Every business has a sales cycle.
And in this guide, I’m going to teach you how to excel at each stage of the sales cycle – and how to overcome the most common obstacles that stand in your way.
Ready? Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- What is a Sales Cycle?
- The 7 Stages of the Sales Cycle
- Sales Cycle Stage 1: Prospecting
- Sales Cycle Stage 2: Making Contact
- Sales Cycle Stage 3: Qualifying
- Sales Cycle Stage 4: Nurturing
- Sales Cycle Stage 5: Making the Offer
- Sales Cycle Stage 6: Overcoming Objections
- Sales Cycle Stage 7: Closing
What is a Sales Cycle?
A sales cycle is just a shorthand term for the series of stages that unfold as you convince more people to buy your product or service.
These stages generally occur in the same order every time – though the timing may vary based on the individuals you’re working with.
And you might skip stages as necessary from time to time.
The most commonly accepted model includes seven core stages (though your business may not follow that model precisely).
The 7 Stages of the Sales Cycle
These are the seven commonly accepted stages of the prototypical sales cycle:
Everything starts with prospecting – the process of finding people who might be interested in your products and services.
2. Making contact.
Once you have viable prospects, you can reach out for an initial introduction.
These people might be interested in your products and services, but are they really? Qualifying is the next step.
Your qualified leads must be nurtured gradually, building their trust and helping them become familiar with your brand.
5. Making the offer.
At some point, you’ll introduce the real offer – what are you trying to sell?
6. Overcoming objections.
There’s usually some back and forth after the initial offer. What are the prospect’s main objections and how can you overcome them?
Finally, you’ll move toward closing – in other words, finalizing the sale.
Now let’s take a closer look at each of them.
Sales Cycle Stage 1: Prospecting
Success begins in the prospecting stage. If you’re not reaching out to the right people, you won’t close the right sales (if any at all!).
1. Develop customer personas – and use them!
One of the best tools in your toolkit for the prospecting stage is your customer personas. These are basically character sketches of the types of people who are going to be most interested in your products.
They’re great tools for researching and understanding your customers – then using that information to fuel your prospecting efforts.
2. Use a reliable leads database.
In the prospecting stage, you’re focused on reaching as many people as possible (as long as they fit your target demographics). There are many ways to get this information, such as through a third-party leads database like Apollo or a social media tool like LinkedIn (with Sales Navigator). What’s most important is that you’re using a source that’s both robust and reliable.
For my recommendations, see “10 Tools to Build a Targeting List of Prospects for Email Outreach.”
3. Go through initial qualification.
Don’t start chasing down every person whose information you can find on the internet. Instead, go through a round of initial qualification. Which customers are the best fit for your company? Which red flags would disqualify a person immediately?
4. Automate everything you can.
Automation can drastically improve your sales results – and take some stress away from your salespeople. Use it during the prospecting stage for the best results.
The less manual effort you have to spend and the more consistent your results are, the better.
Sales Cycle Stage 2: Making Contact
The next stage of the sales process is making contact with some of the prospects who made it past the initial prospecting and qualification stage.
Here are your best tactics to rock this stage:
1. Use the right channels.
Do you call? Do you email? Do you send a LinkedIn message? There are dozens of different channels and mediums you can use to reach out, but not all of them will be equally effective.
Think about your own strengths and weaknesses, your demographics’ preferences, and the pros and cons of each possibility.
2. Differentiate your message.
Let’s be real. Your prospects are probably receiving dozens, or maybe even hundreds of sales and marketing messages every week. How is yours different? If it doesn’t stand out in some unique way, it’s going to get ignored.
Try to do something original.
3. Hook them!
You’re not just interested in reaching your prospect. You’re interested in engaging them – getting them “hooked” on something. A critical piece of new information, a surprising statistic, or even the promise of a discount could be that hook.
4. Be persistent.
Most people won’t respond to the first message they receive from a stranger or a new company. If you want to get a response and develop the conversation, you have to send follow-up messages and be persistent.
Sales Cycle Stage 3: Qualifying
After that, you’ll be qualifying your leads and filtering out people who probably aren’t going to buy from you.
These tips can help you perform your best here:
1. Know what makes a person unqualified.
What’s going to stop someone from buying from you? A lack of budget? A team that’s too small? Existing satisfaction with a competitor?
Define your terms and know when it’s basically hopeless to pursue someone.
2. Go for quality over quantity.
Qualification is all about seeking quality over quantity. Having more leads always seems nice, but it’s better to have leads that are… better.
