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Why Technology Sales Cycles Are Taking So Long and What You Can Do About It

by Michele Buckley  |  August 16, 2018  |  8 Comments

Many technology service providers I’ve been working with tell me they’re experiencing “long sales cycles,” and they’re right.  A recent Gartner study of 506 technology buyers indicated that buying teams spend 16.3 months on average to complete a new IT purchase.  That means while some are shorter, some are even longer!  You might find this fact surprising.  Interestingly, buyers find this surprising as well. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said their last technology purchase, from initial idea to contract signing, took longer than they expected it would. Why?  What are buyers doing with all this time?
  1. Driving consensus across a diverse team of IT and business participants – buying teams typically comprise of 14 individuals on average, within any function at any level of authority across multiple locations. They bring competing priorities, new perspectives and different criteria for purchasing to a buying decision.
  1. Performing extensive research across colleagues, partners, analysts, external peers and online information from vendors and independent parties. Just think about when you last bought a car… it was probably not too much different!
  1. Revising the project’s business case.  Business cases are most likely revised repeatedly because of unacceptable cost and risk, the two most frequent objections internally to purchase decisions. These are also the two most time consuming objections to resolve, taking two to three months on average to do so.
  1. Juggling multiple buying projects. Our research show that on average, buyers are involved in 3-4 buying projects at the same time.
So, what can you do to increase your sales effectiveness given today’s buying behaviour?
  • Focus sales and marketing efforts at the stakeholders that can drive consensus within a large buying team. The Challenger Sales Model provides specific guidance on how to identify the individuals that will truly help move your deal forward and those that won’t.
  • Avoid using outdated sales expectations and customer communicated intentions to estimate when a deal will close. Instead, evaluate the length of a sales cycle using historical internal data, as well as data from independent research.
  • Clearly articulate what impact your solution will have on the business, beyond a list of features or benefits. Establish a strong business case early to reduce effort in revisions, defend against objections, and smooth the many approvals required.
  • Help buyers be more efficient with “prescriptive” content and clear recommendations for all stages in the buying cycle. After all, you have a lot more experience with successful purchases of your solution than your prospects do!
Gartner clients can read my full research note on this topic here.

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Michele Buckley
Research Director
1 years at Gartner
26 years IT Industry

Michele Buckley is a Research Director in the Technology and Service Provider Go-to-Market team at Gartner. Ms. Buckley advises and coaches software and services companies of all sizes on growing their businesses. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Why Technology Sales Cycles Are Taking So Long and What You Can Do About It


  1. Craig says:

    Good content.

  2. Goron Hogg says:

    I’d love to know much of this 16.3 months was spent getting buy-in to fund a project in the first place versus selecting a vendor/solution?

    • Michele Buckley says:

      Great question. The 16.3 month period time period refers to the average (entire) purchase process start to finish. Within that, yes getting buy-in from an increasingly large buying team is critial. Within the same study buyers told us they spent 18% of their time on internal interactions so… multiplying the two suggests that 2.9 months is spent gaining internal alignment.

      • Goron Hogg says:

        Buyers tell me they spend “at least” 80% of their time disentangling the status quo, building consensus and overcoming internal obstacles to get buy-in, just to start a project. They say none of this has to do with their needs or vendor solutions.

        I wonder if the reference to “internal interactions” is the decision team discussing vendors and solutions internally as a group. Which would confirm my buyers experience and Pareto’s law as applied to a purchase decision.

        This is important because it clearly explains why sales cycles are so long and sales and marketing have little or no influence over the 13 months (80% of 16.3 mths) it takes just to get project approval and funding.

        • Michele Buckley says:

          We are definitely hearing and seeing the same trends and it is fascinating to analyze. You mention much time is spent getting buy-in to “start a project.”

          The start of a project is the point I believe our research “started the clock” on the 16.3 months as we defined it as the “buying cycle for new IT Providers purchases.” In this context, internal interactions included defining and revising business cases, solution requirements, and the vendor shortlist as well as getting approvals and overcoming objections.

          It’s incredible to think how much time is spent in addition to this !

  3. Rodrigo Calmet says:

    Great article! Thanks!

    I’d love to understand how might incentives help address the long sales cycle? What would be best practice in incentivizing reps in a business with long sales cycle?

    • Michele Buckley says:

      Hi Rodrigo, sales cycles are long mostly due to the large number of stakeholders in the customer (8-14), their relative inexperience in making a particular purchase, and the communication effort required to figure out how to organize the buying task and gain consensus. Because delays are not due to the customer behavior and not a lack of rep activity, rep incentives to “make sales faster” will have no effect. The greater challenge is keeping reps motivated and paid over a long term, especially if a sales cycle is the average 16 months or even longer. In these cases, you often need to introduce incentives based on leading indicators or qualitative measures to keep reps motivated and paid over multiple quarters before a big deal closes.

      • Rodrigo Calmet says:

        Hi Michele, I appreciate your response.

        You mentioned that to keep reps motivated, incentives should be based on leading indicators or qualitative measures. This could be specific measurable milestones along the funnel such as meeting with the CTO or getting a written agreement?

        Thanks again.



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