A sales cycle acts as a roadmap that your sales team can follow to close a new lead.
While sales cycles vary across businesses, their end goals are usually the same. They help you sell better, train your sales team easily, and track the effectiveness of your sales operations properly.
In this article, I’ll explain what a sales cycle is and why it’s critical to your business. I’ll then cover the seven important stages in a typical sales cycle and offer five actionable tips to help boost your sales cycle efficiency.
This Article Contains:
(Click on the links below to jump to specific sections.)
- What Is a Sales Cycle?
- What Are the Essential Stages in a Sales Cycle?
- 5 Practical Tips to Improve Your Sales Cycle Efficiency
Let’s get started.
What Is a Sales Cycle?
A sales cycle represents the series of steps that a sales rep follows to convert a new lead into a new customer for their business.
Although sales cycles are unique to each business, usually, the first step is to find sales leads. Then, each salesperson will be assigned a sales lead to make contact with, qualify, and eventually close.
The specific steps in your B2C or B2B sales cycle would vary depending on your:
- Industry or niche
- Type of offerings
- Pricing structure
- Sales strategy
- Cost of acquiring a new customer, and more
Now that you know what a sales cycle is, I’ll cover why it’s crucial to your business’ success.
Why a Sales Cycle Is Important to Your Business
A sales cycle is indispensable to your business because it:
- Guides your B2C or B2B sales team on the specific steps they should ideally follow while selling
- Simplifies the training process for new sales reps since all the sales steps and best practices are compiled together in a structured format
- Provides insights on the effectiveness of your sales operations and shows where you can improve
Essentially, a sales cycle helps ensure that your entire sales process is organized and repeatable.
But what’s a sales cycle like?
Let’s take a look at the different stages of a typical sales cycle.
What Are the Essential Stages in a Sales Cycle?
As I mentioned earlier, the B2C or B2B sales cycle of a business is usually unique. It depends on the product or service you sell, the industry or niche you cater to, and so on.
However, most effective sales cycles include the following seven essential stages. They might not always be strictly sequential, and there might be overlaps between stages. We will talk about that in a minute.
Stage #1: Find Leads for Your Business
Identifying potential customers (aka lead generation) is generally the first sales cycle stage.
However, before looking for a potential client, you must first understand what your product or service does and how it benefits your existing customers. This knowledge will help you determine the type of people or businesses who make up your lead lists. This, in essence, is your target audience.
Now for finding these potential leads, your salesperson can leverage:
- Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, etc.
- Subscription forms on your business’ website
- Trade shows and conferences
- Referral recommendations from existing customers
- Inbound marketing, and more
And fortunately, with the right lead generation tools, the process of finding potential leads across multiple channels becomes a lot more streamlined.
Looking for excellent lead generation software?
Check out the top eight lead generation tools available today.
Stage #2: Reach Out to Your Leads
Once you’ve created your lead lists, it’s time to make contact with your leads.
But first, you’ll need to decide which communication channels you’ll use for the first contact.
You can approach leads via:
- Cold calling
- Social media
- In-person meetings, and more
However, I recommend that you start by emailing leads.
Emails are non-intrusive compared to cold calling, more professional than social media messaging, and a lot more convenient than in-person meetings.
Moreover, with the right email marketing software, you can scale, automate, and monitor important metrics of your email outreach campaigns with minimal effort.
But regardless of whether you use emails, phone calls, or social media messages to approach leads, you should:
- Let the potential customer know who you are.
- Determine at what stage of the buying process (or buying cycle) the potential customer finds themselves. To do this, you can ask about their pain points and whether they’ve considered any solutions, and so on.
Stage #3: Qualify Your Leads
During the outreach sales cycle stage, you may realize that not all leads you’ve been talking to are a good fit for your business.
Some of these leads:
- Can’t afford your solution
- Struggle with pain points your product or service doesn’t address
- Won’t purchase your offerings at the moment because of bad timing, etc.
Fortunately, qualifying your lead lists based on your ideal customer profile and buyer personas can quickly highlight good-fitting leads.
What’s an ideal customer profile?
An ideal customer profile represents the essential criteria a lead must satisfy to become your customer.
For example, the lead must:
- Belong to a specific industry, like fintech
- Have revenue between $1–5 million, and so on
What’s a buyer persona?
A buyer persona mentions the additional characteristics your lead should ideally have to become a customer.
For example, to fit your persona model for your service, the lead might need to:
- Belong to their company’s marketing team
- Live in California
- Be 25–30 years old, and so on.
If a lead matches your ideal customer profile and buyer persona, they’re likely a good fit for your business and represent an excellent sales opportunity. Such a lead is known as a qualified lead or sales prospect.
Note: Based on the sales intelligence gathered by the sales team, some companies may qualify leads before reaching out to them. The lead generation and qualification stages can be combined into a single sales prospecting stage in such scenarios.
Want to learn more about the intricacies of sales prospecting?
