Every sale is different in the individual elements it consists of. Elements such as who the sell is being made to or the product/service the buyer wants fluctuates from time to time but the overall picture nearly always follows a particular pattern. The sales cycle has been used by many a salesperson to plan their approach to a sale, to determine their current position and see what steps still need to be taken. Let’s review the well-known seven steps in the sales cycle and see whether you are utilizing these optimally:
Step 1: Prospecting
Prospecting refers to the process of finding leads or prospects who have the means and the willingness to buy your product or pay for your services within a reasonable amount of time.
Some people say the first step is in fact not prospecting but gaining product and industry knowledge. Becoming knowledgeable about your product and industry, and everything that goes along with this is something that is always an ongoing process. Learning should not only occur once you want to sell but while you are building your business and developing your product or service.
Prospecting involves knowing your target market or potential customers. Take a deeper look at who you want to sell to. What is their industry? What approach is best for that specific industry or market segment? Not every sale is the same and therefore you need to cater your approach to suit the context and circumstance every single time.
The act of prospecting should not be a work-only thing. Prospecting occurs every day, in all forms. Finding leads could happen while at a party, a conference, a seminar, while driving to work or while watching television. Keep your prospecting radar on at all times.
Step 2: Connect
This step is all about making contact with the lead you had prospected in the first step. This will most likely involve cold calling which is the act of contacting a prospective lead via telephone, email or social media when they are not expecting contact from you or do not know anything about you.
Cold calling is about getting past any hesitancy from the other person about you and what you are selling. The goal of cold calling is to get a face-to-face appointment to present your product or service to this person or provide a demo.
Getting through to the decision-makers of the company is the most important thing – it saves time for you. When contacting these people it is your goal to not have them dismiss you right off the bat. A sense of humor is helpful as it helps to break the ice. Also, offer the contact person something valuable in turn for their time. If at all possible, provide something free in return for their attention.
Also, another important thing to consider is the fact that you need to be able to solve their problems by offering your product or service. So provide your product as the solution to their problems (whatever they may be). When you have already broken the ice, become more assertive in your approach. Now you actually have to ask for an appointment because they will most likely not be the ones to initiate such an action. When asking for an appointment, be very specific in order to avoid getting shot down. Instead of saying “Can I schedule an appointment with you some time?” rather state a specific day, date and time.
Remain positive, calm, assertive (but never overbearing) and confident.
Step 3: Qualify the lead
This step can be seen as part of qualifying your leads. In other words, you ask the questions that will identify them as a true prospective lead. This will save you time that you could have spent on another, more worthwhile lead.
Some of the questions you need to ask yourself include if you are speaking to the decision-makers in the company, what the prospect already owns that is in the same category as your product or service, what their feelings are about their current products or services, if they have the ability to switch (think about contracts and so forth preventing them from switching) and if your product or service truly can beat what they currently are invested in.
Step 4: Presentation
Making the presentation to the prospect can be nerve-wracking but planning ahead in this step goes a long way. Do your research ahead of time. Learn the prospect’s industry, find out who their competitors are (and how your product or service will make them better than their competitors), what their company’s needs are, what their wants are, the history of their company, their new projects and so forth. Preparing for the presentation also involves getting information on who you will be meeting with and who the decision-makers in the company are. This helps you build a rapport with your clients.
Always be on time for a presentation or meeting and when you are there, never make your presentation last longer than sixty minutes otherwise the listeners cannot pay full attention. Tell them beforehand how long it will take and stick to it.
Stand up while giving your presentation to help keep your energy levels up and take note of your volume level. In other words, make sure everyone can hear you well as well as see you, especially in a large room. Also, when speaking refer to specific individuals in the room. This shows you’ve done your research and makes them feel included.
In the presentation itself, use very specific examples. If the product saves the company money, say how much money can be saved. Also, provide testimonials and case studies that falls within the reach of the company you are selling to. If you cannot fit into the context, at least provide examples of satisfied customers.
