Did you know that B2B companies with a defined formal sales cycle experience 18% more revenue growth compared to companies without one?
That’s why it’s time to codify the techniques and best practices of your (currently discordant) sales team, and embark on building your own unifying sales cycle.
Before you begin your journey there are 7 mistakes you must avoid if you want to formulate a successful sales cycle:
1. Creating unclear or ambiguous sales cycle stages.
2. Taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
3. Building a rigid sales cycle with no room for evolution and improvement.
4. Neglecting important perspectives in the process e.g. senior stakeholders, the marketing department, etc.
5. Basing it on your journey as a seller instead of the buyer’s journey.
6. Failing to share and practice the sales cycle with your whole team.
7. Not having a way to evaluate your sales cycle.
Keep reading to learn what a sales cycle is and exactly what you need to do to avoid making these common and disastrous mistakes.
What is a sales cycle?
A sales cycle may be defined as ‘all of the activities from the time you consider selling your product or service to a prospect, to when they have paid for the product or service’, including:
- Proposals sent.
- Internal time prepping.
There are many benefits of having a sales cycle, some of the main ones include:
- Teams are more efficient and organized and sales reps always know exactly what to do next.
- Higher win rate because only the most ‘ideal prospects’ become leads, and…
- More accurate forecasting for the future.
Summary of sales cycle stages
There are 8 common sales cycle stages, although each organization will structure its sales cycle slightly differently. Most sales cycles have somewhere between 3-8 stages, and below is a typical 8-stage full sales cycle:
The first stage of any sales cycle is to identify prospective customers. Without this, you’ll have no-one to sell to.
You’ll need a solid understanding of your product or service to complete this stage, so aim to get to grips with the following questions:
– What problem or issue does your offering solve?
– What is the USP (unique selling point) of your product or service?
By answering these questions, you should be able to figure out who your customers are.
For example, if you’re selling software that provides one platform for organizing all projects, with a unique offering of digital team collaboration, then your customers are probably going to be project managers.
There may be subtle differences amongst your customers that you’ll also need to identify as this will impact your approach. For example, some may be project managers with medium-large teams looking for a way to get more organized, others may belong to smaller teams or start-ups and need to prepare for scaling up.
Either way, now you know who your prospects are.
The next stage is to approach your prospects and initiate contact. You’ll need to decide what the best method of communication is depending on the prospect.
For busy project managers with large teams to support and manage, your best bet is to pick up the phone and call, since you can guarantee their inbox will be flooded with emails. The other project managers, with less on their plate, will be more likely to read your email.
Remember, this sales cycle stage is about sparking up a conversation, not delivering your entire pitch. Play it cool and ask harmless questions like:
How are you?
Do you ever feel like your current systems and tools are working against you, instead of with you?
We hear this complaint a lot, and we’re always happy to share our thoughts around a better solution for you and your team.
Let me know if you fancy having a quick chat soon.
[Name, Role, Company]
The goal is to weed out uninterested parties and set up a more formal meeting or conversation with those who are interested. These leads can pass through to the next stages in your sales funnel.
3. Qualify leads
Now you need to decide if the customers are an ideal fit for your offering, in other words, you need to qualify your prospects as leads.
The qualifying stage might happen alongside other sales cycle stages, for example during the prospecting stage or approach stage.
To establish whether they’re a good candidate for your product or service, you’ll need to know:
– Whether they’re a key decision-maker, and
– If they’re genuinely interested
As we mentioned, you might find answers to these questions in the approach stage, or you might need to have a proper conversation with the prospect first to gauge their position in the company and their level of interest in/ need for your offering.
This sales cycle stage is incredibly important because it will save you valuable time and resources. As we always say, “a quick no is as good as a yes”, because knowing who not to waste time on is precious information. This will allow you to focus your energy and money on leads who are the most likely to buy.
4. Nurture leads
Once you reach the nurturing sales cycle stage, you should have identified your leads, and know which candidates you’re going to spend time nurturing.
