Changes in the way customers buy also have increased the complexity and the length of the sales cycle even in what are traditionally transactional markets. Buyers are more cautious in making investments and there are more choices, which often lead to longer buying decision processes. In addition, many consumers now rationalize their buying decisions by taking cues from peers, seeking advice, and conducting their own research to get the best product at the best price. Consumers and business buyers are now logging on to the Internet more frequently for information on products and pricing. Rather than a consumer buying something in the store, they may go home and spend days, if not weeks, searching for a better deal—or even the same deal without paying taxes and shipping.
Sales cycles become lengthier and more complex as salespeople have to deal with third parties, such as purchasing committees and procurement professionals, only concerned with hammering out the lowest price. One manager noted, “Procurement has ten times the power than they did four to five years ago.” Finally, this trend in lengthy and complex sales cycles is also a result of sales organizations trying to elevate their presence and participation in the sales process by identifying and solving business issues.
The buyers and purchasing processes of yesterday are no longer the purchasers and practices of today. To a great extent, this shift can be taxing for both sales professionals and their sales organization in terms of the energy and resources they consume. Further challenging the sales organization is the fact that some of these challenges require new skill sets that require investments in training. The sales professionals we interviewed most notably observed increased investment in the sales cycle via:
A more formal request for proposal (RFP), even from long-term and existing customers
The presence of purchasing committees of varying shapes, sizes, and scopes
The increasing power of procurement departments
Stricter requirements to demonstrate a real return on investment (ROI), providing proof of their organization’s financial solvency, and more on-site demonstrations
The number of senior leaders involved with purchasing decisions replacing a lower ranking associate who would have previously made the purchasing decision independently
Longer sales cycles, making it harder to get a commitment from customers
The presence of third parties, such as external consultants and procurement departments, selecting vendors and making buying decisions
Increased centralized or corporate-based buying as purchasing authority has been stripped of field offices
These trends have resulted in longer sales cycles in addition to making sales processes more difficult and more resource intensive for the salesperson. With more players to deal with, additional decision layers to negotiate, and standardized requirements that mean more work for the salesperson, making a sale has become an increasingly complex activity.