Provide material for the audience to look at such as photographs and slides, and visually make your point. This holds people’s attention and helps them to visualize what they can do with your product or service in their own environment. Continually ask for feedback and if the audience has any questions. This keeps them involved in the conversation and clears up any points that they don’t understand.
To close off, ask them what they think or if this is the product or service they are looking for. This gauges the temperature and response, and provides you a chance to adjust your pitch to their needs and opinions. Also, allow for time after the presentation where people can chat and ask questions.
Step 5: Address objections or concerns
A presentation may not always have run as smoothly as you think it has and the prospective client may still have doubts about whether to use you or not. This is often seen when people say “I will have to think about it”. Hearing that statement or something similar should be seen as an opportunity to convince them of your value and provide them with more knowledge to aid their decision.
Utilize your listening skills (every good salesperson knows how to truly listen to their clients) and find out the exact objection and the reason for the objection to using your product or service. When they are finished talking, repeat back what they said. This shows that you are listening and gives them a chance to think about what they’ve said.
Explore the true reasons behind the objections. Make it more clear for yourself by asking questions about why they have that particular objection. Sometimes people don’t like to admit that, for instance, money is a problem. Ask exploratory questions so that your eventual answer is clear and relevant.
Answer the prospect regarding the objection and realise that in doing so you are in essence relieving their fears through your answer. Try to make your response even stronger with examples. After answering check with your prospect whether you have truly addressed their objection and if there is more clarity they need or other questions to ask.
After addressing the objection and making sure there are no other questions from their side, return the conversation to a more positive area and close the deal as is discussed in the next step.
Step 6: Closing the deal
This step often seems to be the most difficult one for most salespeople but it needn’t be. There are actually different ways of closing deals, each one depending on what your goal is and what the context currently is.
You can have the assumptive close which does exactly what the name says. After all of the questions have been asked and the presentation is over, you ask even more questions based on your assumption that the prospective client is accepting your offer. For example, “By what date do you need delivery of the product?” or “How many units will you be taking for now?”. These questions will obviously go according to what your product or service does so think of ones that suit you best.
Another closing option can be the time-limit close. This is an especially helpful method if your potential buyer seems unsure or asks for time to mull over the deal you are offering. An example of this type of closing is to tell the client that you are only offering this deal you are proposing for a limited time period or that someone else is interested and they should act quick to avoid disappointment. It may seem like a harsh tactic because, in essence, you are rushing them to make a split-second decision by fooling them into thinking there is a time limit. But it helps people to quickly make up their mind.
Probably the most preferable closing method is that of the custom close. This is more specific since you have already pinpointed all of their needs and preferences. Simply relay back to them what they want and then ask if they have any more features they would like. If they say “no”, simply say that your product is perfect for what they want and need in the first place. Tell them all you need for them to have their needs satisfied is to sign the contract and you will then sort out all of the details such as payment and delivery.
There are quite a few others that one can utilize so do your research and know your client.
Step 7: Follow-up
Closing the deal is, unlike most people believe, not the last step in the process. Never neglect the follow-up step as it opens the door for business to continue with that particular client. helps you to evaluate if they are satisfied with what you have provided to them and gives you the opportunity to get referrals.
Getting referrals is when your current client provides you with fresh leads that they know of based on the good service and product that you have provided them. If you have not done your job correctly, getting a referral is nearly impossible because giving a recommendation is about what it does for the client’s reputation as well. If they give someone a recommendation to use a bad company, they end up looking bad. This, of course, teaches you to do it right the first time if you want more business.
A motivation to get you to ask for referrals is the fact that you are more likely to close a deal from a referral than from a cold call. Getting a referral is as simple as asking your client for it. But remember that asking for a referral must be pre-empted by calls to ask if they are enjoying the product, if they require help and if they want anything else. This also goes for after you have asked for the referral. This way it doesn’t seem like you are simple using them to get referrals but genuinely care about the relationship you built up before the sale even occurred.