The Seven Stages of the Sales Cycle

Unavoidable Steps of a Sales Cycle


Most sales follow roughly the same pattern. It's a cycle of seven different steps, starting with prospecting and ending when you ask your new customer for referrals. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if someone calls you because they're thinking about buying, you can skip the prospecting stage and move right along to step 2.

Mastering each of these seven stages of sales is crucial. If your sales all tend to stall at the same point -- for example, you have trouble closing -- then you probably need to work on the skills related to that stage. You can get by if you're weak in one of these areas but you'll never achieve your real potential as a salesperson.

1. Prospecting
Most salespeople get lead lists from their companies. Others buy them or use creative methods to identify potential customers, like joining the local chamber of commerce. Regardless of the method you use, the better your lead lists are, the less time you'll waste talking with people who aren't actually candidates for your product.

2. Setting the Appointment
Once you have your lead lists in hand, it's time to reach out to those people. Cold calling over the phone is arguably the most effective way to snare appointments, although many salespeople are quite successful using other channels such as email, social media, in-person visits and even snail mail. In fact, it's best to use at least two different contact methods -- phone and email, for example -- so that you'll have a better chance of getting in touch with each lead. However you manage to contact them, your task is to move them on to the next stage of the sales process.

3. Qualifying
The qualifying stage can either happen during the initial contact (e.g. the cold call) or at the appointment itself. Much will depend on how willing this particular lead is to speak with you at length during the cold call. Some people will be brusque and eager to get you off the phone, so asking a series of probing questions will likely cost you the appointment. Of course this is also the type of person who will "forget" that you have an appointment scheduled with him. If the lead seems fairly open, try asking at least a few qualifying questions during the first call -- that way you can avoid wasting your time and his on someone who isn't a prospect.

4. Making Your Presentation
The sales presentation is not a place to improvise. Before you arrive at your appointment, you should know what you're going to say and have all the tools you need to say it -- whether it's a set of glossy brochures or your laptop, complete with Powerpoint presentation. And remember that the goal of the presentation is not to trot out your company's credentials and finish with lots of technical information about your product. If the prospect's eyes start to glaze over you are in trouble. Usually the more interactive your presentation is, the more interest you'll generate.

5. Handling Objections
If your prospect keeps throwing up "Yes, but..." statements or otherwise objecting to what you say, that's actually a good sign. He's at least interested enough to consider what you're saying, even if he doesn't agree with every detail. Prospects who just sit there with their arms crossed and don't say a word are much tougher sells. As you sell a specific product you'll find that you hear the same objections over and over, which gives you plenty of opportunity to come up with the perfect responses for these common issues. When you get one that you've never heard and aren't sure how to respond, just say something like, "That's a great question. I don't want to just toss off a quick reply, so let me do a little research and get back you to you." That honors the prospect's concern while giving you a chance to think before you respond.

6. Closing
Closing is either the easiest or the most difficult stage of the sales cycle. It all depends on how well you've done your job in the earlier stages. Each step in the cycle is either a step forward in your prospect's esteem, or it's a step back. So if you've built rapport effectively and treated the prospect with respect, closing can be as simple as saying, "Sign here and we'll ship the product to you by Tuesday." On the other hand, if you haven't convinced the prospect, closing may be your last opportunity to turn him into a customer. In that situation, using a closing technique can salvage the sale for you -- but you'll probably your work cut out for you later to earn your new customer's trust and ensure he won't jump ship in a month.

7. Getting Referrals
Referrals let you short-circuit the sales process by cutting out at least one step (prospecting) and possibly more. Since just about everybody hates cold calling, it's also a great way to make your sales more pleasant for you. So when you successfully close the sale, don't shake the customer's hand and then take off before he can change his mind about buying. Now, while he's thinking positive thoughts about you and the product, is an ideal moment to ask for referrals of his friends and colleagues.
Wendy Connick
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wendy Connick> all articles
My first sales position was a summer job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. I continued through a variety of sales jobs ranging from retail sales for a storage company to selling bank products for a Fortune 500 financial institution.

As a small business owner, I now focuses on selling for my own company, Tailored Content, a website content provider. I write on a wide range of topics but my primary focus is sales and how to sell effectively.
  • /data/userPictures/19EF35D8-6215-4317-9ED8-33E0689EF4BD.jpgIdris Grant10/16/2012 11:13:25 AM
    Very insightful article!