A long sales cycle can feel like agony for your SaaS business. If it takes you six months, nine months, or a year to bring in each new customer, you might start feeling like you’re pushing something heavy up a steep hill. Sure, you make progress, but it’s exhausting, and your cash flow warning light is constantly blinking red.
In the words of SaaStr Founder, Jason Lemkin:
“Few things will frustrate you more in the early days than long sales cycles on bigger deals.”
Lemkin’s reference to “the early days” does not imply that long sales cycles totally fall by the wayside as your business becomes more mature, but only that your frustration should shrink as you realize that “longer sales cycles are just part-and-parcel of larger checks.”
What is a sales cycle?
A sales cycle is defined as the acquisition process that a business sustains when selling their solution to a buyer, right up until the company reaches the point of sale with a customer. These activities involve all interactions associated with completing a sale, turning a prospect into a customer.
In a long sales cycle, customers can take weeks or even months from when they first raise their hand as a prospect (i.e. provide the business with their information) to when a purchase is made. This is commonly seen for SaaS companies selling expensive products in which customers invest in a long-term solution for their own business needs.
Understanding long sales cycles
The frustration that comes with long sales cycles is holding you back from embracing the necessity of always playing the long game, at least with some part of your team. “My #1 bit of advice?” adds Lemkin. “Get past [the frustration] — fast.”
The thing is, deals of a certain size simply can’t be squeezed down into a tiny timeframe. Some lengthy deals simply need to be lengthy. That being said, Lemkin advises hiring a VP of Sales who knows how to reduce closing time as much as is reasonable. Hiring a sales rep and taking steps to ensure their success can be a great way to shorten a 12-month deal into a nine- or even six-month negotiation.
Lemkin’s other advice is to accept or even embrace paid pilots and smaller interim deals. Big companies often demand pilots to test out whether your product will work for them. While sales pros tend to hate this because it ultimately means making the same deal twice — once for the short-term pilot and then for the longer-term deal — it’s best to give the big buyer what they want to increase the possibility of ultimately getting what you want.
How to shorten long sales cycles
The good news about long sales cycles is that not all of your deals are going to be endless, big-ticket negotiations, at least not if you’re working to expand into a larger market after securing your first few big-ticket customers.
And once you start working on smaller-scale deals more frequently, there’s much you can do to influence your sales cycles. Limecall has collected a wide variety of tactics you can use to shorten your sales conversion funnel and close with new customers more quickly.
To summarize Limcall’s advice, 10 actionable ways to shorten a long sales cycle include:
Focus on ideal buyer persona and hot leads only
Set your sales on autopilot
Remove friction and enhance customer experience
Training and onboarding your users is a much (advice for software companies)
Offer your help even if your customers don’t ask for it
Offer your free trial customers help whenever they need
Pay special attention to customer satisfaction and experience – above all else
Implement callback software to engage with your customers quickly
Create actionable and valuable content
Offer an incentive if the lead isn’t closing
What industry experts say on shortening a long sales cycle
One of the most self-explanatory tactics is simply focusing on truly promising leads and curtailing engagement with those who aren’t as likely to move forward. Will Cannon, CEO of UpLead, a lead generation platform, offered Limecall his number one advice on shortening a long sales cycle:
“Don’t be afraid to cut things short with prospects whom you know aren’t a good fit. If they don’t fit in the profile of an ideal customer, and there’s a high chance that they won’t convert, you’ll be better off spending your time on accounts that have more potential.”
Another strategy to improve conversion funnel efficiency and shorten a long sales cycle is to automate your sales pipeline to some degree, advised Steven van Vessum, VP of community at ContentKing. You can automate the sending of emails, the scheduling of demos, and the provision of materials like case studies and white papers that will help clients see the benefits of your production.
Vuk Vukosavljevic, head of growth at Lemlist, recommended removing friction throughout the sales process. You can do this by taking out unnecessary steps, answering questions before they have to be asked, and cleaning up language so that everything you say resonates strongly.
Piecing it all together
As your business moves into territory where most of your sales cycles are relatively short and only some are still burdensomely long, you’ll be able to find a balance that works for you and the product you’re selling. Start by accepting the necessity of maintaining some long sales cycles, but move quickly toward tightening up your funnel for all the rest.
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