Read my ultimate guide to sales prospecting for everything you need to know.
Stage #4: Pitch to Your Prospects
As soon as you detect a viable sales opportunity, try to schedule a meeting with that qualified lead or prospect.
During the meeting, you can deliver your sales pitch or sales presentation.
Usually, the sales pitch is the most crucial sales cycle stage since it can have a massive impact on whether the qualified lead will move forward with their purchase decision.
But to do it right, your sales representative must be well-prepared for the meeting.
Ask the qualified lead or prospect about the stakeholders who will attend the meeting and have your sales rep create a personalized sales pitch accordingly.
And during the sales pitch or presentation, your sales representative must:
- Explain how your offerings directly address the specific customer’s pain points
- Establish what makes your solution different from the competition and better able to enable the customer’s success
- Cover your proposed scope of work, features, pricing structure, and more
Remember not to be pushy during the sales pitch or sales presentation.
Instead, help prospects visualize the positive implications of using your solution and the negative consequences of not addressing their pain points. This makes it easier for prospects to realize and accept “why” your solution is the excellent choice for them.
Stage #5: Overcome Prospect Objections
No matter how well your sales pitch went, some prospects could still struggle with uncertainties.
For example, common objections include concerns about the:
- Features offered
- Pricing structure
- Competitors’ offerings
- Contractual terms and conditions, etc.
Without adequately addressing these objections, your sales professional won’t be able to close the sale.
How to overcome objections
When prospects voice their objections, actively listen to what they’re saying and try to empathize with them.
Next, consider how you can overcome objections voiced by the prospect. Then, see if you can make any adjustments and discuss that with the potential client.
However, if you’re unable to accommodate a prospect’s objections, be upfront with them about it. When you convey your limitations genuinely, they might just consider making some compromises on their side.
Stage #6: Close the Sale
Once you’ve properly conveyed the value of your offerings and managed their objections, it’s time to focus on closing the sale.
You can now create the final sales proposal and negotiate the final details.
But here are some things to keep in mind during this sales activity:
- Ensure that your prospect is in a good mood before making your sales request — approaching them when they’re irritated or distracted can compromise your sales conversion chances.
- Remind your prospect how your solution is uniquely positioned to address their pain points. This helps in cases where the prospect experiences last-minute jitters.
- If the prospect is still not ready to close, consider walking away for a bit and giving them space. Let them know they can get back to you anytime with their final decision.
After this, it’s entirely up to your prospect: you’ll either win or lose the sale.
If you win the sale, move the customer to the next stage of your sales cycle.
And if the sale doesn’t go through, don’t abandon the prospect just yet. Instead, assign them to your marketing team for additional lead nurturing.
In time, they may end up becoming a new customer, ultimately contributing to your future sales.
Stage #7: Follow Up with Customers
Most sales cycles mark a “sales close” as the final sales cycle stage.
However, an excellent sales leader or sales manager understands that it’s not enough to just sell your solution to a customer.
You’ll also need to:
- Ensure that the customer’s needs are being adequately addressed
- Check with the support team to make sure the customer has a fantastic customer experience.
- Gather customer feedback to see how you can be of further assistance
That’s why your sales professional needs to follow up consistently with existing customers to see how they’re doing.
When following up, if the customer says they’re happy with your service so far, the sales professional can look for cross-selling and upselling opportunities. Moreover, they can ask the existing customers for referral recommendations to help with your future sales goals.
However, if the prospect mentions they haven’t had a great experience using your offerings, you’ll need to make amends. You should determine what’s troubling them about your solution and then adopt suitable remedial actions.
Now that we’ve covered the essential stages of the sales cycle, let’s see how you can maximize the efficiency of a properly defined sales cycle.
Not Necessarily Sequential
Stages 2-6 are not necessarily sequential. For example:
1. Multiple stakeholders
When you sell to companies with more than 20 people, there will usually be multiple stakeholders involved in making the buying decision. Therefore, you might have several meetings where you interact with different people — each of whom might have different objections.
Here, the objection handling would have to be done at different stages.
You need to keep qualifying your prospect at every interaction. For example, if you are selling project management software, your initial contact might be a project manager who is very interested. But the CTO might have unreasonable expectations about customer support levels and pricing.
In that case, walking away from the deal might be a better idea than trying to negotiate.
5 Actionable Tips to Improve Your Sales Cycle Efficiency
Here are five no-nonsense tips to help you improve your sales cycle performance:
1. Refine Your Sales Cycle Regularly
Your sales cycle workflow will need some tweaks from time to time to ensure a smooth buying process for your customers. And one metric you can use to gauge sales cycle effectiveness is the conversion rate.
What’s the conversion rate?
The conversion rate for a specific sales cycle stage shows the percentage of leads who advance from that stage to the next one in your sales cycle.
By calculating the conversion rate between two stages of the sales cycle, you can determine where your leads are falling through and which sales cycle stages require more attention.
