Sales Cycles: What They Are and Why You Need Them

sales cycles

Sales successes are always supported by a clearly defined sales cycle. While reps may be aware of the importance of adhering to a sales cycle, there's often a gap. Sales cycles may be unclear, reps may skip around and miss stages–or they may not completely understand the purpose and value of the cycle itself.

Sales cycles: What they are and why they matter

First of all, salespeople need to understand the intended purpose of sales cycles. G2’s Praveen Swaminathan covered this topic recently, and he kicked off discussion with a basic definition of a sales cycle:

A sales cycle is a series of events or steps that salespeople follow when making a sale. It varies from one organization to another based on whether they sell directly to customers or businesses, the complexity of the product, the geographic location, and so on.”

While sales cycles may vary by business, they do all share a specific structure with set stages. And while companies generally allow for some improvisation, reps are expected to not stray from the cycle’s path. Each stage logically progresses with each step building upon the previous.

Having this framework in place is valuable because it provides salespeople with many advantages, compared to those who simply “wing it.”

Advantages include:

  • Having the ability to identify areas for improvement. If you follow a consistent plan, you’ll catch on to trends that you can tweak or adjust as part of your process. Do your prospects tend to back off engagement at a certain stage? Or do you find an increase in objections at another stage? By sticking to a set sales cycle, it’s easy to see trends, find areas of weakness and adjust accordingly.
  • Forecasting the future. You’ll find that the ability to predict how many sales you can expect to close based on past sales cycles. This helps both you and your manager with strategizing. And while forecasts change, it’s helpful to have a baseline to jump from.

The stages of sales cycles

Yes, cycles differ based on each business, product or service, and buyer, but most follow a similar base structure. Swaminathan identifies seven stages that each successful cycle should include, breaking down each one to discuss its purpose and value.

Prospecting

The first stage of a successful sales cycle will always be prospecting for customers, i.e., identifying potential customers. This means that salespeople must have a clear buyer persona in mind, so they know who to seek out. If you aren’t familiar with this term, a buyer persona is, as SalesFuel shared, “…a profile, backed by research, of a target customer. It’s a snapshot to use as a comparison when qualifying leads to ensure you are pursuing appropriate ones.”

Once you’ve done this, it’s time to generate a list of potential prospects who fit your buyer persona. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for other potential decision-​makers and influencers who work at a prospect’s company. 

Prepare to contact prospects.

The next stage in sales cycles is researching those prospects and making plans to reach out. “…you need to know a prospect’s company history, business type, top customers, key competitors, industry insights, recent achievements, and so on.

You can get this information from their company website, press releases, social media handles, websites like G2, and many other similar platforms. If you sell directly to a customer, research their key demographics, needs, concerns, and limitations.

Also, consider when your ideal buyer would prefer to be contacted and by what means. Note that SalesFuel’s Voice of the Buyer study found that most buyers prefer to be contacted via email compared to other methods, such as phone calls, in-​person and direct messaging/​LinkedIn InMail.

For even more advice for this important stage, check out C. Lee Smith’s free e‑book, The 7 C’s of Pre-​Call Intelligence. In it you will find valuable insights into how to best tackle pre-​call research.

Contact and qualify

Sales cycles reach a do-​or-​die moment with this next stage; it’s time to contact the prospect and see if they could be a match. A lot happens at this stage, from making a first impression and establishing initial rapport to uncovering important factors like budget and goals. This is also a time when you demonstrate value and credibility. Open-​ended questions are vital here to learn more about the prospect. And asking smart, informed questions shows that you’ve done your research.

When it comes to qualifying the prospect, Swaminathan recommends using BANT to uncover vital details (you can find an explanation on BANT here). “Sales teams consider a prospect qualified if they meet two, three, or all of the BANT criteria,” he writes. “This varies depending on the type of products and the business.” He also adds another important suggestion for this sales cycle stage. “The initial sales call aims not to sell but to know more about the prospects, their motivations, and key pain points. You should use the introductory pitch to make a positive impression and earn your prospect’s trust.”

Presenting your product or service

It’s finally the moment in sales cycles to showcase your offering. You’ve done your research on the prospect, you’ve qualified the prospect, and now, it’s time to pitch. During this vital stage, Swaminathan reminds reps that effective pitching doesn’t include rattling on about the product/​service, its laundry list of features, etc. Doing so isn’t what today’s buyers want, and you’ll be wasting their time (and yours).

Instead, show buyers what you can do for them. If you’re not sure where to begin, he recommends including:

  • Feature mapping
  • Unique selling points
  • Outcome specification
  • ROI

Finish strong

These are only four of the seven stages that Swaminathan highlights. After checking out the rest, it’s time to take an honest look at your own sales cycle. How does it compare? And most importantly, how consistent are you in following sales cycles?

As he explains, “The sales cycle is the bedrock of successful sales strategies. A good sales cycle shouldn’t be a stagnant, one-​time affair but constantly evolve with the circumstances. Sales teams need to be fully familiar with the sales cycle to navigate the sales storm successfully.”

Take time to give your own sales cycle a check-​up and adjust anywhere it falls short or you find yourself not staying committed. And SalesFuel is here for you through the process; our articles and research cover everything you need to know and do effectively make it through each stage. 

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

Jessica Helinski

Jessica Helinski

Jessica reports on sales tips and credibility for SalesFuel. She is a graduate of Ohio University.