There is a process to everything. When a baby learns to walk, it’s very rare that they will suddenly jump up on two feet and start marching around the room. What usually happens is a process that is familiar to everyone: first, they learn to roll over, then get up on their knees, then crawl. They learn to pull themselves up on furniture (or parents) and take their first faltering steps.
If a baby did try to jump straight up, they’d most likely fall and hurt themselves. No good parent would even let them try!
When you are managing or coordinating a sales team, the same principle applies – the team members can’t just jump straight in and sell something to a random someone. There’s a process that has to be followed, a process that builds trust and the ability to make a sale.
This process is the sales cycle.
Are sales cycles the same as sales pipelines and sales funnels?
The exact form of a sales cycle will vary from company to company, so in some instances, the sales cycle will be a pipeline or funnel. The difference is in the way an interested party is turned into a paying customer.
In a sales pipeline, the goal tends to be to make every interested party a customer. Some people may get stuck in certain sections of the pipeline, and more work is needed to move them forward. The end result is down to the skill (and tenacity) of the sales team.
With a sales funnel, those sticky leads can be left by the wayside. It’s more of a process of filtering out the undesirables – those who might make a purchase if absolutely everything is perfect. The focus is more on those who tick all the boxes and are ready to buy.
Either of these methods could be considered to be sales cycles, as the goal is the same – to turn someone into a paying customer. Each variation on the process suits the individual company, so no one variation can be considered superior, for each company is unique and so their processes are unique too.
The stages of a sales cycle
In any form of a sales cycle, there are certain stages that must be passed through to turn a prospect into a lead into a customer. The exact names for these stages again vary, but the principles remain the same.
The first step, often known as prospecting, is all about building brand awareness and introducing yourself to potential customers. This can be done by advertising online (or even in the real world), visiting trade shows, social media, print media, or anything else just to get your name out there. The more you are seen, the more familiar you become, and this builds trust in your brand.
Next comes the initial contact from a prospect. They might visit your website, sign up to your email newsletter, send you a message, or give you a call. This is their first expression of interest, and your task is to now identify their needs. If they’ve arrived through an online advert, you might already have an idea of their needs – perhaps they’ve searched for a particular phrase or product.
Once you know what they need, you can present an offer. This might be the product or service that they need or something to ease the pain they feel when they can’t complete a particular task that is important to them, and so on. This offer should match their needs – for example, the old man who struggles to walk will appreciate an offer of a walking aid rather than a sunhat. His problem isn’t the intensity of the sun, but rather that he can’t walk – solve his problem, and he’ll be more likely to buy.
Of course, you may still need to manage any objections the customer has. Perhaps our old man thinks that wooden walking sticks are the way to go, but you only sell metal walking frames. Your frames are stronger and more stable than any walking stick he could use, so help him to understand this. Perhaps he thinks your frames are too expensive – but then again, he doesn’t realize they last five times as long as a stick.
Once all the objections have been dealt with, you can close the sale. While this may seem to be the last step, it’s not – it’s the first step to many more sales. Once the sale is complete, the customer might come back for more – perhaps a frame to keep upstairs or in the car – or recommend your company to people they know. Don’t neglect the opportunity to follow up and find out how they are getting on with their purchase.
Managing sales cycles
It’s all well and good to follow a sales cycle through with a single customer and a single salesperson, but how do you manage the situation when there can be multiple members of a sales team and multiple customers?
A central customer relationship management system certainly helps. Within a CRM, you can keep track of where every customer is within the sales cycle, a record of their objections, and so on. Any member of the sales team can pick up where another one left off with the accumulated knowledge about the customer in question.
When the team can work together like this, it produces a better result for the customer. The customer will feel important as all their objections will be remembered (as will the things they actually like and need), giving the sales experience a personal touch.
Because they feel valued, their trust will be increased, which leads to more sales being made – customers will buy more readily from businesses they feel they can trust.
It doesn’t matter what kind of sales cycle your business uses, as pipelines and funnels and any other shape, size, or description of a sales cycle can be managed effectively by sharing the relevant information in a timely and accessible manner.
Could your sales cycle be improved if you were able to manage it a little better?