Thursday, September 28, 2023

How to optimize your sales cycle

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

CEO of Novus Laurus. Business and transformation strategist. Investor in digital technology, film and food.

Earlier I discussed lean sales cycles and their importance for scaling startups or established companies. A repeatable, high-margin sales cycle is also necessary to train outsourced sales teams or AI tools. Now let’s see how we can develop such a sales process.

1. Identify the ideal type of customer.

Hidden behind advice to “identify the best customer” are actually two separate ideas: the easiest, cheapest customer acquisition and customers who will buy repeatedly. Both low customer acquisition costs (CAC) and high customer lifetime value (CLV) are needed to grow your business. Customer segments will not always meet both criteria. Identify both types and optimize sales across them.

To understand who is easiest to sell to, research your sales or predict who will buy your product or service without too much fuss. What features distinguish those who bought without hesitation? What kind of budget did they have that made buying a no-brainer? Was it 10 times or 100 times higher than your price? Have seasonal influences, market conditions, peer pressure/fashion, or a budget rundown event lead to a sense of urgency to buy?

Second, to determine what type of customer is likely to re-order, you need to research the customer’s capacity. What should the internal needs of customers be to reorder? How many times can they reorder? Will repeat orders require a lot of sales effort? Is the customer sophisticated enough to use your offering successfully without much support and maintenance for their orders?

Ideally, you want an easy first sale and multiple repeat orders with minimal or no maintenance.

2. Get credible leads.

Start narrowing your funnel by creating a large list of leads based on the criteria above. By doing research, buying curated lists, or attending corporate events, you will collect large numbers of such leads. Where do these ideal customers gather in large numbers? What search terms, demographics, or business criteria will they reveal? How do you get their contact details? Sending outreach to anyone who does not meet the criteria is not optimal.

3. Qualify, qualify, qualify.

Often, organizations wallow in the random responses they get from leads that don’t have the need, budget, or urgency. Many organizations also hesitate or lack the discipline to ask qualifying questions at the earliest. Whether it’s publicly available information or first phone calls, online research, behind-the-scenes investigations or conversations, if you can’t figure out if a lead has a need, budget, urgency and who an authorized buyer is, I’ve found your continued commitment is unlikely to be successful or expensive.

For startups, citing special budgets or urgency for a new offering may not be easy. Urgency of problem/solution and associated budgets should be examined. The size of an organization, expressed in number of people, is usually public or easily obtained by asking. This can provide a reasonable estimate of the total company budget. Appropriate percentages of the budget for operations such as IT, HR, accounting, etc., can be estimated and verified with some accuracy through discrete surveys. The GMO survey illustrates this for the marketing budget. The names of the owners of those budgets must be available or else you will be in contact with the wrong person even after qualifying. Make sure you know who the decision maker is and what drives their purchases.

4. Go for a tailor-made approach.

While common criteria and qualifications have created your prospect list, it’s crucial to tailor your approach for each person. Start with a sales pitch in a template and edit it for the specific prospect. Your template should state the problem you are solving, the uniqueness of your solution compared to the competition, features or customizations of the solution to meet the specific needs of potential customers, the ease of use and maintenance of your solution, and up to lock all customer successes achieved in similar spaces . Most importantly, you quantify the ROI in dollars and budget or preferably operating costs or capital expenditures. I’ve found that the higher the price of your offering, the more likely it is that multiple shareholders you do or don’t speak to will need to see and believe your pitch.

For B2B situations, make sure your pitch has the right verbiage that is meaningful to different shareholder departments and ranks. Provide reference case studies and change management successes. Make your approach easy to understand, entertaining, and clearly memorable. Provide samples where possible.

5. Negotiate and close.

Every sale becomes easier with negotiation and closing preparation. Even after adjusting your pitch to the customer, you should research the person who is buying. In my experience, your first conversation should have something that makes them like you personally, your outlook on life in general and, finally, your company and what it stands for. Then there is a greater chance that a product or service pitch will be assessed favorably. Wait until you’re welcome in the client’s behavior before introducing your pitch.

But even good conversations can encounter procedural objections. Prepare answers to all possible concerns about pricing, adoption, alternative solutions, timing, customer success, and internal business dynamics. Act as a facilitator. Adjust your terms, prices and delivery to make your sale easy for your customer. Kindly and entertainingly ask for the signature on the dotted line. Don’t sell too much. Wait for the customer to experience initial success before asking to discuss upsell or cross-sell opportunities.

6. Improve the process.

Calculate your “speed of sales” regularly to examine your process productivity, repeatability, margins and costs. Train your sales force if you have a repeatable process with high margins. If you’re interested in engaging a channel partner or outsourcing sales, make sure they can explain the above process to you with examples from other customers in a similar space. AI tools can also help reduce effort and costs by taking on certain tasks. Some implementations already exist:

• Best customer segments and criteria through machine learning

• Lead qualification via annual reports and/or social media

• Objection handling and negotiation of terms like a game

• Always and everywhere sales bots for B2C online interactions

A streamlined sales process is at the heart of a successful business and allows you to scale your growth or show your venture financiers that you are ready for a financial round at scale. Business Council is the leading growth and networking organization for entrepreneurs and leaders. Am I eligible?

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