I was talking with a client last week about the long sales cycles in our industry. I was “bragging” that I have one client that took nearly two years to convert from prospect to client. Unimpressed, the client then mentioned that he had one that took eight years!
OK, eight years is a little ridiculous, but a 6-12-18 month sales cycle is an all-too-common scenario in B2B professional services industries… one that we all have to learn to mange. From my perspective, there are two key strategies for “sticking with it” through the long sales cycle.
1. Don’t burn any bridges. When you combine the long time frame with sales prospects that seem to be dodging your phone calls and emails… it’s easy to get frustrated. But you simply cannot let that happen. Getting frustrated leads to saying or doing things that can burn your bridge with that particular prospect. Or maybe worse, cause you to just walk away.
You also can’t start pressuring your prospect to make a decision – often because it’s simply out of their hands… they’re waiting on some external factor or decision. E.g. you don’t get the project until they get the project.
In all of your emails, phone calls and voice mails, you must stay friendly, positive and professional – no matter how difficult it is.
And when it’s time to bring the current thread of activity to a close, do it in a friendly way. Your closing comment should always be something like “John, I’m here to help when you’re ready to resume our conversation.”
2. Nurture them like crazy! Regardless of where you are in the long sales cycle, you always need to stay top-of-mind with your prospects… so that when they are ready to finally make their buying decision – it’s you and your firm they think of.
And nurturing isn’t just about staying top-of-mind… it’s also about reinforcing your position in the minds of your prospects, as well as differentiating your firms from all of the other suppliers clamoring for their business.
First of all, make sure that these prospects are on your email list (if you’re not sending out some kind of monthly/quarterly e-newsletter… you need to be!). Remember, these emails can’t be too salesy – they should be a delivery vehicle for sharing useful/beneficial content. It’s this content that reinforces your position and points of differentiation.
Also, connect and engage with prospects on social media. At a minimum, connect with them on LinkedIn. Then watch your daily LinkedIn feeds to see when a prospect posts something. This gives you the opportunity to participate with a comment of your own or just a simple ‘like.’ And when you do these things, your name pops up – helping you to stay top-of-mind.
Stay in touch… the occasional phone call or even a visit (if you’re in their city) can go a long way toward building a real relationship. Remember, people do business with people they like.
Lastly, in the old days, if I found an article in a magazine that I wanted to share with a prospect, I’d ‘clip it’ and send it to them. Today, all you need to do is to email them a link to that article. But the same benefits still apply… it not only keeps you top-of-mind, but it shows that you care because you took the time to share something of value.
Bottom line: Long sales cycles are hard work. But if you can control your frustration and continue to nurture the relationships, you will succeed when others give up and quit.