Posted 21st April 2009.
It seems to be a trend at the moment amongst sales gurus to highlight that “there are only three ways to increase sales”: More leads, higher conversion of leads to sales, and more revenue per sale for example.
Leaving aside the fact that pointing this out is hardly a revelation – and that the real value comes not from naming the three levers, but from actually figuring out the best way of “pulling” them for a specific business; in fact there is another, often overlooked lever: velocity.
Sales velocity is the cycle time of the sale from initial lead to closing. Complete that cycle faster, and you free up time to work on another sale. Double the velocity of each sale – and you can sell twice as much.
Of course, it's not that simple: of all the sales levers, velocity is often the most difficult to improve. Push too hard too fast and your potential client will push back. There's often an optimum pacing for each sale and to go faster than that optimum can in often lose you the sale completely.
Veteran salespeople are used to naive sales managers pushing them to try to accelerate a close to hit this month's or this quarter's targets. But there's a huge risk that pushing to hit an internal target can damage your chances of making the sale. And it's one of the easiest negotiating weapons for purchasing professionals: if you know when your salesperson's quarter-end is you can often get a huge discount by timing your purchase right so that the salesperson gets desperate as the end of their reporting period looms.
But putting that aside – velocity can often be a valuable area of focus for improvement for salespeople – simply because most salespeople rarely consider it.
The best way of looking at the sales velocity lever is not to think about speeding up – but instead to think about avoiding delays and removing roadblocks.
Roadblocks can take many forms: you don't identify underlying client concerns early enough and as a result they hesitate to make a decision; you forget to follow-up on time or wait for your client to take the initiative; you're not aware of the timing of financial approval committee meetings in your client's company and as a result your client misses the deadline for submission and has to wait a quarter.
One of your key jobs as a salesperson is to know what these roadblocks are likely to be and to make sure they don't happen. Work to surface concerns early on and address them, never be late with follow-up, understand the client's decision-making process (see my post Avoiding the Treacle Effect for more details of this one).
Your first step though is to understand the impact of velocity: simply put, halving the cycle time of a sale can have as much impact as doubling your conversion rate or number of leads. Having that message in the front of your mind, should help you pay attention to this hidden lever and suddely you'll spot opportunities to avoid delays and remove roadblocks.