You’ll spend less time, you’ll have better results, and you won’t bug people who have no real interest in your brand.
3. Integrate sales and marketing.
Qualification often falls to your marketing department, especially if you’re using a combination of different lead generation strategies from a marketing and advertising angle.
Try to align your sales and marketing departments so they can work together efficiently.
Sales Cycle Stage 4: Nurturing
It’s important to nurture your relationships. Most prospects won’t go from total strangers to loyal customers overnight.
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Here’s how you can succeed:
1. Focus on trust.
Trust is powerful. When a person trusts your brand completely, they’ll be much more likely to listen to what you have to say – and buy what you’re offering.
More than that, persistent trust has the power to keep customers loyal to your brand, with 82 percent of U.S. customers claiming to stick with a trusted brand even if a trendy competitor emerges.
2. Be consistent.
Be reliable and consistent in your approach. Stick to your values. Be available when a prospect has a question. Represent the brand as best you can.
The more familiar you become, the more likely a person will be to buy from you.
3. Prove your value.
Demonstrate that relationships with this brand will be valuable. For example, you can serve as a temporary consultant, you can give them whitepapers or eBooks.
Or you can share reviews and testimonials of customers who have been happy with your products and services in the past.
4. Know when to advance.
Gradually, you’re going to push your prospects through the next stages of the cycle. It’s important to know when to advance. Too soon, and you’ll make the prospect feel pressured or manipulated.
But if you wait too long, you could miss a critical opportunity.
Sales Cycle Stage 5: Making the Offer
After you’ve spent some time warming up a prospect and building rapport with them, you can make the offer.
Here’s the best way to do it:
1. Customize the offer.
Don’t come up with a generic proposal and copy/paste it to every prospect who comes your way. It’s important to customize the offer.
Include different additions and different framing based on the person to whom you’re pitching.
2. Emphasize the benefits.
Instead of focusing on the objective qualities of the products and services you’re offering, focus on the benefits.
What benefits will a person receive after using this product? How will their life change for the better?
3. Get creative.
Finally, get creative. Your prospect has probably seen a lot of sales pitches from a lot of salespeople.
If you’re not original or interesting, even a good relationship will quickly fall apart.
Sales Cycle Stage 6: Overcoming Objections
I’ve written a full guide on overcoming objections, so be sure to check that out. In the meantime, here are some tips to help you dominate this stage of the sales cycle:
1. Know your competition.
Figure out what your competitors are offering and how those offers could be contrasted with yours. You’ll need to have some kind of edge – a distinguishing factor that makes your company’s offer better.
Feel free to experiment to find out your competitive advantage.
2. Know the internal conflicts.
If you’re in the B2B sales world, you might be dealing with committee-based decision making. You’ll have to convince multiple people that the purchase is worth making.
Accordingly, you’ll need to know the internal conflicts that could stop a deal from moving forward – including limited budgets, committee conflicts, and reluctance to change.
3. Be proactive.
Try to get ahead of objections before they have a chance to stop your sale. Predicting objections gives you an opportunity to prove your knowledge and prevent bad thoughts from interfering with your efforts.
It also prevents you from being in a defensive position; you can take the offense instead.
Sales Cycle Stage 7: Closing
Closing is the last stage of the sales cycle – and arguably, the most crucial. Assuming everything else has gone well, your final job will be securing the signed contract.
Here’s how you can do it more reliably:
1. Secure an action.
You don’t have to close the sale right away. But it’s important to get your prospect to take some kind of action that pushes them forward. For example, can you get them to sign up for a webinar? Can you convince them to give your product a free trial?
Any meaningful action could be the first step toward landing the sale.
2. Experiment with different techniques.
There are many different closing techniques you can try, including both direct and indirect approaches. Different approaches work better for different personality types – and some salespeople favor some over others.
Feel free to experiment to figure out what works best for you, your team, and your target demographics.
3. Don’t get desperate.
Some salespeople get desperate when trying to close the sale, gradually lowering the price or sweetening the pot with more offers. But this isn’t always going to work in your favor. Studies show that offering a discount can actually lower your chances of closing the sale — by as much as 17 percent!
Definitely get involved in negotiating, and don’t hesitate to make small concessions to close – but don’t allow your desperation to cost you the sale.
4. Follow up.
Remember how important it was to follow up with your prospects in the first stage of the sales cycle? It’s also important in the final stage.
If your prospect is indecisive or if they need some time before making the final decision, put a system in place to follow up with them consistently – and eventually move them closer to a closed sale.
So there you have it, the seen stages of the sales cycle and tips for dominating each one.
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Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.