- A sales cycle is a series of steps to transition a lead into a customer.
- Sales cycles boost productivity and create evaluative ways to measure sales efforts.
- Customer relationship management (CRM) tools offer better organization and improve customer satisfaction throughout your sales cycle.
- This article is for small business owners looking to implement a sales cycle.
No two businesses are alike, but every company needs customers or clients. However, building a solid customer base is challenging, particularly if you’re new to the market.
A comprehensive sales cycle can steadily bring in new customers while keeping current patrons loyal to your business. It’s a strategic process for transitioning a lead to a paying customer.
We’ll take a closer look at the sales cycle, and outline seven steps for creating a sales process that drives sales.
What are the stages of a sales cycle?
When implementing a sales cycle, it’s crucial to understand its seven key stages:
- Find leads.
- Connect with leads.
- Research your leads.
- Present to prospects.
- Curb objections.
- Close the deal.
- Follow up with the customer.
Let’s examine each step in more detail.
Stage 1: Find leads.
The initial stage of generating leads is time-consuming, but it’s critical to locate consumers or other companies interested in your products or services.
Here are some avenues to search for qualified leads:
- Social media: Social media is a cost-effective platform to get your product or service in front of key demographics and locations. Create a social media ad with an online form for people interested in learning more about your company. You’ll then have contact data to follow up with these leads and send marketing materials.
- Marketing (traditional): Perhaps your target customer responds better to billboards, television, magazine or newspaper ads. Baby boomers and Generation X would typically respond to these approaches.
- Marketing (experiential): Experiential marketing engages customers by inviting them to participate with your product or brand. It allows for a relationship to develop between a potential customer and your business, thus garnering valuable customer data.
- Networking: Don’t discount the effectiveness of in-person connections. Trade shows, conferences or business meetups are excellent ways to obtain new contact information.
Stage 2: Connect with leads.
Once you’ve found credible leads, here are some primary methods to connect with them:
- Phone: Calling a prospect is one of the oldest and most effective communication methods. You can set up a call in advance or cold call a prospect. Cold calling helps you reach new customers who may not have found your business on their own. Calling prospects can improve your sales strategy and gather more insight into the wants and needs of your target customer base.
- Email: Email marketing is an excellent way to provide information about your business in an easily digestible format. Use authentic and personalized messages to target customers or key decision-makers at an organization. Keep the message straightforward and focus on the problem your product or service solves. Provide links to your website or offer to hop on a call at their convenience to explain what your business offers.
Stage 3: Research your leads.
Ask these questions to determine if your lead is a good fit:
- Are they genuinely interested in your product or service?
- Can they purchase your goods or services?
- Are they their organization’s primary decision-maker, or can they put you in touch with the right person?
Customer relationship management (CRM) software is an excellent way to track, manage and streamline leads across your sales team. The software makes it easier to record all lead interactions – including email data, calls and conversations.
Your sales team should also tag the lead in the CRM to denote level of interest and periodically reassess this data to ensure you aren’t missing key information or leads aren’t falling through the cracks.
If a lead isn’t likely to purchase your products or service in the immediate future, send their contact information to your marketing personnel to conduct a personalized email marketing campaign. Even if they’re not interested at the moment, follow up in the future.
Stage 4: Present to prospects.
In this step, you’ll make your sales pitch to a prospective consumer. It’s crucial to customize these presentations to the prospect’s specific needs. It’s also essential to keep your presentation short, as your prospect is likely busy.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make during this step is to use a generic template, hoping something resonates with your prospect. Instead, illustrate exactly how your business will meet their needs.
Did you know?: An elevator pitch can open the door for communication by quickly defining a problem and solution to your prospect.
Stage 5: Curb objections.
If potential consumers have reservations, particularly if they’re considering making a hefty investment, follow these steps:
- Listen intently. Show your possible client you genuinely understand where they’re coming from by carefully listening to their concerns. Use this as an opportunity to have an open dialogue and repeat their concerns back to them.
- Ask questions. Use this time to ask questions so your possible new client expands on their concerns. This demonstrates you have a good understanding of their needs.
- Offer solutions. Offer solutions with more details on how your product or service can solve an issue. This is also a good time to clear up any misunderstandings.
- Ask follow-up questions. Directly ask the prospect if you resolved or cleared up their objections to show your attention to detail.
Stage 6: Close the deal.
You’ve answered all their questions and reassured your prospect that your product is the best fit for their needs; it’s time to complete the sale.
Depending on how you conduct this step – either in-person or using a transactional email with a contract – it may be effective to offer purchasing suggestions through service tiers or customized product packages.
Sometimes, however, the prospective buyer backs out of the deal. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost this sale forever. Keep their information in your email marketing campaigns and follow up later. Use this as an opportunity to fine-tune your sales cycle to see what went wrong.
Stage 7: Follow up with the customer.
Your prospect is now a customer! Now your superior customer service comes into play. Follow up every two to three months to ensure the product or service is still working well for your new client. Offer continued support and ask for feedback, as happy customers will often lead to upsells and referrals.
Key takeaway: Your customers’ needs are everything. Make sure you listen and offer solutions to their problems throughout the sales process.
