Process makes perfect. No matter what product or service you’re selling, your sales process usually follows the same basic steps. By focusing on each of your phases individually, you can ensure that your overall sales cycle becomes more predictable and delivers optimal outcomes. Let’s start with the basics.
What is a Sales Cycle?
The terms “sales cycle” and “sales process” are used interchangeably in the sales world, but there are subtle differences. A sales cycle includes all the steps or activities which occur when you’re selling your product or service. A sales process is a documented set of activity and criteria that determine where you are in the sales cycle, and how to progress to the next stage. It’s the structure within your sales cycle that ensures the fastest path to the close.
Before you can sell your product, you need someone to sell to. This is your prospecting stage – the period of time when you are researching potential customers. Prospecting is also known as lead generation, which can be done by sales representatives or a dedicated team (which is often more effective). In this phase, reps reach out to prospects that either fit their ideal client profile or have shown some type of interest in their company. Nailing the prospecting phase is a pivotal part of the process because you can’t get to the close without that all-important first meaningful conversation [or as we call it, Meaningful Interaction].
NOTE: We don’t suggest reps use a purchased ‘Contact List’. They are inherently accurate, and purchasing only a list of the titles you want to target severely limits your potential success. Titles are not monolithic, so if you are only targeting the VP of Sales, you may miss VP of Sales and Marketing, VP of Business Development, Director of Southeast Sales and any other title (related or not) that is involved in purchasing decisions.
We leverage account lists and start at the top of the organization and navigate through various titles, gaining help from admins and other titles along the way.
Now it’s time to reach out to your prospects. The most effective method is by combining cold calling, emailing, and social engagement. Remember that this stage isn’t devoted to making a pitch. Prospecting is about engaging with your prospect and securing an initial conversation to see if there is interest and alignment in your solutions.
The value proposition you use should reflect the value of what the prospect will get from the call. No features and benefits here. All about how giving up a bit of their time may help solve a critical need. And it goes without saying that you have to follow up – more times than you think. Especially this year!
Our research shows that the optimal outreach is every 3 days, and your outreach should be clustered. That means you call and email multiple targets within an account all on one day. Three days later, you repeat that process to everyone you touched in the first round of activity.
Share Your Solution
Perhaps the most crucial stage of your sales process and the portion which will take the most preparation is that first Meaningful Interaction. In this phase you have the opportunity to learn more about the prospect and share how your solution can help them. Some of the marks of a solid call include:
- Thorough research
- A concise presentation (aim for 20-30 minutes and stick to that to be respectful of their time)
- Clarity in your objective for the call (which should be stated at the beginning of the conversation)
- Asking open-ended questions to understand their role and company needs (Yes/No questions don’t allow them to elaborate, which is what you’re looking for)
- Listening – If you are talking more than 60% of the call, you should look for ways to flip that percentage.
As you get deeper into the sales cycle, objections will begin to surface. If there are significant objectives (ie: deal breakers) after several calls, you likely missed the boat on building the value. But that happens to the best of use so you have to be prepared to weed through the objections, identify which are simply excuses, and determine how to address them. (This article has some great tips!)
Just remember that building the value of your offering means you aren’t simply relying on features and benefits to get you the sale. It’s all about reinforcing their need for this solution and how you can meet and exceed their expectations.
Close the Deal
The end is near! It’s time to close your deal. At this point, you should have come to an agreement for your contract that both you and your prospect are happy with. However, disagreements can still arise. Just remember to listen to your customer’s concerns, maintain an attitude of flexibility and set deadlines to keep your cycle active and moving. It’s ok to hold firm on certain aspects of a contract. If they are pushing for something your team can’t deliver on, it’s far better to let that deal go than sign them, underperform and send an angry company back into the marketplace! The negative repercussions for both your internal team and the company’s reputation are simply not worth the revenue of that one deal.
Ask for Referrals
Asking for referrals can greatly speed up your next sales cycle, yet it’s one of the most forgotten phases in a sales process. According to a study, over 90% of customers state they are willing to give referrals but only 11% of salespeople actually ask for referrals. After you’ve closed a deal, be sure to ask your customer for referrals who would also be interested in your product.
From prospecting to getting referrals, treat each portion of your sales cycle as an independent step to completing your process. Putting in the necessary effort for each of these stages will give you a stronger foundation and help you transition into the next phase of your cycle. View our web series for a more in-depth look at achieving a successful sales cycle.