Whether it takes an IT service firm two weeks or two months on average to close deals, every one of them yearns to shrink the length of its typical sales cycle.
Doing so helps improve overall operational margins and provides better advance warning into capacity and personnel planning for the months to come. But getting there takes serious discipline and investments in both people and process. In researching how to close a sales deal more quickly, solution providers we spoke with offered up these four tips for channel sales.
1. Qualify prospects
Prequalifying potential customers can keep the sales process moving and ensure that the right people "touch" the customer at the right time in the sales cycle. M.J. Shoer, president of Jenaly Technology Group Inc., attests to the value of this approach. In August 2012, Jenaly, a solution provider in Portsmouth, N.H., created a new business development position -- someone who is dedicated to qualifying any response to the marketing campaigns that the company runs.
This individual acts in an inside sales role, researching prospects that emerge before Shoer -- primary salesman for the 10-person company -- is brought in to follow up with a specific presentation or proposal. By the time Shoer meets with a prospect, the "dating sequence" is out of the way, so to speak.
"I didn't realize it, but I was accidentally becoming a bottleneck in the past. Now I can spend more time on high-value, true sales activity," he said.
With an eye to future growth, Shoer includes his business development manager on subsequent sales calls so that they can collaborate on ideas for closing the deal more quickly after late-stage meetings.
2. Don't overinflate the proposal
eMazzanti Technologies has tightened up its sales process substantially, simply by starting to track its sales pipeline far more closely, said Jennifer Mazzanti, president of the IT services firm, based in Hoboken, N.J.
That means every single phone call, every email, every meeting and every set of documents pulled to support interaction with the customer or prospect is logged in its CRM system (which was already being used to monitor services processes).
This helps eMazzanti understand which forms of outreach are most effective, as well as identify which prospects might require additional attention, she said.
When it comes to the proposal itself, eMazzanti has benefitted from resisting the urge to include more services than are actually required to serve a customer's most urgent, primary need.
"We address their leading issue, which helps build trust and shorten the cycle," she said. "Particularly when people are tight with the budget, by working what they need to work first, you can make things move much faster."
Over time, your company may be rewarded with far more business than it initially anticipated, because satisfied clients tend to become repeat ones, Mazzanti said. There's also another benefit, especially if the customer is a new one: Your company can discover whether the customer pays on time and whether it requires special attention before committing to a massive, multiphase project.
"For this reason, we tend to layer our services," she said.
3. Give prospects a deadline to respond
Powersolution.com generates plenty of unsolicited leads each month -- often at least a dozen -- but in early 2012 it discovered it was only closing about 10% of them, said David Dadian, CEO of the Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., MSP.
One strategy that has made a difference is creating a specific, time-stamped call to action that might include an incentive, such as 12 months of service for the price of 11 or several "free" services calls, if the customer responds by a certain date.
"This has worked for us with some relatively good success," Dadian said.
This strategy also helps Powersolution.com uncover budget constraints that may be causing a prospect to drag its feet. By setting the deadline, this objection might come to light sooner, enabling Dadian's team to counter and potentially negotiate a smaller deal.
4. Know when to walk away
Sometimes, despite doing all the right things, like giving a succinct presentation and coming up with an on-point proposal, a technology solution provider's sales team will encounter a prospect that just can't be convinced to make a decision quickly. Or perhaps one that requests a proposal every three to six months, expressing an urgent need to act, yet failing ever to make a commitment.
In these situations, your company's sales team must be disciplined enough to walk away -- after having an honest conversation with the prospect about where the disconnect lies.
"You don't want to burn the bridge, but this is probably not a client you want anyway," Shoer said. "You need to know when to respectfully withdraw the proposal."
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York City area with more than 20 years of experience.
This was first published in January 2013