Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

Long, drawn-out sales cycles can be frustrating.

For some industries it’s the norm, but for others it may simply be a function of your own inability to close a sale.

Finding ways to speed up the sales cycle, including targeting the right prospects, not only can help you get paid quicker but can also prevent you from losing the sale.

“If you have a long sales cycle, somewhere in that sales cycle one of your competitors could intrude on your prospect,” explains Adrian Miller, president of Adrian Miller Sales Training in Port Washington and author of “The Blatant Truth: 50 Ways to Sales Success” (Lulu; $14.95).

They could essentially beat you to the sale despite all your efforts.

To shorten your sales cycle, have a clear target-market profile, suggests Doug Davidoff, CEO of Imagine Business Development, a Severna Park, Maryland, sales development agency and author of “The 11 Laws of Accelerating Business Growth” (Imagine Media; $11.95).

“You can’t be all things to all people,” he says. Define what your ideal prospect looks like and identify the key decision-makers at those companies.

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It may not be one person. For example, the chief financial officer may make the decision, but the vice president of sales plays heavily into it, Davidoff says.

Bottom line — if you’re not talking to the right people you won’t make the sale, says Stephan Schiffman, president of SteveSchiffman.com, a Manhattan sales consulting firm and author of “Cold Calling Techniques That Really Work” (Adams Media; $11.99).

In addition, you’ve got to be talking about the right product for them at the right price and with a realistic timetable for them, he notes.

“If you’re missing any one of these, the sale doesn’t happen,” Schiffman says.

Timeline is important, Miller says.

They may say they’re not ready to buy for another eight months “because,” and the “because” might be something you can overcome, she says.

Try to find out why they chose the provider they currently use, and ask, “If there’s one thing they could change about that relationship what would it be?” suggests Peter Fasulo, president of PJF Sales Training Inc. in Sayville and author of “The 3 Ps To Sales Success” (iUniverse; $23.95).

Most salespeople learn not to knock the competition, Schiffman adds. “Sales people are taught to say ‘They’re good too,’ ” he says, but this is self-defeating because if they’re good too, why should the prospect switch?

“You have to show them what you’re offering is going to help them do what they do better,” he says.

Despite your efforts, sometimes there may be a longer sales cycle.

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In that case, stay close to your prospect and try adding value to the relationship even before there is a relationship, Miller says.

Invite them to an event, make an introduction, or send them helpful information, she suggests.

“The sales cycle actually begins before you have contact with a prospect,” Davidoff says.

When potential customers are looking for a solution and searching online, they’re more than likely not searching a particular vendor, but a solution to their problem, he says.

So make sure your website “teaches, challenges and provokes” and isn’t just an advertisement, he says.

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Beyond that, you can try incentivizing the sales rep or the customer to shorten the sales cycle, Fasulo says.

You might run a sales contest that ends at a certain date to incentivize reps, he says, noting that when some reps reach their monthly quota they feel the pressure’s off.

Customer incentives like a freebie sometimes work too, he says. But generally, “if the customer truly sees the value or return on investment in your product, it will shorten the cycle,” Fasulo says.