How to customize a sales cycle
A sales cycle should be integral to your broader sales or business plan. Ensure you’re intentional in every step of the process. Below are action items – and crucial questions to consider – when customizing a sales cycle for your organization.
1. Outline the internal details for each step.
Look at each stage of the sales cycle, and outline the processes and activities that make sense for your unique company. Be as specific as possible to ensure consistency across your team.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- How do you plan to find leads – through trade shows, social media, emails or a combination of tactics?
- Where will lead data be maintained?
- How do you define a qualified lead?
- How will you follow up with a prospect?
- Once you’ve introduced a proposal to a prospect, is there room for negotiation?
2. Define the objective.
Create business-specific, measurable benchmarks for each of the seven sales cycle steps. It’s essential to quantify your sales process to assess each step’s success. Here are some questions to consider:
- How do you know you’ve successfully moved a lead from one step to the next?
- What is the objective in each step? For example, does success in step 2 mean scheduling a follow-up call after an introductory email?
- What are each step’s performance metrics? For instance, is it a specific number of leads generated per quarter in step 2, or perhaps the presentation-to-proposal conversion rate in step 4?
3. Create a visual flowchart.
A visual reminder will aid the onboarding process while refreshing senior sales reps as they make their way through the sales cycle. Does one activity need to occur before moving within or onto another step? Use flowcharts and CRM workflows to guide viewers from one stage to the next.
4. Reassess and adjust your goals.
Suppose you’re not hitting your company’s goals after implementing the sales cycle. Examine the metrics defined within each step to determine what is causing the problem. Your ideal number of quality leads per quarter may be too high or perhaps an outdated CRM is creating inefficiencies.
Your sales cycle won’t be perfect, but as you follow the steps, measure your successes and make any necessary changes, you’ll be closer to reaching your overall sales goals.
Key takeaway: Your sales cycle is bound to change as you test your activities and metrics, and it may change as your business evolves. Consistently evaluate each stage of the sales cycle to ensure you’re on the right track.
What are the benefits of establishing a sales cycle?
Businesses can use a sales cycle to improve communication, find new efficiencies in their process and establish a consistent, repeatable plan for turning leads into customers.
These are some of the top benefits of establishing a sales cycle:
- Better communication: A sales cycle helps you understand what your customers want and how best to approach them. It allows your sales team to “nurture” potential customers rather than inundating them with irrelevant information. Salesforce estimates that 78% of business buyers seek salespeople who act as trusted advisors with knowledge of both their needs and the industry.
- Streamlined processes: By creating a clear procedure within a sales cycle, you can see previous inefficiencies. A sales cycle helps your team properly delineate tasks, avoid duplicative efforts, and provide measurable actions to better adjust your processes.
- Consistent training: Establishing a sales cycle makes training new sales reps easier. A sales cycle also allows your team to operate similarly with prospects and customers while fostering staff accountability and expectations.
What tools can help in the sales process?
Tools and services can make your sales process more efficient by automating tasks susceptible to human error or giving your sales team more time to focus on crucial assignments.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software
Leads, prospects and customers generate a potentially overwhelming amount of data. If this data isn’t organized, it may cost you potential sales.
Adding CRM tools to your workflow can improve productivity, generate revenue and boost customer satisfaction. CRM solutions keep track of customer data while offering versatile business tools that help with lead management and sales funnels.
When choosing a CRM solution, get input from your sales and marketing teams, as they will be the primary users of the system you implement.
Tip: When deciding on a CRM solution, check out our reviews of the best CRM software for small businesses to help you find the right system for your sales cycle.
Email marketing software
Email marketing is an excellent tool for catching the attention of potential customers and keeping current customers engaged. Automate your email marketing campaign to deliver a series of messages to leads, giving your sales team time to research and provide personalized experiences to qualified prospects.
Did you know?: Email marketing software can help your company plan, organize, automate, and track internal and customer-facing email campaigns. Read our reviews of the best email and marketing software and services to learn more.
Text message marketing software
People receive hundreds of emails a day, and sometimes emails get lost or ignored. Text messaging software leads prospects and customers through an automated series of messages delivered to their phones.
While text or SMS messaging offers another touchpoint, ensure you avoid text message marketing mistakes, such as spamming your audience with content.
Tip: Read our reviews of the best text message marketing services to learn what to consider when choosing a text messaging solution for your business.
Project management software
Your business’ individual sales cycle might include a lot of moving parts. Specific employees may be responsible for generating leads, while other team members are tasked with following up or making presentations. Implementing project management software could help organize these processes within your sales team.
Call centers or answering services
Customer service begins the minute you contact a lead, so it’s essential to ensure your lead can contact your business and get timely answers to their questions. If your team is small and can’t adequately address calls and inquiries from potential customers, consider choosing a customer service call center to ease the load.
Credit card processing software
Nothing is more frustrating for a customer than a complicated payment process. It would be regrettable to lose a sale at the last minute because your payment system is inefficient. Your business may benefit from credit card processing tools to streamline your payment procedures.
A sales cycle is a work in progress.
Every business is different, and one company’s sales cycle might not work for another. Take steps to evaluate what success looks like to you and your team and continue to measure, modify, and readjust your processes consistently to create the best sales cycle you can for your business.