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The Complete Guide to the Sales Cycle and its Stages
A solid sales cycle is critical for improving sales processes and profits. Learn the sales cycle stages, why it’s essential, and how the right tools help.
Closing deals — especially in the world of B2B sales — can sometimes feel like a never-ending process. Maybe you talked to all of the right people, followed up multiple times, and even brought a product developer to your last presentation to answer technical questions. And still, you're left wondering, "Is there any way to speed up this sales cycle without coming across as pushy?"
This guide is here to reassure you that there's a way — in fact, 12 ways — to help accelerate your sales cycle without turning off prospects.
But before getting into specifics, it’s essential to understand what a sales cycle is and how a well-oiled one can help you close deals sooner.
A sales cycle is a framework of detailed steps or stages that sales reps follow to close deals. The exact steps can vary across organizations, but they generally follow the same prospecting, qualifying, pitching, and closing flow.
When run efficiently, a sales cycle can help your team make the best use of their time — and their prospects’ time. Additionally, it can help your team repeat successes, uncover where to improve, and build buyer trust and commitment.
Whether you recently implemented a sales cycle or have been following one for a while, there are likely opportunities for you to speed up the process.
Here are 12 strategies you can use to help close deals faster:
Repetitive, manual tasks are time-consuming and burdensome to sales reps who could instead be doing what they do best: selling.
By automating redundant steps, sales staff have more time to dedicate to higher-value tasks, like building relationships and strategic planning. You'll find opportunities at nearly every step of the sales cycle to automate, and using powerful tools for support as part of a broader digital sales transformation strategy can help you do it.
Like automation, social proof is another versatile strategy that reps can use throughout the selling process. Social proof refers to the idea that people mimic their peers' behavior regarding the products and services they consume. Peer recommendations are an incredibly influential aspect of selling, and those reviews can make or break any sale. Social proof also takes some of the weight off sales reps who would otherwise need to spend precious time convincing prospects of their product or service’s credibility.
There are many different ways to convey social proof, but here are some of the most common techniques:
Regardless of how you use social proof, prioritizing what others say about your business is a great strategy for boosting a lead through the sales cycle.
Incremental closes (sometimes called secondary closes) is an excellent strategy to help warm up your customers to a big decision without them feeling overwhelmed or overcommitted.
For example, instead of outright asking a buyer to purchase a product or service, a rep might ask them what their preference is on a minor detail of the offering. This question helps the buyer envision how they'd use the product or service, thinking through any challenges or priorities they may have. It’s an indirect approach that helps customers understand how to solve their problems while sellers gain commitment. It also allows salespeople to build a mutually beneficial relationship based on value and trust.
While incremental closes can be a good approach to speeding up the sales cycle, reps must create a plan and prepare questions ahead of time. Some engagement tools enable sellers to build mutual action plans (MAPs) quickly and effectively alongside their customers. These tools can help outline key stakeholders, decision deadlines, and deliverables so everyone has complete visibility — and is, therefore, more engaged — in the buying process.
The psychology behind incremental closes is similar to this next strategy of personalization in that you have to demonstrate that you understand where the buyer is coming from.
Whether you're in B2B or B2C, generic sales and marketing messages don't usually inspire today's buyers. A recent study found that 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase a brand that offers a personalized experience.
Luckily, the right tools can help automate personalization for a better customer and rep experience. Here are a few examples of areas in which modern technology can enable sales teams to personalize interactions at scale:
These are just a few examples of tools making personalization easier, but many more technologies exist and continue to become more data-driven.
Speaking of data, sales teams have a lot of it to manage. Traditional methods for data management don’t offer much relief: Spreadsheets are inflexible and error-prone, outdated tools cause disparate and siloed data, and a lack of workflow visibility clogs up the process.
By implementing a sales engagement platform that centralizes all sales activities in one place, managers can better control the sales pipeline and relevant data. This type of tool streamlines communication with prospects and customers, so not even one email falls through the cracks. A sales engagement platform also helps teams work more efficiently since users no longer have to dig through multiple systems to access information or build actionable reports.
If you don't already use quantitative data to qualify a lead, then this section will be instrumental in shortening your sales cycle.
Using a method that attributes a metric to a lead's qualification — also called 'lead scoring' — allows reps to understand which leads should move forward and which ones shouldn’t. While your scoring strategy depends on your business, audience, and marketing channels, you can start by prioritizing each of the actions a lead may take through your funnel and assigning a point value to each. Once a lead surpasses a certain point threshold that sales leaders deem appropriate, your sales engagement platform can automatically move that lead to 'qualified' status, passing it on to a seller.
