Shortening the Sales Cycle in Healthcare – Getting Inside the Buyer’s Head
You May Not Be Where You Think You Are
We recently ran a workshop for a dozen healthtech sales executives. We were fortunate to also have John Ulett attend. John is the CIO of CentraState Healthcare System.
He is a veteran healthcare tech executive and it was eye-opening having the perspective of a buyer in an in-depth conversation about what it’s like selling to a healthcare system and what we all go through to shorten the sales cycle.
Can We Shorten the Sales Cycle?
Shortening the sales cycle, whether it’s 18 days or 18 months, is the holy grail of any health tech company. There is a lot you can do to expand the funnel by generating more opportunities, but speeding up the sales process is incredibly hard.
I have written about why selling to healthcare takes so long.
In the workshop, we reviewed why the sale cycle takes so long. You can download the presentation here. We then divided the group into two breakout groups.
This is a really nice feature in Zoom and it is a great way to get participants in a workshop to engage with each other.
The Science of Selling
The groups discussed a range of questions about the sales process and tricks everyone uses to move a deal along. The common goal is to instill a disciplined, teachable approach that can be measured.
If your team is good at it, you can forecast future revenues more accurately.
For the most part, everyone uses the same techniques. We all have a defined sales process with stages that are variations on the same model: Lead>Qualified Opportunity>Proposal>Negotiation>Closed Deal.
We each assign probabilities of closing the deal based on where we are in the sales process.
After that, we try to measure the process and track the average length from start to finish.
Tricks, Tool, and Techniques for Shortening the Sales Cycle
We discussed the tricks we use to move a deal along. These include some usual suspects:
- Managing the sales process like a project
- Having open-ended qualifying questions
- Using variations on “BANT” or other qualifying techniques
- Identifying or creating a compelling event
- Eliminating the known barriers like security assessments as early as possible
The fact is that we are all using variations on the same tools and techniques and we are struggling with the same issue – closing deals faster is almost impossible. How do we do a better moving deal more efficiently? How do controlling deals more effectively?
When I ran a healthtech company this issue frustrated the hell out of me. In eight years of trying I couldn’t do a thing to improve the 9-month sales cycle.
The Buyer’s Perspective on Efforts to Shorten the Sales cycle
The discussion was quite a revelation for our CIO, John Ulett. John has been on the receiving end of hundreds of sales pitches and has been the subject of dozens of sales processes from start to finish.
He was surprised by what we go through. Ed Gaudet, the CEO of Censinet, shared his sales process with John. This was eye-opening.
John recognized that most of the time he was being taken through a process.
What he didn’t fully realize was how the salespeople were giving the deal a probability of closing based on where they thought they were in their sales process.
The perspective a salesperson has on the way a deal is progressing was very different from how John saw it:
“You see a funnel. I see a hockey stick.”
John thought that salespeople were often wrong on the probability of closing.
For example, when an opportunity was at the proposal stage, the salesperson might assume that they had a 50% chance of closing the deal. But, In John’s words,
“I might still be tire-kicking and asking for a proposal to get a clear sense of how much the solution will cost.
When you think you might have a 50% chance of closing, you actually may still only have 10%.”
Conversely, you may still be at the early and competitive stage of the sale where your solution is being evaluated against three others.
You may give yourself a 25% chance of closing based on how you have qualified for the opportunity. The reality is that you may be the favored deal and your odds are closer to 80%.
Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious
The insight for me was that, as a salesperson, if I can do a better job of getting inside a buyer’s head, I may not be able to speed up a deal but I am going to be better at figuring out which deals to focus on and which ones to give up on.
This may seem obvious, but we often get so carried away with managing the process that we lose sight of what the buyer is really thinking.
As a sales leader, this is a big deal. You are responsible for the annual sales target.
If you have twenty deals in play, how do you know which deals are going to close?
You count on your sales teams to give you the best and more honest information they have about their deals.
You are counting on them to be accurate about where they are in the process with each stage.
The key to this is knowing how much they know about where they truly are in the process.
How Can you Get Inside the Buyer’s Head?
This is where the art of selling comes in. Here are three things you can do to get better insights into where your salespeople are in the process:
- What is the relationship with the champion? In some cases, the champion is on your side of the table and telling you everything you need to know.
If they aren’t, are there things you can do to get them to be more transparent? If they are resistant, why is that? Are they favoring someone else?
- Have you asked your champion a direct question about how you are positioned? They may not give you an explicit answer, but you have to try.
And if they don’t tell you explicitly, they may give you some clues or a wink.
Moreover, if they react adversely to being asked, is this a warning sign that you aren’t as well-positioned as you think you are?
- Don’t be in a hurry to give the buyer a proposal. Set them an assignment first. In his brilliant book, They Ask You Answer, Marcus Sheridan, proposes a technique called Assignment Selling.
The idea is that developing a proposal is a significant investment and you need to know that the buyer is vested in the process too.
This could mean asking the buyer to complete a short requirements document, or answer a survey. One technique I recommend is to co-create a shared value proposition.
The key thing is that you are forcing the buyer to signal that they are truly vested in your success.
As we wrapped up the workshop, John Ulett, made a very intriguing remark.
Seeing the process from the perspective of a salesperson made him more empathetic toward what they are trying to do. He had a better understanding of what the salesperson is trying to achieve on his behalf.
More importantly, in the future, he will try to deliver value back to the salespeople.
In his own words:
“How do I share value back?”
In conclusion, maybe the best thing we can do to try to shorten the sales cycle is to focus less on selling to the guy across the table and try to get on the same side of the table. This is all about trust.
As salespeople, how do we build a strong enough relationship with the person we are selling to that they will let their guard down and trust us enough to give us full transparency.