You’ll need to score your leads in relation to how likely they are to buy your product or service. Appoint high scores to the leads you believe are already prime candidates for next stage in your sales cycle: a sales pitch, and give lower scores to the ones you know will need a bit of convincing before they’re ready to pass through the sales funnel.
In this stage, it’s really important to collaborate with your marketing team to devise a content strategy for how to nurture your low-scoring leads. This might mean putting together a monthly newsletter and gradually drip-feeding content to your leads that will encourage them to buy over time.
For the high-scoring leads, setting up a phone call now to deliver your sales pitch might be all the nurturing you’ll need to do.
The leads you identified as high scorers are now ready to hear what you have to offer. The ‘pitch’ sales cycle stage is pivotal in their decision to buy—or not—so make sure you put lots of effort into creating your pitch.
You’ll need to figure out how your product or service will solve their problems and pain points, and then present this information to them. You should also spell out how your offering is a better fix than any other product or service.
It’s also key in this stage to remember that you’re also selling yourself. Be warm and positive, because getting your leads to like you is almost as important as getting them to like what you’re selling.
6. Overcome objections
After hearing your sales pitch, it’s likely that your leads will have some concerns. Even if they agree with your solution, they might be worried about the price, or how they will integrate it into their team or the terms might seem wrong.
Even the most enthusiastic leads can be hesitant, so be prepared to put their minds to rest in order to guide them to the penultimate stage of your sales funnel.
Listen patiently to their concerns and get to the root of where they stem from.
Have they had bad experiences in the past?
Have they never tried anything new?
Whatever it is, you need to show them you’re trying to understand it, and then you can reframe your sales pitch in order to overcome these worries.
For example, if integration is a concern, offer their team a free lesson where your company teaches them how to use the product. If money is an issue, reframe the price so that it sounds more manageable, i.e. $200 per month is actually just $6 per day, which is no more than a cup of coffee.
Asking the right questions, and truly listening to what they are saying, is the key to success here.
Not all leads are going to sign-up for your services as soon as you’ve delivered your sales pitch. Many of them are going to need time to think things over and discuss with other members of their team. This is completely normal, but it can also let other priorities get in the way of you closing the sale.
Business founders and other key stakeholders have a lot on their plate, so they can easily become distracted by other things. Now is not the time to sit back and do nothing, you need to be proactive at this stage, just like in all of the previous sales cycle stages.
Did you know that 80% of sales require an average of five follow-ups in order to close the sale?
If you’re worried about being pushy, don’t be. Your leads know the score, and they’ll expect you to check in. Some quick tips for following up effectively are:
– Use a variety of follow-up methods such as email, calling, LinkedIn messaging
– Space your follow-ups out, try and stick to one follow-up per week
– Keep your follow-ups friendly and brief, now is not the time to overwhelm your leads
– Provide value with each follow-up; remind them of the key problems your offering will solve
– Make the next steps clearly defined so they know how to get in touch with you
Learn more about following up effectively here.
8. Close the sale
When you reach the final sales cycle stage, it’s time for what you’ve been waiting for: to close the sale.
Getting this bit right is trickier than you might think, after all, you’re not a mind-reader. You have to predict the mindset of your leads, and then decide the best course of action. If you think they’re pretty much sold, and it’s a case-closed situation, you can feel confident sending them a message like this:
“Shall I put the paperwork together and send it over for you to sign?”
But if you’re not feeling this confident yet, you might need to circle back to your main points and ask them how they’re feeling.
Remember, you’re not always going to close a sale straight away. It’s normal for some leads to stay put in the sales funnel for a little while. You may need to back off for a while and loop back around to them at a later date. Some people need more time to think things through, others are simply too busy to make a commitment right now. Keep faith and try again later.
7 Sales cycle mistakes
Now you know the 8 typical sales cycle stages, you can set to work building a standardized framework that will work best for your team.
You may want to tweak some of the above stages to suit your company and product better. For example, you may want to slot in the techniques and best practices of your best sales reps into each stage and make them explicit for the whole team to follow.
Using a digital sales cycle platform where you can build a customized sales cycle of any length, tweak it over time and share it with your entire team is ideal.
