How to Build a Sales Process That Rocks the 7 Stages of the Sales Cycle
No matter what industry you’re in, every business follows the same basic sales stages to close deals. Having this process down pat ensures you’ve got a clear and consistent method that nurtures leads into sales.
A sales cycle is the process that your company undertakes when selling a product or service to a customer. It’s a series of steps that lead to a sale.
Think of it like meeting someone new. You don’t jump straight into a relationship, right? First, you get to know them, what they like, and their goals. Then, you talk, meet, and work together to see if you’re a match. Only then can your relationship grow. The sales process is similar.
Why Should I Have a Sales Cycle Process?
As a salesperson, you probably take great joy in coming up with new ideas and improvising. However, knowing and naming the steps in your sales cycle can make all the difference in your business’s success.
There are a few key benefits to knowing the steps in your sales cycle. First, you can optimize your team structure to support your sales cycle. For example, if you know your biggest challenge is finding qualified leads, you can put more team time into that stage of the cycle.
Secondly, having a sales cycle process makes it easy to onboard new staff. It’s an easy way to see what the short-term and long-term goals are, and how each step in the cycle supports the next.
You might also notice places where large amounts of effort are going to waste. Knowing your process lets you eliminate low ROI projects and helps your team focus on the efforts that give you the most results.
Finally, you can better pinpoint which steps in the sales cycle need improvement. You might discover that your team is excellent at generating leads but bad at making contact. Because you can pinpoint this, you can now consider offering training on how to write better emails, get past gatekeepers, and other obstacles they might face.
The Seven Stages of the Sales Cycle
Let’s break down the seven main stages of the sales cycle: prospecting, making contact, qualifying your lead, nurturing your lead, presenting your offer, overcoming objections, and closing the sale. We’ve also included one additional bonus step that can help speed this cycle up.
#1 – Prospecting: Find Your Dream Client
Prospecting is the first step in the sales process. In this stage, you might be looking at your target customer profiles, identifying potential clients for contact, and considering the best way to approach them.
Look for places where your target leads might be hanging out – this could be Facebook groups, LinkedIn forums, industry events, and more.
The first order of business will be to prove your relevance. Prepare yourself to answer key questions about your unique offers and benefits, as well as what problems you can solve for your prospect.
#2 – Make Contact: Reach Out and Say Hello
Now that you’ve identified your dream client, it’s time to reach out and build a connection. Depending on your team or business, you might use phone, email, or social media to make contact.
We typically wouldn’t recommend phone calls. Studies show that 80% of phone calls go right to voicemail – and only 2% of the calls that get answered result in an appointment. Talk about slim chances!
The good news is, 78% of decision-makers say they’ve arranged an appointment or attended an event due to a cold email. Email is a great way to make direct, personalized contact with your lead.
The best time to send emails is usually between 8 am-10 am and 3 pm-4 pm. During these times, people usually aren’t at their busiest, and might be checking email to wind up or wind down.
Using social media will depend widely on the platform and your audience – but it doesn’t hurt to try. Consider pairing it with email marketing to boost your chances of making a connection.
#3 – Qualify Your Prospect: Learn About Their Goals and Challenges
Qualifying your lead is your chance to learn more about your target prospect. Work to understand their goals, challenges, budget, and other important decision-making factors. In this stage, it’s also essential to establish that you’re speaking with the right decision-maker.
If you realize they wouldn’t be a good match, don’t get discouraged. It’s normal for less than 50% of initial prospects to turn out to be a good fit.
Avoid wasting time and team resources by communicating this concern to them. They’ll either appreciate your honesty, or you’ll learn a new detail about why they’re still interested in hearing more.
#4 – Nurture Your Prospect: Be a Reliable Resource
Based on what you learn, you can nurture your lead. Nurturing leads involves educating them about the general product, service, or industry, personalizing your communication, and addressing common challenges.
While nurturing, you’re working to establish a reputation for being helpful, responsive, and a reliable resource in your area of expertise.
In this stage, or even possibly in stage three, you might learn that your prospect wants a product or service urgently. Once you get to this point, it’s best to move on to stage five.
#5 – Present Your Offer: Provide Them a Solution
So far, the cycle has focused on your prospect. You’ve met them where they are, learned about their needs, and educated them on their questions and concerns.
It’s time to take all that knowledge and present the best possible offer you can.
Keep your offer relevant, targeted, and personalized to the needs you previously discussed. Connect your offer to their challenges, budget, and long-term ambitions. Finally, think about creative ways you can present and package your offer.
#6 – Overcome Objections: Justify How Your Offer Is Their Best Option
You’ve provided information, support, and even given your best possible offer. Now, the ball is in your prospect’s court. Usually, they return with an objection to your offer. The most common objections include price vs. value, risk, content of the offer, contract terms, and more.
If you can, it’s best to try to handle these objections early, like in the nurturing phase. But sometimes it’s just not possible to handle them ahead of time.
When you respond, be patient and empathize with their concerns. No one responds well to being rushed or pressured.
Make sure that you handle objections that relate to each other, as well. For example, if your lead is concerned with price, make sure they understand exactly what’s included in your offer.
Once you’ve offered an explanation, ask them to confirm that you’ve handled their objection. Once all objections are handled, you can move into the final stage.
#7 – Close the Sale: Thanks for Doing Business
So you’ve done a great job and you didn’t let them see you sweat. It’s time to end on a high note and close the sale.
