Customers don't create long sales cycles -- salespeople do. The biggest contributor to dragging out the selling cycle is salespeople prematurely presenting solutions to customers who may not believe they have a problem, or even if they had a problem, didn't understand its impact on their business and what it's costing them to stay the same.

When you boil it all down, there are really only two reasons why people don't buy: 1) They do not believe their problem is significant enough to take action, if they recognize any problem at all, or 2) they do not believe the solution will work. Guess which one occurs most frequently? You're right -- reason #1. Presenting a solution to someone who doesn't believe they have a problem is sales suicide.

Uncertain customers will delay or defeat the selling process, but clarity will defeat that uncertainty. To shorten the sales cycle, we must bring clarity to our customers. If they have a problem, let's make sure they understand it, and if they don't, let's move on to someone who does.

There are three challenges to address if we want to shorten the sales cycle time, and the first is the "decision" challenge. Depending on the complexity of the problem to be solved and the technology required to solve it, a customer frequently does not have a high-quality decision process with which to make this type of decision. Therefore, during a premature presentation we put good information into a bad process, and the result is a random and unpredictable outcome.

As you know, I like comparing what we do as salespeople with our customers to what doctors do with their patients. Imagine how ridiculous it would be to go in for your annual physical and have the doctor give you a presentation on the benefits of angioplasty while expecting to sell you surgery. Instead, the doctor brings you a high-quality diagnostic process, guides you through it, looks for symptoms you're experiencing, measures those symptoms, and if they're serious enough will recommend the surgical solution. Before any recommendation can be made, you mutually come to the conclusion that you have a condition that needs to be fixed.

The second challenge to address is "change." A decision to buy leads to change and change is painful. Customers frequently do not buy because they are concerned about the change process they will need to go through if they buy. We must be very open and straightforward with our customers and explain any changes in lifestyle or their business that will be required if they purchase our solution. Some of those changes will be positive and support the reasons they will buy, but some will be negative and be the reason they will hesitate. Bringing clarity to the changes required will help both you and your customer sort through it quickly.

The final challenge to be met involves "value." We must make sure our customer can measure the impact of our solution, and until they do they will not recognize value when it is delivered. Many times your customer does not have enough knowledge or a method to measure the value your solution will provide pre-sale, and worse, left on their own, may not be able to measure the value they have received from your solution post-sale.

Many people will hedge on measurement saying it's hard to put a dollar amount on the impact. Well, let me suggest if it's happening in a business, it can be measured, and if you think it's hard, imagine how hard it will be for your customer. Let me give you some encouragement. In our consulting work, we have never encountered a problem that could not be quantified, or a solution that couldn't be measured.

I've seen clients reduce sales cycle time by as much as 62%, and more than double their closing percentage by creating a high-quality decision process and guiding their customer through it. Providing a change management process allows their customer to see a clear path to their success, and helps them quantify the value that the solution will provide.

The best news of all is that the length of the sales cycle time is more in your control than you may have thought. Enjoy your success!