How to Succeed at Shortening Your Sales Cycle
Lauren Valentine, a Sandler trainer from Albany, talks about her best practices for shortening your sales cycle and closing deals faster. Whether you are looking for a one-call close or have a long cycle that needs to be quicker, Lauren shares her attitudes, behaviors, and techniques for moving deals through the pipeline quickly.
Learn how to succeed at shortening your sales cycle!
Mike Montague: I’m your host, Mike Montague, and my guest this week is Lauren Valentine. She is a Sandler Trainer from Albany, New York, and we’re going to talk to her about how to succeed at shortening your sales cycle.
Lauren, welcome to the show. Tell me a little bit about shortening your sales cycle and who should be paying attention today.
Lauren Valentine: Sure, Mike. This podcast is basically for business owners, CEOs, sales managers, and sales professionals, basically, anyone who is selling or has some role in managing sales professionals and is wishing that their sales cycle was shorter than it is today.
Mike Montague: Yeah. I think shorter, quicker, easier, and more of them are always good things to shoot for in sales, but what are some of the common challenges that people run into? What causes long sales cycles?
Lauren Valentine: I think sometimes maybe we prolong our own sales cycle unnecessarily or time kills the deal. In many cases, we know that our prospects are in the most pain, or emotionally engaged in the problems that we can help them with, during that initial meeting. And, the longer amount of time that passes from that first meeting until we close the deal, there’s a lot of different things that could potentially change or cause that opportunity to lose momentum.
Mike Montague: Yeah. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think even when you’re just living with a pain, sometimes you just get used to it, and it doesn’t become as urgent a priority to fix it. Let’s talk about attitude. What is the key component for a short sales cycle here when you’re thinking about attitude?
Lauren Valentine: I think it starts with having an attitude that and truly believe that your sales cycle should be shorter than it is today and that it’s in your control to shorten that process. I know when I first started in Sandler Training I did not believe that it was possible to close the sale in one meeting, so I never even tried to do that. I would essentially start the discovery process, but I would not even attempt to close that sale in an initial meeting. One of the key belief systems that helped me to change that is not only to believe that it was possible to shorten my sales cycle, but also to believe that I had the control to do it and that it’s in the best interest of all parties involved to have a shorter sales cycle.
Mike Montague: Yeah. It’s really interesting that it’s both sides of that. Sometimes, you think it’s out of your control, and “well, it’s up to the decision maker to make that decision and move as fast as they want,” which is true. We do want to move at their speed, but at the same time, I’ve seen salespeople shoot themselves in the foot and say, “Well, you’re probably not going to make a decision today,” or, “You should probably get two other bids,” or, “You’re going to…” And, it just unintentionally delays their sales cycle when they didn’t have to, right?
Lauren Valentine: Yeah. I was meeting with a woman recently, actually, and I was the prospect. I was ready to buy, sign the contract, and her response at the end of the meeting was, “So, you probably want to go home and think this over.” I was thinking, “No, I don’t.” I looked at her, and I said, “I don’t need to think anything over. What do I do to get started?” She was shocked. I just thought when I left that meeting, how many sales did she potentially lose or prolong because she has that belief system that people need to go home and think it over before they’re ready to make that decision?
Mike Montague: Yeah. I think that’s amazing. Hopefully, you put her number on your prospect list there for sales training.
Lauren Valentine: I did.
Mike Montague: It’s interesting that you don’t necessarily want to push. We don’t want to be traditional salespeople and be pushing them, assuming the close, and doing stuff like that, but instead, we want to go in with a blank slate, find out, and discover what is going on. Or, ask them whether they need to speed up or slow down several times because it’s really hard to figure that out without knowing, right?
Lauren Valentine: Yeah.
Mike Montague: How does that translate over to behavior? What are some of the things we need to do to have shorter sales cycles?
Lauren Valentine: I think one of the things that I find is critical is tracking and having a plan for those proactive prospecting behaviors. We called that the cookbook at Sandler Training, and it’s that recipe that you need to have to fill your pipeline with opportunity. I find that it’s important to have that full pipeline of opportunity because shortening the sales cycle does require you to step outside of your comfort zone and try new techniques. It’s much easier to do that from an attitude standpoint when you have that full pipeline of opportunity, and that comes from really having that proactive prospecting plan and consistently doing those behaviors that will fill the pipeline.
Mike Montague: I think that’s smart. Two things come to mind for me. One is if you closed all of your sales in the pipeline this week, then what would you do next week? Right?
Lauren Valentine: Right.
Mike Montague: That’d be a good problem to have, but you probably want to plan for that and be full. The other one is, I’m sure we’ll get to it, that part of shortening the sales cycle is disqualifying a lot of people that are never going to buy and just drag on forever and waste your time. If you’re also taking some out of the funnel, you’re going to need more opportunities in there as well, right?
Lauren Valentine: Right. Another key behavior that I find too, Mike, is really taking the time to do that pre-call plan before a sales meeting, having a written plan of what is your goal for that sales call, what are you the key questions you’re going to ask, and some of the questions that the prospect might ask you. What is the outcome that you’re striving toward? I was guilty before I started with Sandler Training of never doing a pre-call plan, and I still hate doing them, but I know that it’s impossible for me to close a sale in one meeting without a rock-solid pre-call plan before I go in there.
