Why do some prospects take so long to close?  Every salesperson has at least one prospect moving like molasses through their pipeline.  You have promised your sales manager they will close every week, for the last quarter. You talk with the prospect, who is always re-assuring you everything is fine.

In the “The New Sales Imperative” by HBR,  they provide an executive level view on why it takes some prospects so long.  As an organization, if your sales cycles continually runs long, you need to improve your process for predicting, identifying, and removing obstacles to closing the sale.  If an organization wants to increase revenue, they should spend time eliminating impediments that slow the buying process.

Increasing sales velocity starts from the beginning.  Every sales cycle has common obstacles salespeople are trying to avoid.  By breaking it down by period, we can address each of these issues individually.


Period: Beginning

Problem: Who are you again?

Your prospect can’t move to the next step because they cannot single out any unique discernible value in what you are selling. Your prospect is having issues understanding your value versus the competitors in the market.  The flip side, some vendors inundate their prospects with too much information. Too much data causes the prospect to shut down and not even engage in the buying process. The goal is to provide your prospect with enough information to convey your value without oversharing that creates confusion.


To quote Don Draper, “Make it simple, but significant.”

Organizations spend hours, resources and money trying to address the idea of competitive differentiation; from competitive matrix to agency reports identifying words that best represent the firm and resonate with potential clients. Typically the best way to understand your market value is by asking current clients why they picked your group over others.  This can be done on an organizational level, or an individual salesperson talking with a few of their better clients. This gives you the selling points for your organization that clients and prospects find appealing. Find a succinct and straightforward way to communicate these values to your prospects.   Keep hammering these values to your prospects. Sticking to your strengths will win more business then being everything to anyone.

Stage: Middle

Problem: I will get around to it

You were able to define your value to your prospect, and the good news is you are in the mix of potential new vendors.   The problem is you made it into the mix of potential new vendors and are now part of the infinite  “to do” list. You start battling competing priorities, time constraints, budget, incumbents, internal dialogue and passive concerns.


Here a little tact mixed with good old fashion sales comes in handy.  You need to be persistent, but do it subtlety and respectfully. Continually remind the buyer why you two decided to move forward. Bring it back to the value the buyer will see. Regularly keep the pressure on them to continue working with you.  Remember, selling is storytelling. Don’t stop selling the story when they say okay. Schedule the different sessions on their calendar and re-sell the value of this relationship.


Stage: Late Stage

Problem: I just want coco puffs.

Like the cereal aisle in the grocery store, having too many options can prove to be overwhelming to a potential buyer. A standard issue raised by buyers is the number of decision needed, and the amount of time it takes to set up a new vendor.  Even when a buyer views a new solution as superior to what they are currently using, the effort involved in setting up the new vendor can be more significant than the energy to continue with their current solution. A buyer has to make several micro decision after the macro decision of hiring you as a vendor, and when asked to make a lot of decision, people tend to either delay the decision, avoid it, or go back to what they know is safe, which is the incumbent vendor.


When working with a prospect during the late stages of the buying process, include a clear path forward with small, incremental steps.  This starts laying the groundwork that reassures the buyer they have a path to success. As you move forward, when asking for a decision, eliminate bad options, and try only to send choices between the most commonly picked option and an option you think fits their business best.  If you make it easy, people will work with you. It is easier to say yes to a seller who is providing a well-managed process with a limited time request versus an overwhelming process that needs constant input.

If you have any more ideas or ways to speed up the sale cycle, feel free to email me at pat@red2blackgroup.com.