture the minimum details required to correctly assign a lead i.e. region, industry, urgency, product interest
  • Send an auto-response email including a realistic response time
  • Follow up the lead with a call or personalised email from the right salesperson (ideally within minutes)

You're probably thinking, "But hang on, doesn’t everyone do that?" No they don't. That's one quick win for you then!

2 - ENSURE THE TEAM IS BIG ENOUGH TO HANDLE YOUR LEAD VOLUME

We Brits may be skilled at queueing, but nobody really likes waiting, do they? Yet it's surprising how many companies don’t have sufficient pre-sales resources to allow them to schedule online meetings or demos the same day clients request them. It's normal to have to wait a week or more for in-person meetings, too (clearly less of an issue right now with Covid).

When a prospective customer contacts you, they've prioritised their need and they're in the mood for buying. If they're still in the early research phase, perhaps it's not so pressing. But it's best to assume a request is urgent until the customer tells you otherwise. If you're a small company with a small team, you can ask prospects to help you prioritise by including a field to capture their time frame in your online form.

Make scheduling calls and meetings simple with calendar booking tools

HubSpot CRM, SharpSpring, Salesforce and several other CRMs include useful calendar scheduling tools that stop all those annoying to-ing and fro-ing emails to fix a time to speak or meet. They allow you to synchronise your Google or Office 365 calendar with the CRM, so that contacts see your latest availability. You can personalise your "Book a meeting with me" link to different degrees, depending on the CRM. For example, you might want to display it as a button in your brand colours at the bottom of your email footer. Be aware that the availability of this type of feature depends on the edition or payment plan of your chosen CRM, so it may not be available as part of a freemium service or at the cheapest license level.

If your CRM doesn't provide a calendar booking feature, there are plenty of meeting scheduling tools to choose from, like Calendly, which can be integrated with the most popular CRMs. The few pounds extra you pay will save you countless minutes and emails.

If you're like me, you may prefer to tightly control your own diary (I try to protect my focus time, so my preferred days for batching calls together may change each week). In that case you may favour using email templates to share your availability. I try to save time by immediately offering alternative times and dates I'm free in my first email, which also helps me confim how urgent the customer's enquiry is. I may be offering the same day or next day for a call, but they may be quite happy scheduling it in the next week or two.

3 - ALIGN BUYER AND SELLER MILESTONES FROM THE OUTSET

Isn't it a drag when you end up playing email ping pong, trying to fathom what's happening next in the sales process? It can feel like that for both the buyer and the seller. If you're the seller, you should be following a proven sales process where the next steps are clear for both of you. If you're the buyer, you'll likely have internal activities you need to complete before you can finalise the purchase. Aligning the critical milestones for both parties early in the process is key.

Follow a sales process and use email templates to simplify communications

The best CRMs include some great features to help you streamline your sales process and guide the salesperson to successful conclusion of the sale. For example, HubSpot's Sales Hub (Enterprise level) includes interactive Playbooks that allow you provide product knowledge and pricing guidelines to your sales team right when they need it. Salesforce and Pipeliner CRM include the capability to define discrete tasks that need to be completed at particular stages of the sales process, including how long they should take. CRMs with AI capabilities may even suggest the next-best action for the salesperson, so that no prospect is ever neglected.

You can also create predefined email templates for key activities that occur during the sales process. You may standardise communications, but you'll still have the freedom to include snippets of your own text to personalise the email. Your collection of coordinated sales templates will communicate clearly to your customer what the next steps are, who is responsible for them and when they'll be completed. There's less likelihood of errors, gaps or miscommunication when the whole sales team uses similar templates. And your customers will feel confident that everything is in good hands.

