Successful sales efforts are rarely improvised. Very few companies' sales strategies revolve around throwing random tactics at the wall and seeing what sticks. Generally speaking, businesses that see consistent success in sales offer their salespeople some degree of guidance.
Salespeople often need a defined progression to serve as a reference point — a regimented framework that lets them know what to do next. That infrastructure is often referred to as a sales cycle.
Here we'll learn what a sales cycle is, get a feel for the stages that typically comprise one, and how to effectively put one in motion.
What is a sales cycle?
A 'Sales Cycle' is a set of specific actions salespeople follow to close a new customer. Sales cycles are often confused with sales methodologies — frameworks for implementing sales cycles. The sales cycle is more tactical, and often includes stages such as 'prospect,' 'connect,' 'research,' 'present,' and 'close.'
It's in your company's best interest to have a sales cycle in place. It allows you to better organize your sales pipeline, prioritize leads, and ultimately evaluate the efficacy of your sales efforts.
Having a clearly defined sales cycle gives your reps a thorough roadmap and common reference points to ensure they understand what both they and their teammates are doing. Cohesion is important to a sales team.
Your reps need the flexibility and knowhow to pick up where another left off — if need be. But, there's no "where they left off" if there's no sales cycle to guide their efforts.
A sales cycle also sets up the infrastructure for reps to prioritize leads and understand how far along prospects are in their buyers' journeys. If they can identify where they are in the context of a sales cycle, they'll know how to best approach the leads they're pursuing.
Finally, a sales cycle allows you to objectively evaluate your sales efforts. How did your reps do? What worked well for them? Where did things go wrong or right? Did they deviate from the cycle? What happened if they did?
Having perspective for evaluation is essential to understanding how both your reps and business are performing — a sales cycle provides just that.
To understand a sales cycle, you must understand the stages it's comprised of. Here's a breakdown of each one.
Stages of a Sales Cycle
Follow up and generate referrals
Scour LinkedIn, check for relevant news stories, and dig up referrals. Prospecting isn't the most glamorous part of sales, but it might just be the most important.
In this stage, you'll identify sales qualified leads (SQLs) and fill your pipeline with prospects who are a good fit for your product/service and your buyer persona, and who might be interested in hearing what you have to say. For more tips, check out our ultimate guide to sales prospecting.
Once you've identified prospects, it's time to make contact. Ask for a mutual acquaintance to introduce you, engage with your prospect on social media like LinkedIn or Twitter, and reach out over email and phone.
Introduce yourself, share the value of what you have to offer, and ask if they'd be interested in learning more.
For example, you might call a prospect and say, "Hello [Prospect name]. My name is [Your name], and I'm with [Company name]. Is [pain point] a problem for you? I help companies like yours [insert benefit you offer], and I think I can do the same for you. Is this something you'd like to learn more about?"
When your prospect is interested in learning more, it's time to set up a discovery or qualifying call. You'll learn more about their business, their needs, and your ability to meet those needs.
Some discovery calls will end with you realizing you're not a good fit. Others will give you the insight to make a strong case for their adoption of your product/service. Not sure where to start? Here's our ultimate list of discovery questions.
Now, it's time for the presentation. This is usually built around a pitch template your sales team uses and customizes for each prospect's unique business needs.
Generally, you'll present to a team of decision makers at your prospect's company and field questions from key stakeholders. Want to freshen up your pitch? Check out these six types of presentation styles.
5. Handle objections
In all likelihood, your sales cycle isn't going to run its course without some road bumps. Expect some pushback from your prospects at this point. They're bound to have some questions and concerns about your product or service.
After your presentation, you'll have to address prospect objections. They might press you on prices, their budgets, your competitors, whether they understand your product, their specific business challenges, or any other issues that your pitch might bring to light. Be prepared to listen intently, ask for context, and do what you can to understand their objections before addressing them.
For more information on common objections and how to handle them, check out this article.
It's likely you'll have next steps to follow up on after the presentation. You might need to connect with legal or IT on logistical details. Once you've completed these steps, it's time to "ask for the close" — sales jargon for asking whether the prospect is ready to buy.
If they say, "Yes," draw up the contract and send it over for final review and signing. If they say, "No," you might have to address further objections or walk away from their business for the moment. Here's a complete list of sales closing techniques to help you seal the deal.
7. Follow up and generate referrals
The sales cycle doesn't end with landing a deal. After you closed, you have to work to delight your customers, keep them on board, and leverage them to generate new business. Do everything in your power to serve your customers as best you can through exemplary customer service and followup.
Help and advocate for your customers. Keep them close, and you'll consistently find opportunities to cross and up-sell them. Happy customers are also excellent sources for referrals and new business — allowing you to continue to set your cycle in motion, foster more relationships, and ultimately drive revenue.
Sales Cycle Management
Sales cycle management is how salespeople, managers, and leaders keep track of each stage of the sales process. They identify trends and determine which steps of the process are doing well or need to be improved.
If you're a salesperson or sales leader, sales cycle management allows you to evaluate the stages of the sales cycle to see where improvements or adjustments need to be made. Tools, like a CRM, aid in sales cycle management.
Sales cycles are a pivotal part of every salesperson's day. It's important to be familiar with the cycle your team abides by — and use it as your compass to navigate the storm that selling can be.