Additionally, to refine your sales cycle, check your sales cycle length and compare it to your industry or niche’s average sales cycle length.
For example, let’s say you’ve got a longer sales cycle than the industry average.
Your sales leader or sales manager should evaluate your long sales cycle to understand why it’s longer. Then, they can look for ways to transform it into a shorter sales cycle.
A short sales cycle would essentially allow your salesperson to close leads quicker. This would give them time to pursue more sales opportunities, adding to your business revenue.
2. Leverage Social Proof to Better Convince Your Prospects
Social proof can come in handy when you reach out to leads, present your offerings to them, or overcome objections raised by them.
By social proof, I mean:
- Case studies
- Reviews, and more
Essentially, social proof is anything that showcases the positive outcomes you’re able to achieve for customers.
Social proof makes it easier for prospects to trust what your sales representative says and helps them see how your solution is genuinely beneficial. It also nudges the prospect to purchase your product or service without much hesitation.
3. Request Small Commitments from Your Prospects
Adopting a “foot in the door” technique can speed up your sales cycle and help your sales team achieve their sales goals.
Here, you ask prospective customers for small commitments now and then.
For example, in one of your outreach communications, you could ask for the prospect’s permission to send them relevant resources to help overcome their challenges. If they agree, you could share helpful content (like case studies or whitepapers) and request that they go through it.
After that, you could ask them to tell you about the stakeholders involved in the decision-making process and see if you can get in touch with those decision-makers.
Such small commitments can help you build rapport, stay top-of-mind with them, and ease the prospect into the idea of buying from you. As a result, when you finally ask the prospect if they’d like to be your new customer, it wouldn’t come as a surprising or inappropriate suggestion.
4. Train Your Sales Team Well
To fully utilize the potential of a properly defined sales cycle, you’ll need the right sales team members. Your sales reps should be eager to help your prospects and be aware of the best practices to convert a prospect into a customer.
But how can you empower sales reps to bring out their best?
As a sales leader or sales manager, you can:
- Coach every sales rep to help them amplify their strengths and overcome their weaknesses.
- Conduct workshops to teach your sales team your business’ sales strategy that they can leverage to close sales.
- Create a sales playbook your reps can follow for better guidance on the sales process, best practices to help them achieve their sales goals, and more.
- Encourage your sales reps to role-play sales conversations to identify opportunities for improvement.
By providing extra support and additional resources to your sales team members, you can empower them to take up and manage various sales cycle tasks effectively.
Want more guidance on managing your sales team?
Read my sales team guide for handy pointers.
5. Use the Right Software to Manage Your Sales Cycle
Managing your sales cycle can be challenging.
You’ll need to:
- Constantly track where a potential customer is in the sales cycle.
- Send several follow-ups before you can convert a sales opportunity.
- Coordinate with your marketing team consistently to ensure that you’re using the right content (for example, case studies) to attract your potential leads.
- Monitor your average sales cycle length and the effectiveness of your sales operations.
- Engage in a lot of data entry, scheduling, and other administrative tasks.
However, with the right software to help you, sales cycle management becomes so much easier.
What software can you use?
You can start with a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM software) like Salesforce or Pipedrive. The CRM software forms the core of your sales cycle management tech stack, helping you manage all customer info in one place.
You can also consider incorporating prospecting tools like Datanyze or Leadfeeder to gather sales intelligence on your potential customers.
For scheduling meetings efficiently with a potential customer, you can use a tool like Calendly.
And for reaching out to and professionally engaging with a potential customer, you can rely on robust email marketing automation software like GMass.
GMass is used by employees in tech giants like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google. However, it’s not just large companies that can benefit from GMass. It also works great for sales professionals, small business owners, solopreneurs, casual email senders, and more.
With GMass in your sales toolkit, you can:
- Create workflows to send automated follow-up emails to maximize prospect engagement.
- Send automatically personalized outreach emails at scale, including the images, attachments, links, paragraphs, and more.
- Monitor the deliverability metrics of your email outreach campaigns through analytics reports to determine which marketing or sales strategy works best.
- Schedule your bulk outreach emails to go out at the right time.
- Automatically send behavior-based campaigns to your prospects based on how they responded to your previous emails.
- Save any of your emails as templates to repurpose them effortlessly in later campaigns.
- Access powerful email marketing and automation capabilities from your Android device with the add-on for the Gmail mobile app.
To start using GMass for free, just download the GMass Chrome extension and sign up with your Gmail account.
Your sales cycle refers to the different steps involved in closing a particular potential client, from finding a new lead to closing the deal and following up with them.
But with the many stages involved, sales cycle management can get complicated.
Use the tips I covered to manage your B2C or B2B sales cycle with ease.
You can use CRM software to organize lead or customer data, a prospecting tool to gather sales intelligence, and a powerful email marketing and automation tool like GMass to manage your prospect outreach and engagement.
Why not try GMass today and maximize your sales cycle effectiveness?