Sales cycle stages : the perfect sales pipeline

By Kenda Macdonald | Marketing Automation

May 26

“Sales cycle stages” “Sales Pipeline” “Sales Funnels”

They all sound… so salesy… They sound like they’re the domain of hardcore Wolf of Wall Street sales lions. I always imagine offices full of suited shiny shoe sales men ready to sell you the blood in your own veins.

But in reality every business is making sales. You have to if you’re going to survive. So even if you despise sales, you’ve got to do it. And you’ve got to be good at it.

That doesn’t mean you have to be “salesy”, it just means you need a sales process that you’re comfortable with, and one that is good for your prospects.

And that is all a sales cycle is. It’s a process to help you qualify your leads and close the sale. It’s a way of structuring what you’re already doing to help your prospects better, and get better conversion rates.

It’s vital if you have a sales team, and it’s vital if you’re the only person doing sales. Sales cycle stages make everyone’s lives easier - if you do it right.

What are sales cycle stages?

When people talk about the sales cycle, they usually mention the same 7 stages

  • Prospect
  • Contact
  • Qualify
  • Offer
  • Objections
  • Close
  • Generate referrals

The sales cycle

Looking at the sales cycle stages it’s clear that this is some kind of outbound voodoo. The sort of sales where you’re out hunting for leads and then forcibly dragging them home to a close.

It's all about selling AT someone, whether they’re a willing participant or not. Not a peep in there about how people would like to be sold to. That’s a big no in our books.

Good sales cycle’s aren’t like this though. Because a good sales process keys into your buyer too.

There is a time and a place for outbound lead generation, but for it to be effective you need to also ensure you let inbound leads into your sales process. And above all else you need to make sure you’re making your sales cycle a happy place to be. Without that you won’t be getting any conversions at all.

So lets take a look at how to do this well for some saucier conversion rates from happier leads.

How to create the perfect sales cycle stages

There are two parts to the perfect sales cycle:

1. The structure you need to follow to ensure you’re at your best every time

2. The information your prospect needs, at the right times, to be happy to be part of the process and therefore convert

A good sales cycle keys into awareness and needs of your prospects. It also takes into consideration both outbound and inbound lead generation.

Taking a look at the sales cycle stages, let’s break them up:

  • Prospect
  • Contact
  • Qualify
  • Offer
  • Objections
  • Close
  • Generate referrals 

Prospect

This is the outbound part, it’s where you might go out and look for the right kind of people. The people you want to work with. You do your research here and decide whether or not to contact someone.

This is my first quibble with a standard outbound sales process. Before you contact someone, you must qualify them. There is nothing more frustrating than being contacted by someone who clearly knows nothing about your company or what you do and has offered you something ridiculous.

So slow down on the outbound. Research exceptionally well so that when you do make contact you’re doing it well, with care and respect for where that company or person is in their journey.

Contact

If you’re focusing on outbound this is where you reach out. At this point you know a little about them, and you can make an educated start at a conversation.

If you have inbound lead generation in place too, this is what happens when a prospect reaches out to you and says “I’m interested, can we talk”. It can also be when they show interest in the things that you do - and you preempt them reaching out and get in contact.

Either way, this is no time to let up on the research, learn as much as you can about who they are and how you might be able to help.

Qualify

In the qualify stage your research should come to life. It’s here you should be nailing down where your prospect is in their journey. Standard sales cycles stages sometimes talk about Awareness, Consideration and Decision. This is an adaptation of Eugene Schwartz’s stages of awareness.

All consumers go through the same awareness stages when they purchase a product.

  • Unaware: They start out unaware of a problem 
  • Problem aware: Something happens and they have sudden clarity that they have a problem. They will start to research their problem 
  • Solution aware: Through their research they will realise that there are ways they can solve their problem. 
  • Most aware: They realise now not only are there solutions to their problem, there are also specific solutions that suit them best

Both problem aware and solution aware are extremely heavy research phases. It’s here that you can help people the most, and here that you have the biggest opportunity to influence a later purchase decision. 

Your job when you’re qualifying is not only to figure out whether or not you can help these people at all, or whether the prospect is a marketing qualified lead or a sales qualified lead… 

It’s also to figure out where they are in their awareness journey. 

Do that and you can provide the right information and have meaningful conversations. 

Offer

If you’ve done a good job during the qualify phase, it should be easy to offer the right  thing at this point.

Most standard sales cycles miss the boat here. They suggest that you go straight in for the sale. But if you’re following along then you know that the sale is only right when people get to the point where they are most aware and are looking for a specific solution.

At other points in their awareness journey you should be offering the right information at the right time.

Objections

The right information at the right times will help eliminate most objections. Objections aren’t necessarily a no - rather they can be an opportunity for you to prove your case.

A good sales cycle includes some lovely information that quells objections in the form of hero based case studies, motivational content and explaining content. That information should always open conversation loops to get you chatting through how this process might work for them.

Do that and you’re looking close straight in the eyes.

Close

In the close stage you’re looking at dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.  But it’s no time to get complacent!

Conversions can be lost in the closing stage by prospects that aren’t 100% sure and go quiet on you. You should have some good win back content prepared, ready and waiting to get people talking to you again.

Referrals

Finally the conversion has happened. It’s time to follow up and see how your new customer is doing. This is where quality onboarding makes all the difference. Make sure they are happy, and you can ask for a referral. If they’re not happy, you’ve got a little more work to do yet…

Making the sales cycle your own

To make this process your own I suggest you think about how you already sell. What works well? What could do with improvement? How would a structure like this change what you do?

Blend these together with your own process to give yourself a competitive edge: a process that prospects enjoy going through.

One where they have been looked after at every stage because you have through about how you can add value and help them each step of the way.

Having happy prospects in your very own sales cycle means more conversions for you and happier customers.

Need some ideas for your own sales process? Check out our sales playbook here to get you kickstarted:

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