A lead that hasn't surpassed the qualification threshold won't necessarily stay unqualified forever. Reps can warm up these leads by nurturing them with more content and marketing materials. Lead nurturing can also help foster relationships with prospects and potentially generate larger purchases down the line.
When spearheaded by your marketing team, lead nurturing campaigns help enable sales to focus their valuable time on selling to high-quality leads who are currently ready to buy. That means a faster sales cycle where reps aren't hindered by chasing leads who simply aren’t there yet.
In addition to being put off by being contacted before they're ready to purchase, buyers usually aren't fans of hidden fees. Have you ever been prepared to make a purchase, only to find out there’s a surprise, substantial fee? It probably wasn't the best experience. While it can be tempting to soften the blow of your prices by hiding costs, it can also lead to frustration and turn off buyers, who will instead run to your competitors.
While complete price transparency might not work for your business model or pricing structure, you can find a happy medium that instills buyer confidence and helps you avoid those last-minute ship-jumpers. If you can’t disclose prices on your website, try prompting your prospects to schedule a demo or contact your sales team for more information on your product or service’s cost.
Regardless of how you communicate cost to customers, make sure you’re always completely clear about what they get for the price they pay. That way, you can meet their expectations without having to tack on unexpected fees.
Similar to being clear on pricing, reps mustn't shy away from other concerns or criticisms their buyers may have. The longer reps wait to address objections, the stronger they’ll become — and the less likely the seller will be to make the sale.
Teams should surface and address objections early and often to demonstrate a proactive approach to problem-solving. For example, you can encourage reps to ask prospects if they have any questions or concerns immediately after the discovery call. Or, you might consider adding an FAQ page to your website to field some initial questions that prospects may have.
Remember: The faster and earlier sellers manage objections and answer questions, the quicker they can move prospects through the sales cycle.
An easy way to resolve objections early on is to serve your buyer helpful content during lead nurturing campaigns. Content is vital in your sales process, but not all content inspires the same outcome. It’s paramount to serve the right content to the right people at the right stage in the sales cycle.
Your sales team should work with the marketing department to publish detailed, helpful content specific to your buyer personas. Leaders, managers, reps, and marketers should have a deep understanding of your sales funnel so that they can develop content that aligns with each stage. That way, prospects will have plenty of educational resources to resolve their concerns, share with other decision-makers in the organization, and — ultimately — use them to commit to a purchase.
While having a wide variety of content is essential, the same can't be said about your number of marketing channels.
You’ll need to track which channels perform the best for your business, then focus on those instead of trying to do everything at once. Today, some common high-performing B2B marketing channels include:
While paper-based, direct mail marketing campaigns worked in the past, modern channels like the ones above help teams reach more targeted prospects. The effectiveness and ROI of each marketing channel are constantly evolving, so make sure you remain aware of emerging trends and work with your marketing team to experiment often. You'll find that sales and marketing alignment is critical in determining the proper channels to focus on. More on sales-marketing collaboration in the next section!
In most companies, sales and marketing teams work independently, often in silos. This situation can lead to misalignment and have negative consequences.
For example, the marketing team may waste sales reps’ time by bringing in the wrong leads that sales can't act on, which means lost resources and efforts. Similarly, sales teams may not adequately communicate the seasonal buying fluctuations that only they know, which means marketing misses out on potentially valuable opportunities. There’s also often a broader lack of understanding between the two teams, with sales typically focusing on existing customers and marketing targeting the more extensive, ever-changing market.
To accelerate the sales cycle, companies should prioritize a sales and marketing alignment strategy. When these two teams share resources and goals and use streamlined processes with centralized tools, they can realize a 32% increase in year-over-year growth.
There are quite a few ways you can eliminate inefficiencies that often cause deals to drag on. A speedy process doesn’t come from aggressive sales tactics but from solid and intentional steps that ensure predictability and transparency.
If you're looking for a platform to help automate and accelerate your sales cycle with AI-driven insights, Outreach can help. Trusted by over 5000 customer for boosting efficient, predictable growth, Outreach's deal management solution gives sales teams true visibility into their deals to identify addressable risks and improve execution throughout the sales cycle.
Request a free demo from Outreach today to learn more about how AI and automation can help speed up your sales cycle.