What is a sales cycle? And how should you manage it?
Chapter 01: What is a sales cycle?
The sales cycle is simply the series of events and actions in your business that typically lead to a conversion. It's called a sales cycle because when the sale is complete, you've come full circle and you're ready to repeat it with the next customer.
Your cycle might be as simple as this: start with a qualified lead, schedule a phone call, qualify, present and (hopefully) close. Or you may have another approach that works better for your industry and your approach.
Things typically work best when the basic route is well-known, yet salespeople and managers also have the ability to "take a left" and vary the journey to better close with a given prospect.
Whatever the route, one thing doesn't change: even qualified leads rarely buy on the first interaction. Nurturing is a must. And the more you learn about what works best, the better you'll do in the future.
Chapter 02: What is sales cycle management?
Sales cycle management is the use of planning, software tools, and good messaging to monitor and influence all the stages of the consumer buying journey. The goal is to anticipate the needs of potential customers and make it easier for them to buy.
A sales cycle management platform typically helps a business:
Identify qualified leads
Store in-depth details about each
Nurture leads with emails, phone calls and educational materials
Follow up with post-sale customer service
Here are some good ways to find the stages of the sales cycle that work best for your business:
Chapter 03: Identify the perfect customer
You probably have an idea of your ideal customer base: moms with toddlers, offshore oil rigs with hardware needs, or whatever your target happens to be. But have you shared that detail with your team? Have you talked about questions like:
What kind of budget do they have?
Where are they located?
What's the size of their business? Their level of income?
The more specific you can get, the better. If your business is big enough to have a sales team and a marketing team, they should all be on the same page with these answers. If you're the sales and marketing team, you'll do better when you're perfectly clear about your ideal qualified lead.
If you have multiple audiences, create prototypes for each. Give them names, income levels and motivations. How does that customer ideally pass through the stages of a sales cycle? What moves them ahead? How long are they in the sales cycle from start to finish? (Many businesses of all sizes use customer relationship management software to understand these points about their customers.)
Here are some key criteria to consider for both individuals (business to consumer, or B2C) and businesses (business to business, or B2B) when finding the perfect customer:
Occupation – position, industry, division
Years in operation
Do they have an existing solution comparable to your product or service?
Chapter 04: Move your prospects down the sales funnel
Who’s the decision-maker?
OK: You’ve pinpointed your ideal business customer. Next question: Are you talking to the person who can make the ultimate decision? Or are you talking to a junior-level person who'll have to re-give your pitch to their boss? (Hint: they'll never pitch as well as you.)
Time is a precious commodity in any small business, so don't feel bad about asking to talk with the decision-maker. A non-invasive way to that detail is to say something like this: "Let's wave a magic wand. In a perfect world, what would it take to get the deal done? What's your internal approval process?" You're giving them an opening to tell you how they go about making their decisions -- and who the decision-maker is.
Don't start pitching until you know you're talking to someone who can take action.
Start with education
Now the sales cycle accelerates. But it shouldn't begin with a hard pitch or even a description of your product or service. Instead, give your qualified leads something free: Education.
Offer them valuable, relevant information. If you're a B2B company, make sure your content offering fits the customer's industry. If B2C, make sure you speak to each person's interests.
Be sure to show how your company is unique. Why should they use you in particular? Offer a tangible and relevant solution to their problem. Sell the value that they receive.
Don't stop offering helpful information after the first meeting. In sales cycle management, education is your best tool for staying in touch with a prospect. If you're a fitness club, for instance, you can send how-to workout videos or healthy recipes. Check in, follow up, listen, and support―even after you close the sale.
Make sure you’re speaking with the decision maker
Educate and inform with helpful and relevant particulars
Be clear: Spell out your unique value proposition
Educate and inform, even after the transaction
Chapter 05: For better sales cycle management, automate
You have your sales cycle road map. You know the best route and the speed limits. Now, how would you like to turn on autopilot for a while? You can.
Here are three stages of the sales cycle, which can be automated.
Nurturing is the step in which you develop prospects into customers. As the name implies, you're cultivating and encouraging them, not pressuring.
A drip email program can be an effective way to nurture interest in those who aren't yet ready to buy. You "drip" a series of messages over several weeks, keeping yourself in front of prospects while building rapport. Case studies, white papers, research data and helpful videos are all commonly used in drip programs.
It's a lot of work to do manually, but automated email drip programs let you create your emails once and then send them to each new lead automatically.
Drip programs have another advantage: they let you track the ways a prospect interacts with your content. Did they click the link in the last email you sent? Is there a pattern? Are they warming to your business?
All of this can help you map your route toward a sale.
2. Following through
Is a prospect stalling? Be persistent, but be smartly persistent. Your drip program can help here, but don't make it so automatic that you disregard the data that a prospective client might be presenting you through their activity—or lack thereof—within the program.
Watch closely as leads open—or don’t open—your nurture or drip program emails. Watch as they click through or don’t. What was the subject matter of the email? What was the subject line?
Carefully craft your drip campaigns, then be ready to completely change them if they don't work. Analyze, tweak, re-test and follow through—winning your prospects' interest, trust, and business.
3. Turning customers into advocates
Keep practicing sales cycle management after the sale. Follow up with helpful messages and services that can transform one-time buyers into long-time customers and advocates.
Stay in touch via post-sale drip programs (sending them less often than your pre-sale nurturing campaigns). Ask their opinions. Engage. And make sure they’re the first to know about your new products or services.
Your sales cycle management may be automated, but the contact is always personal -- because you wrote the messages that your customers need most.