Sales cycle stages
Every company has a sales cycle and they’re unique. But, there are a few steps that are followed by a majority of them. The leads generated from your marketing automation tool get transferred to your sales team and this puts the sales cycle in motion. On the other hand, some companies follow outbound sales strategies in tandem with inbound, and this involves cold calling and emailing, door-to-door visits, and more.
First off, it is important to identify your sales cycle stages and come up with key metrics you can use to measure your team’s performance at each step.
The sales cycle stages can, however, differ based on the following factors:
Bryce Sanders, President at Perceptive Business Solutions sums up the initial process of finding your sales cycle effectively:
He says, "it's easy to figure out your own process. Let's assume it's face to face sales. The first step is talking to someone. The next step is getting in front of them. In the financial services industry, you gather information, then present a proposal. Gathering the data might take place in the second step. The third step is returning with a proposal and presenting it. The 4th stage is asking for the order when they go from prospect to client. That's oversimplified, but it's a basic process [of coming up with your own process]".
We stick to the following steps at Freshworks, and guess what? Using and sticking to this sales cycle has helped us build a solid pipeline. Here’s our seven-step B2B sales cycle.
1. Sales prospecting
The sales cycle begins when your salespeople start the prospecting process.
During this process, your salespeople can leverage information from the following channels to help them out:
Prospects who come in via advertisements
Demo requests or signup forms
Outbound prospecting (emails and phone calls)
Lead lists, and more
The first step is to have an ideal customer profile (ICP) and stick to it. If you don’t have one already, go ahead and create one. This basically contains information about the potential clients you’d like to reach out to and how to approach them. Include information like their personal background and pain points. This will help you look for attributes beyond just demographics, interests, or associations.
Next, have a common term to describe your leads. Some companies like to call interested leads “prospects” and some just call them “leads”. Then, bucket the ones you think may be interested in your business as “probable” or “likely”. The nomenclature depends on your company and what you’re most comfortable with.
Now, you might think this stage is similar to lead generation. In reality, it’s much more than just that. With lead generation, you merely collect the contact information of your leads, whereas, with sales prospecting, you’re actually reaching out to these leads and establishing whether they’re interested in your company or not.
2. Making contact
Once you start having a steady inflow of leads, you have to start contacting them. Although, before you decide how you want to make contact, you’ll have to assess them and determine which stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in.
Say your lead has given you their contact information in exchange for an eBook download. At this point, they are gathering more information on how to resolve their pain points at a ground level and may not be looking to purchase yet. In this case, reaching out to them via email and nurturing them is important before you even call them or try to schedule an in-person meeting.
What if your lead has filled out a form on your website requesting a quote or a product demonstration?
This is a clear indication that they’re ready (or almost ready) to make a purchase and it makes sense to give them a call.
You need to call your leads in a timely manner. According to stats, 30-50% of the sales go to vendors that get in touch first with the prospects. Let that sink in. And, this doesn’t mean that you can get back to your leads in 24 hours, because that simply won’t cut it. To have the best chances of converting the lead into a paying customer, you should call them back as soon as possible.
If your leads don’t answer your calls, don’t worry. It usually takes around 8 to 12 attempts to reach a lead on the phone—so keep trying.
While we know that the best times to contact leads are Wednesdays and Thursdays between 4 and 6 pm, try to switch your timings up as well. If your leads have their Wednesday afternoons dedicated to weekly strategy meetings, you won’t get through to them, regardless of how many times you try.
3. Qualifying the lead
After you’ve made contact with your lead, the next step is to qualify them. Are they the right fit for your business? And vice versa, is your business equipped to meet their needs?
You may have already done some pre-qualifying in the previous step of the sales cycle.
For example, your webform may have fields like the size of the company or annual revenue. If they haven’t provided this information, a quick LinkedIn or Crunchbase search of their company can give you this information.
After this, if you’re certain that your lead fits your ICP and is capable of making a purchase, make a discovery call to them to understand their needs and pain points better.
If not, ask them some questions that can help you assess how well they fit into your typical buyer profile. Many companies use the budget, authority, need and time (BANT as it is most commonly referred to) methodology.
These are some questions you can ask your leads:
What is their budget?
What is their job title? This is to determine if they have the authority to make a purchase, or if they are conducting research on someone’s behalf.
What are their pain points and needs? Once done, ask yourself if your product addresses all these needs.
How urgently do they need your product?
Getting an idea of your lead’s budget is particularly important for companies whose products or services are priced at a premium. You wouldn’t want to spend three months nurturing your lead, only to find out that they don’t have the budget to make a purchase with your company.
4. Nurturing the lead
If your lead is not ready to buy immediately, start nurturing them to slowly move them down your sales funnel.
A common mistake that companies make is trying to “force” a sale. Anybody can sell, and in most situations, your prospects don’t want this near the end of the consideration stage. Your prospects merely want to be treated in a personalized manner and not just another person you’re selling to among many.
At the end of the day, they are the decision-makers. So go ahead, don’t push, but rather send them useful resources like eBooks, articles, or case studies that can help them make a decision. You can do this by setting up email campaigns that can ensure these resources reach their inboxes in a timely manner. You can also target them through Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn ads.
5. Making an offer
By now, your prospect would’ve started visiting your pricing page, or if you’re lucky, would’ve signed up for a product trial. By doing this, they’re showing intent to purchase.
Analyze the following:
If they sign up for a demo, present your product to them and cover their pain points and challenges and how your product can solve them
When they sign up for a trial, you’d be aware of how they’re using your product. So, after you present your product to them, make a relevant and targeted offer.
6. Handling objections
Once you’ve made your offer, the ball is in your lead’s court. There are chances that they’ll push back, and surface one or several objections to you, such as:
“It’s not our priority right now”
“We’re evaluating your competitor as well, and might go with them”
“Your product is complicated”
“I’ve not heard positive things about your company”
“Your product is lacking in some features”
“I’ll get back to you in some time”
“I don’t want to commit to a contract at the moment”
Your job is to handle these objections, and convince them that choosing your company is the best solution for them.
If your lead says that the price of your product is on the high side, do the math and tell them how much return-on-investment (ROI) your product will bring them (or how much costs it’ll save).
If they’re worried about getting their team to adopt new technology, tell them about what your company can do in terms of setup and training, and talk about your easy-to-use support channels.
7. Closing the sale
Once you’re done handling your lead’s objections, it’s now time to close the sale.
After ensuring that you’ve prepared the paperwork and forms, go ahead and ask your lead a closing question. Find out the right time for implementation. This is known as a direct approach.
On the other hand, if they aren’t responsive due to last-minute changes to their plans or other circumstances, go for a softer approach. Restate how the product can help address their pain points, and probably send them the case study again for some real-life growth your product brings to the table.
Your approach depends on the temperament of your lead. You should have a good read on this person by now; this helps you anticipate whether you’ll have more success with a direct or a soft approach.
What happens after you’ve successfully closed the sale? Your reps might be so relieved to get the sale that they end the meeting and leave as soon as possible, thinking this avoids the possibility of the lead changing their mind. That said, you shouldn’t end the meeting abruptly — make sure you give your lead the chance to ask any follow-up questions that they may have and walk them through some of the next steps.
If it is a face-to-face meeting, ensure that you give your lead a business card to help them reach out to you if there are any issues. You may also request them to refer people with similar challenges to you.