But first, read through these 7 common but disastrous sales cycle mistakes so that you can avoid making them yourself.
1. Creating unclear or ambiguous sales cycle stages
The first mistake is leaving any of your sales cycle stages open to interpretation. If two of your sales reps interpret a stage differently, then you haven’t been clear enough.
The point of building a sales cycle is to create a roadmap of actions that direct your sales reps to the finish line. This road map needs to be clearly defined, with concrete actions that will lead prospects to the next stage in your sales funnel and prevent mistakes from occurring.
2. Taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach
Your ideal customers aren’t always going to look the same, which means your sales cycle can’t either. Make it so that the stages are general enough to be inclusive of all prospects being targeted and leads being nurtured.
In the example above we suggested that some prospects may respond better to a phone call rather than an email, and that some leads may need to be nurtured for a long period of time and not pitched to right away. Ensure that your sales cycle stages accommodate all kinds of situations.
3. Building a rigid sales cycle with no room for evolution and improvement
What works for your prospects and leads now, isn’t always going to be the case. Make sure the sales cycle structure you build is fluid and can be altered with time.
Leaving room for improvement in your sales cycle is crucial since, as we know, culture changes quickly with the birth of new technologies and trends.
This is another reason why digital sales platforms are effective, as they can be tweaked in real-time.
4. Neglecting important perspectives in the process e.g. senior stakeholders, the marketing department, etc.
Ignoring important perspectives like that of your senior stakeholders or marketing department is a big no-no when it comes to building a successful sales cycle.
Anyone involved in the sales funnel should have a say in its development. You may miss out on essential details if you don’t look for external input.
Let’s be honest, the marketing department is going to have a better understanding of nudge-theory-style nurturing than a sales team leader, so leave it to them to do the groundwork for this stage.
5. Basing it on your journey as a seller instead of the buyer’s journey
The easiest mistake to make is basing your sales cycle on your journey as a seller, instead of the buyer’s journey.
Compare selling to putting out fires. As a salesperson, it’s your job to extinguish all of your leads’ concerns, so that they feel confident to make a purchase.
When you narrowly focus on all the steps you need to do as a sales rep to guide them through the sales funnel, you can fail to address the concerns and worries of your target customers.
Instead, think from their perspective first, and build a roadmap for how to overcome all your lead’s potential worries. You’ll be left with a fool-proof sales cycle that really caters to their needs.
6. Failing to share and practice the sales cycle with your whole team
You’ve done your research and built your sales cycle. Now it’s time to share it with your team members. But wait, all you have is a bunch of working docs full of notes. How are your sales reps going to implement these into their daily routines?
You need to create visually appealing documentation, that’s easy to follow, easy to share, and lives somewhere accessible to everyone. Opting for a digital sales platform with a sales cycle framework already in place makes this part easy since all you need to do is fill in the information.
Then you need to coach your sales team through it. It’s no good just giving them access and telling them to follow it. You need to practice following your sales cycle with them, go over any obstacles your team faces on a daily basis, and show them how your method will help overcome them.
7. Not having a way to evaluate your sales cycle
This final mistake is usually committed because evaluation is always an afterthought. But, it’s also an extremely important step for maintaining and improving any successful sales cycle.
Without coming up with defined metrics, you won’t be able to measure the success of your sales cycle, so come up with these immediately.
Example KPIs you can measure the success of your sales cycle with are:
– Sales cycle length (the average time from initial contact to closing a sale)
– Opportunity to win ratio (number of qualified leads that turn into wins)
– Loss rate by sale stage (percentage of sales lost at each stage)
Once you have objective data, you can make the necessary adjustments to improve your sales cycle.
If you’re interested in learning more about how a standardized sales cycle framework will unify your whole team, reduce time spent on empty-calorie sales activities and boost your win rate, get in touch with our expert sales consultants today.
They’ll be happy to walk you through the Stack sales cycle platform and advise on any quick wins that may benefit your whole team (and help you sleep better).
Alternatively, you can schedule a call to see Stack in action.