Mike Montague: Yeah, that’s great too. I was going to ask you, what are some of those things we need to do on the call? What are things that we say or do that will impact our sales cycle?
Lauren Valentine: One of the keys is taking the time to set those expectations in advance of the meeting. We call that the upfront contract in Sandler, and being on the same page with your prospect, of not only the purpose and how much time you have set for the meeting, but really understanding what’s on their agenda to make sure you cover it and they understand what’s on your agenda, including talking about money and their decision process, which are going to be important if we uncover that we can potentially help you. Then, defining what those acceptable outcomes are at the end of that sales call. I find that that is absolutely key to do on that sales call and even in advance of that sales call to make sure that that prospect really understands that “Hey, if we do decide that this is a good fit and both of us are on the same page, that we want to work together, typically at the conclusion of this meeting we’ll sign a contract and pick a date to get started.”
Mike Montague: Yeah, that’s good. I think setting that next step for them or that expectation that they make a decision at the end is huge. At Sandler, we also recommend that no is okay and what happens if it’s a no so that you don’t get those that drag along. How do you deal with the ones in between? Do you find that it’s good to set an upfront contract for another meeting or say that there may be a clear future in here as well, or is it best just to leave that out?
Lauren Valentine: Typically, the beautiful thing about giving someone permission to say no is that it allows you to define what a yes means clearly. I do come across folks now and then that are not in a position to sign a contract, or there is some other discussion that needs to happen, and I’ll typically set the second meeting then. Or even sometimes a phone call is sufficient there, but I always leave with a clear next step. I’m not leaving with a “think it over” or some wishy-washy commitment like, “I’ll call you next week,” or something like that.
Mike Montague: Yeah. I think that makes a lot of sense. What also came to mind for me is asking them the question there, “Would it be okay or could you give me a yes or no?” If they say no to that, then you say, “Okay. What would be the next step?”
Lauren Valentine: Exactly.
Mike Montague: You go for the yes first, but ask their permission and test the water to see if they can give you a yes. And if they say, “Well, no matter what happens today, I can’t say yes because I need to talk with my spouse,” or something like that, then at least you know where you stand going into that appointment.
Lauren Valentine: Yeah, and I think that’s a great opportunity. Again, if somebody says something like that and we’re setting those expectations in the very beginning, we have an opportunity right then and there to include that business partner or include that spouse in the meeting to make sure that we have all of the decision makers at the table and they’re a part of that conversation.
Mike Montague: Yeah, that’s great. We may have transitioned over to technique a little bit, but another follow-up question I was going to ask you was about presenting and the stuff you’re doing on the call. I know one of my favorite things about Sandler Training was that we teach not to do anything unless you know why you’re doing it, and not to do unnecessary presentations. Sometimes just extending a call or extending a sales cycle to make a presentation is the wrong thing to do. Could you talk a little bit about what good technique is and how we make sure that we’re doing the right things, only the right things, and only as much as necessary without wasting any time?
Lauren Valentine: Yeah, Mike, I think it comes down to reading the situation. There are certain prospects or businesses that require a formal presentation or a formal proposal, but the reality is that in most small to medium sized businesses, I have found that it is not necessary all of the time. In many cases, if you have good rapport with someone and they trust you, and you’ve done a really good job of asking those questions and really uncovering what the real problem is and how you can help them with that, in many cases, if people trust you, they don’t really need to see a big huge presentation or a formal proposal. They just want to know that you can help them.
Mike Montague: Yeah. Anything else come to mind when I say the word technique for shortening your sales cycle?
Lauren Valentine: Yeah. The big one for me is to follow a consistent selling process. You might laugh at this, but I struggle with following a process. That is one of the great things about Sandler, is it helps to give people like me a consistent process to follow. But for other folks who are very process oriented, it may be hard to keep that process moving towards the end. Maybe some folks may get a little bit into the weeds or struggle to keep that process moving. One of the big things that I find is to follow a consistent selling process, like Sandler, but also to keep it moving, so to have that balance in the middle, and be driving that towards that result, which is either a yes or a no on doing business together.
Mike Montague: Yeah. Obviously, I think that is a great technique, and I recommend the Sandler process, but if people don’t have one, what are some of the gates or steps that they would go through in their sales process? What are some of the things that they need to make sure that they’re checking off along the way to either move forward in the sale and ask for the sale or to stop the process and walk away?
Lauren Valentine: Some of the key gates that I follow are, first, setting those expectations with the prospect that are mutually agreed to, uncovering whatever pain they may have, and really doing an honest assessment of, does this person have a problem that I can fix and are they committed to doing something about it? Is this someone that I want to work with and who feels comfortable working with me? I also think it’s important to talk about the types of investments that that person may need to make to work together and how they’ll go about making a decision. What would they need to see or hear from me to feel confident making that decision, and who other than themselves may be involved in that process as well?