4 - FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP AND FOLLOW UP TO HELP YOUR CUSTOMER MAINTAIN MOMENTUM

When an otherwise enthusiastic prospect suddenly stops replying to email or voicemail, it could be for several reasons:

  • They're firefighting and dropped the ball
  • They saw your email, meant to reply, but forgot
  • Their Inbox is overflowing, and they didn't spot your email
  • They're struggling to prioritise the project, even though it's still important

Everyone's busy. Business priorities change in the blink of an eye. But when your customer is ready to resume the conversation, you can bet they'll want to continue at breakneck speed. Assuming you're convinced your products or services are going to help them achieve their business goals, it's a salesperson’s responsibility to follow up regularly and help their customer maintain momentum.

Use automation to make light work of those encouraging nudges

Depending on your chosen CRM, there are different ways to encourage your customer through follow-up emails:

  • One-off - you can use your own predefined sales email templates (called List Mails in Salesforce or SmartMail in SharpSpring) that you choose to send when you want
  • Sequenced – you can launch a Sequence (HubSpot) of emails which automatically halts once the recipient replies or books time in your calendar
  • Personalised - you can define more detailed workflow automation that triggers email sequences based on the specific activity of a lead on your website or their engagement on social media

I'm not a fan of daily canned emails to prospects, because I find them so irritating myself. I take each client's needs and intentions into account, and plan a custom timetable of follow-up emails for each one. That's easy enough to do when you're only working with a handful of valued clients at once. If your business is more transactional, you may opt for automated email campaigns using dynamic content instead.

5 - DOT THOSE I's AND CROSS THOSE T's QUICKLY, PLEASE

What's your approval process for NDAs and contracts? Hopefully you're not still making customers print and scan their signed copies. Paperwork's a pain, but there's a wealth of technology out there to help you streamline order and contract management for B2B sales.

Use document generation tools and electronic signatures to speed to a close

You can capture details of stakeholders and decision makers in your CRM early on the in sales process, so no problem there. Most CRMs also provide a means of depicting relationships between individuals, to show who influences whom. In addition, you can integrate time-saving add-ons with your CRM, such as:

  • Electronic signature (HelloSignPandaDoc, and DocuSign are good examples)
  • Standard Terms & Conditions
  • Editable custom contract clauses, provided by CPQ* vendors like Salesforce CPQ, Vlocity, and SAP CPQ (formerly CallidusCloud)
  • Automated approval processes 

Wouldn't it be great to give your customer a contract-signing experience that leaves them feeling positive about their sales journey with you?

In summary: Increasing sales velocity increases sales

I've suggested five areas where using specific sales-related CRM features will have the biggest impact on the length of your sales cycle. Here's that list again:

  1. Capture the right details from the very first enquiry
  2. Ensure the team is big enough to handle your lead volume
  3. Align buyer and seller milestones from the outset
  4. Follow up, follow up and follow up to help your customer maintain momentum
  5. Dot those i's and cross those t's quickly, please

If your company already follows all five suggestions, I'd love to hear which tools you're using and the positive difference they've made to sales velocity. Which improvement had the biggest impact on your sales team and why?

I hope I've inspired you to review a few areas where you might be able to improve your sales process. If you'd like help prioritising or implementing those changes, please get in touch. We're happy to discuss any sales, marketing or service challenges you have, and can provide an independent assessment of your current technology infrastructure and possible CRM options. 

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Wednesday, 3rd June 2020

Written by Vanessa Hunt

Vanessa worked as an independent CRM Consultant from 2006, before establishing Vanessa Hunt Consulting Ltd in January 2010. She's held training and management positions in software organisations and consultancies such as Maximizer Software Ltd, McAfee, Detica and CSC Computer Sciences. With twenty years' experience in training, marketing and CRM, she's very much at home in anything martech, CRM or cloud related. When she's not in the classroom in heels, she's outdoors in muddy boots!

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On the 10th of June 2020, Emma Mc Carthy said...

This blog is a really great read and is very informative. I love the point on "Align Buyer and Seller Milestones" and overall the content here touches on what sales velocity is, why it's important, steps to improve your sales velocity and has some practical advice and areas to think about.

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