Closing the sale not only confirms their engagement, but also works to set up next steps. At this time, you can ask for a starting date or offer an extra benefit if they sign today.
It might be counterintuitive, but avoid offering discounts – studies show that this can decrease the odds of successfully closing a sale by 17%.
Closing is also an opportunity to remind them of a specific result you believe you can achieve for their business. However you choose to do it, feel free to be a little creative. There are a variety of great ways to close the sale.
Once you’ve closed the deal and gotten their commitment, stick around to answer any remaining questions and provide them with clear next steps.
If you’re having an in-person meeting, offer to send a summary email to them and their assistant or superior that reviews your conversation and agreement.
Best Practices for Creating Your Sales Process
Sales is a combination of science and art: you have to solve a basic formula in a way that wows your prospects. I’ve consulted dozens of startups all trying to master this critical pairing, and it’s not easy.
Fortunately, the perfect sales process is not some elusive dream. It can be built. It just might surprise you how it gets built (hint: it has a lot more to do with what your ideal customer needs to experience than whatever you think you need to do).
#1 Start with the customer in mind, not the tools
Sales technology has gotten so advanced that we are starting to forget that a critical rule: Our tools shouldn’t dictate our processes — our processes should dictate our tools.
When you’re planning out your process, don’t worry about what software you’ve already bought. These days you can make most tools do what you need them to.
Start with your customer in mind. Think about the mindset they have before they learn about your product:
- What are the problems they’re experiencing and how are they trying to solve them today?
- What changes need to happen in their knowledge and attitude toward your product for a sale to happen?
Then design the steps you take around the path they must follow.
Here’s an example (written from the perspective of the customer):
- I have a problem with X that I’m willing to pay to solve
- I’m currently trying Y solution, but it’s (a) ineffective (b) overpriced [these should be based on your competitive product advantages]
- I learn about Product and wonder if it’s worth replacing what I’m doing now.
- I talk to a sales rep and can tell this company knows a lot about the problem.
- The rep makes me feel like she understands exactly what I’m struggling with and what to do about it.
- I find out the necessary details to make a decision and am starting to feel more confident that this solution can help me.
- The sales rep provides ample evidence of companies like mine that have found the benefits I’m looking for. I feel much more confident and can now explain to my team why we are making this transition.
- The buying process is easy and next steps are clear all along the way.
- I sign up and immediately am made to feel that my decision was right.
How much better is this as a starting point than: “Day 1: Email + Call. Day 2: Call and leave VM”
We’ll get there eventually, but the detailed steps aren’t important unless they take your future customer on the right path.
#2 Map your actions to the customer’s journey
Personally, I use Lucidchart for all my process mapping. They make it insanely easy for me to create and share ideas (plus I just LOVE their brand)
Next to each step the customer needs to go through, write the corresponding actions you need to take to ensure the customer can take those steps.
Here’s an example from the customer journey I mentioned above:
- The rep makes me feel like she understands exactly what I’m struggling with and what to do about it.
- Need a discovery call framework that highlights the problem with statistics and high value questions that dig into the problem.
- Need customer stories that highlight each variation of the problem we solve.
- Need to ensure sales reps have all relevant data on the company ahead of the call so time is spent on valuable questions, not time wasters.
- Need to teach reps to actively listen. If we see reps struggling because they’re taking too many notes to really be present, we can put a call recording & transcribing tool in place so they can focus and get notes logged afterward.
- To help the customer feel like they’re getting personal engagement and all of our attention, we will use a video conferencing tool to show our reps’ faces (even if the client doesn’t turn on their camera).
Look at how much can be developed based on what the prospect needs to feel. Ditch the “best practices” – do what’s best by the customer.
#3 Map your actions to the tools needed to execute them
At this point you know what you need to do. Now you need to develop how to do it.
For example, if I need to design and distribute a discovery call framework, I have a few options:
- Add custom fields to my contact record in CRM based on necessary data to uncover during discovery
- Create a form for the rep to fill out while on the call (like a Google form)
- Generate a document outlining the questions to ask and have reps keep call notes
- Any combination of the above solutions
It’s finally time to start thinking about your own team and not your customer. Here are four questions to consider when developing each step in the process:
- Does this step contribute to helping our prospective customer make the right decision?
- Is this step adding any unnecessary complexity?
- Do we need to buy or implement a new tool to execute on this step?
- If we need a new tool, will the sales reps integrate it into their workflow?
#4 Measure and improve over time
If you think you’ll be able to design the perfect sales process right out of the gates, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
You should track your sales funnel metrics before implementing new changes, then after the change is implemented. This way you can make a decision based on real data, not feelings, about how a particular step in your process is affecting your sales output.
Here’s a list of some metrics you’ll want to track:
- Dial to connect rate
i.e. Out of your call attempts, how many conversations are you having with the intended contact?
- Positive email response rate
i.e. Out of the emails you’re sending, how many prospects respond positively?
- Conversion rate
i.e. Out of your first conversations, how many convert to a next sales conversation (meeting/demo)?
- Sales accepted rate
i.e. Out of your next sales conversations, how many become a qualified sales opportunity?
- Close rate
i.e. Out of your qualified sales opportunities, how many become a customer?
Do you feel like you’re killing it in each sales cycle stage? Let us know in the comments: