“The Long Goodbye” AKA The Extended Sales Cycle

by Bryan Gray

Extended sales cycles are NOT an indicator of positively developing relationships, argues Bryan Gray of Revenue Path Group. Quite the opposite. They are one of the Five Great Threats to revenue growth through effective selling.

Don't Let Yourself Get Sold on the Long Sales Cycle

Let’s be honest. There can’t be many of us who haven’t, at some time, allowed a sales cycle to drag. Even if in our hearts we know it’s going nowhere. The reasons for allowing this sorry soap opera to play out are many and varied.

We may truly believe that the other guy is about to sign. All those rain checks and requests for a little more work on the numbers are part of a real decision process. So we cut some slack and then some more slack. And, somewhere along the way, we lose sight of the fact that the rope has gone slack.

We may need something to put into our time management system. Maybe business is a little slow and something, anything, to feed the job justification machine is welcome.

It may even be that we come to like the guy at the prospect’s end of this elongated ritual dance. So we can’t bring ourselves to think he would knowingly jerk us around.

Whatever the reason, it’s time to throw a big pail of very cold water over the extended sales cycle. The initial shock will be bracing, horrendous even. But the long term effects – feeling alert, clear eyed, ready to look reality square in the face – will be worth any immediate pain.

It's Time to De-clutter the Pipeline

Looking honestly and rationally at your current sales cycles is the corporate equivalent of a home de-cluttering. Today, you may be comforted and reassured by those bales of unread magazines in the garage or that fancy exercise machine that’s still in its box, even though any day now you’re going to set it up and put it through its paces.

Tomorrow – after the passing pangs of getting rid – you’ll realize that you can live without them. You’ll enjoy room to maneuver more easily and headspace to plan better replacements for the stuff you just threw out. Heck, you may even get around to reading today’s paper or going to the gym for real!

In business, you’ll have the same sense of freedom to do something better, something more effective. Note too that this new freedom is not simply desirable. It is imperative. Why? Because other people don’t play fair. You’re sustaining a long-drawn-out sales cycle (that in reality isn’t leading to a sale). Meanwhile, your competitors won’t respect your investment in sales time, effort and cost.

The Other Guy WON"T Play Nice

In the already far distant past, the sales dance floor was level. Nobody had any spectacularly different techniques than anybody else. Today, while you’re slow dancing your way through complex wannabe-customer footwork, your rivals can burst in body popping and ram you right off the floor.

Under no circumstances will they wait in a gentlemanly queue until your dance is, finally, over. They will jog your elbow, spill your drink and muscle in on your desired date. Make no mistake, they have the moves. A timely (timely from their perspective, potentially disastrous from yours) email. A webinar. A special offer. A new product or service fronted with brutal efficiency on social media. These techniques - and many more - are easily accessed and implemented. Competitors will use them. And all your elaborate tail feather display can end up as just so much wasted effort, as a rival sashays off into the sunset with a triumphant arm around that signed order.

Long Sales Cycles FEED Your Competition

In more strictly business terms, each extended sales cycle contributes to a dangerous asymmetry for your revenue generating operation. Meaning? The effort is entirely out of whack with the rewards. You take time to engage with a prospect who isn’t committing. Then you take more time. And more time after that. All the while, the prospect is learning more and more about you, about your market, about the product or service you’re selling. So they’re growing in knowledge. They’re gaining deeper and deeper exposure to your pricing structures and your willingness to do deals. So they’re growing in negotiating strength. They’re increasingly tying down your sales teams, setting the sales cycle timetable and deciding the key events and outcomes. So they’re growing in power.

Short version: you are paying for someone who isn’t even your customer to gain knowledge, strength and power. And all the time you’re doing this, your own position is becoming weaker and weaker. You could end so weakened that you find yourself relying on the psychology of the roulette wheel: you’ve already staked so much that you may just as well keep going and hope the next spin rolls your way. At this stage, you are no longer a rational sales operation. You are a love struck suitor living in a state of desperate hope!

The Last Shall Be First, And the First ... 

Meanwhile … a competitor who has invested nothing in the very sales cycle that has siphoned months or even years of your energies can come in at the eleventh hour and steal the prize. Fortune favors the brave and this guy can afford to be brave! After all, he has nothing to lose. He can make an offer. He can fine-tune his offer (assuming he even wants to) against benchmarks you kindly provided during your endless detailed negotiations. He can say, “take it or leave it” and really mean it because it’s your skin in the game not his!

From your prospect’s point of view, this guy is the new hero on the block, complete with heroic powers of agility and flexibility. From your perspective, you have unintentionally bred a ‘super-competitor’ by pumping him up with your resources.

Sadly, the typical outcome of the extended sales cycle is the long goodbye. And its destination is the land of unintended and unpleasant consequences. You started out in the belief that it would go somewhere. It went nowhere. You thought it would build a relationship. It encouraged exploitation (of you). You thought it represented safety and security. It brought uncertainty and competitor threat (driven by the competitor advantage you inadvertently created).

So …

The next time you are even contemplating engagement with a commitment-phobic prospect. The next time all the signals indicate a long-drawn-out but ultimately fruitless courtship. The next time you find yourself saying “they’ll surely sign any time now”. STOP. Now remember the insightful advice offered by Beyonce: If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it!

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