Uncertain times lead to extended decisions for buyers. Whether it’s an economic downturn, a global crisis, or a natural disaster, shifting market realities often drive buyers into considering each purchase more thoroughly. Due to resource constraints, buyers may be impacted by one or all of the following:
The reality is that sales cycles will slow down and you may not be able to speed up the buyer’s process. Uncertainty often forces companies into difficult and new decision making that eliminates any urgency to buy. The buyer may be struggling with a new model, and with revenue suddenly decreasing, they must now focus on how to adjust to their reduced top line and the overall impact to their cash balance. Any other internal process becomes less important unless it’s directly tied to controlling cash burn and extending runway.
Many customers will shift their focus to their core business rather than spending resources to build out new projects for growth and scale. Customers are reluctant to experiment unless they can see clear results. Investing in something new is risky. Thus, there is little to no spending on projects unless they directly impact generating cash.
There may be a change in team responsibilities. Whether it’s through layoffs or restructuring responsibilities, companies often need time to adjust to these massive changes. These changes may also lead to different approval processes and a disruption in internal communications. Team change for the buyer can mean that the old system you were working with has been completely rethought.
These are all realities that are out of your control. That said, there are plenty of actions your company can take to be proactive in uncertain times.
Where to focus your efforts in an extended sales cycle
Let’s talk through some key areas that companies can focus on improving while feeling the impact of an extended sales cycle.
Customer protection. You can retain and expand existing customers by offering exceptional service and support. In uncertain times, closing a new customer is harder than retaining and building relationships with existing customers. Shifting efforts to existing customers allows you to focus on where you have more control.
Focus on quality within your sales pipeline. Quality is better than quantity in times like these. Focus your targeting efforts by creating narrower qualifications for leads. Additionally, use the opportunity of new businesses slowing down to nurture better relationships with the new prospects you do have.
Encourage product use through a freemium model. This is a good time to test freemium then upsell later. Offering limited free access gets potential customers using your product and sets them up for the possibility of referring and contributing to organic growth. The increase in users will also provide helpful feedback for future product development.
Use payment terms as a competitive advantage. If you have cash to support your company for 24 months, then take advantage of customers that would like to delay payment but want immediate access to your product. Set payment terms that recognize the challenges your customers face and quite possibly your competitors cannot match.
Make the onboarding experience delightful. Get creative and dig into the ways that you can improve the first 90 days of a customer’s experience with your company. Use this as an opportunity to create referrals through new customers.
In an extended sales cycle, it’s crucial that companies focus on what they can control, and avoid wasting effort on what they cannot. By renewing your focus on the systems that support existing customers, and using those relationships to connect with new leads, your business will be better positioned to handle these new market realities.