Mike Montague: Good. Anything else you wanted to do to tie all of these things together — attitude, behavior, and technique — or maybe avoid common situations that lead to longer sales cycles?
Lauren Valentine: Yeah. One big thing for me is journaling about this. I set out in January of this year to really shorten my sales cycle to a one-call close, and we know that that doesn’t happen overnight. I journal every morning about, what does my attitude need to be today to shorten my sales cycle? What are the key behaviors I’m going to focus on today when I go on that sales call? Then, what am I working on from a technique standpoint? Then, at the end of the day I assess, how did I do? Quite honestly, there were days where I ended the day, and I thought to myself, you know, I didn’t quite shorten my sales cycle today. But there were other days that I left, and I had a one-call close. That to me is a process, so always evaluating, what does my attitude need to be? What is my behavior that I’m focusing on? What am I focusing on from a technique standpoint? Evaluating every day, how am I doing working towards this new habit of shortening my sales cycle?
Mike Montague: I like it. Once again, we’re talking with Lauren Valentine. She’s one of our Sandler Trainers from Albany, New York. I wanted to get to know you a little bit better. Lauren, how do you define success these days?
Lauren Valentine: For me, I’m a very goal oriented person, so success to me is all about having clear, written personal and professional goals, and making sure that I have the discipline and the conviction to go out there and do what I need to do every day to achieve them. I think a big part of that is being in this profession that allows me the ability to accomplish my goals and do something that I’m very passionate about and that I really enjoy doing.
Mike Montague: Awesome. What was the biggest hurdle you had to get over to do that?
Lauren Valentine: I think my biggest hurdle was learning just to be myself. When I first started in the Sandler Network, I was so focused on learning the process, learning new skills, and trying to be like all of these super successful people that are in the Sandler Network, that I sort of forgot to be myself along the way. I went on a sales call where I was so focused on following the process and thinking about what would Loraine do, who was the woman who mentored me, and I didn’t read the situation and completely botched the sales call. It’s an opportunity that even when I think about it now is very painful to reminisce on. For me, my biggest lesson learned has been to be myself, to follow the process, continue to learn and develop new skills, but also to be myself.
I’m a young woman in this business. I like to laugh and joke around. That’s not a good fit for everyone, and that’s okay. I was on a sales call a couple of weeks ago, and my prospect actually said to me, “What makes you qualified to be a sales trainer? I have fillings in my teeth that are older than you.” There’s really nothing to do besides laugh at that. I’m not a good fit for him, and that’s okay. I think just learning to be myself and embrace who I am.
Mike Montague: I like that. Yeah, there’s probably nothing that younger people would be better at than older people, though, is there?
Lauren Valentine: Right.
Mike Montague: Especially now with social selling and technology these days.
Lauren Valentine: No.
Mike Montague: What is your super power? What do you lean on when you need a win?
Lauren Valentine: For me, we have a saying here at Sandler Training in Albany, which is that we are all big deals. It’s a running joke, and all of our clients are in on it, and we laugh about it in our training classes. The reality is that Sandler helped me to realize my full potential. I think that we get to be big deals by helping other people really uncover their full potential, and we help to give them the tools to pull it all off.
Mike Montague: What’s your favorite Sandler rule?
Lauren Valentine: My favorite Sandler rule is that you are earning what you believe you are worth, not a penny more, not a penny less. This is a very tough rule for many folks to come to terms with because we like to place external blame on how much money we’re earning, whether it’s a salary or due to the number of qualified prospects in our market, but the reality is that we have 100% control over how much we earn. For me, this was the catalyst to why I put so much effort behind shortening my sales cycle because shortening my sales cycle has allowed me to close more business, but also uncover much sooner if someone is not a good fit to do business with. It allows me to have more opportunities in my pipeline, which is helping me to earn what I want to earn from a financial standpoint.
Mike Montague: I like it. I don’t think we’ve had that answer on the podcast yet, so I appreciate you sharing there. Let’s wrap everything up for everybody. Based on shortening your sales cycle, what’s one attitude you would like people to have?
Lauren Valentine: I think the attitude I would like people to leave with is that it is 100% possible to shorten your sales cycle, and it’s in the best interest of everyone involved to do that. Not only is it in your best interest, but it’s in your prospect’s best interest too. If they have a problem that you can help them with, the sooner you can help them with that, the better off they’ll be. If it’s not a good fit, the sooner you can figure that out, the less time you’ll waste. It really is in the best interest of everyone involved.
Mike Montague: What’s the key behavior to do?
Lauren Valentine: I would say there’s two, having a pre-call plan and following a cookbook or really following those prospecting activities consistently, day in and day out.
Mike Montague: And the best technique to use?
Lauren Valentine: I would say setting expectations ahead of the sales call and following a consistent selling process. Don’t reinvent the wheel every time.
Mike Montague: Awesome. I like it. Lauren, thanks for being on the show. For more on this topic and much more, you can follow us at LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter @SandlerTraining, or get any of our free resources like white papers, webinars, and more at sandler.com. As always, you can subscribe or leave us a review at iTunes or Google Play. Thank you for listening, and remember, whatever you are, be a good one.
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