What is a Sales Cycle and How to Make it Work for You

Most retail brands have a sales cycle in place, but the events of 2020 impacted the way the cycle works. Ensuring that prospects travel through the cycle to the point where they not only make purchases but become advocates for the brand has now become even more important.

Sales team leaders should consider creating a sales cycle flow chart to share internally so the sales team understands how the process works. This kind of process chart also helps when assessing the sales team and determining where the roadblocks are in the cycle.

In this article, we’ll take you through each step of the cycle to outline how sales teams can make the sales cycle work for them.

steps in a sales cycle infographic

Step 1: Sales Prospecting

Getting prospects interested in your company is the first step in the sales cycle. It’s also one of the hardest to execute.

Prospects likely don’t know your organization, or why they should choose you over your competitors. Sales teams need to demonstrate how your company can help customers with their problems.

The best way to find prospects that could benefit from your product or solution is to create an ideal customer profile, or ICP. A crucial part of this process is evaluating your current customer base.

There are numerous survey tools you can use to learn what your existing customers want from your company. This is crucial to understanding how to modify who you are targeting with your inbound and outbound sales strategies.

Here are a few sample questions you can ask your customers to understand what they are using your company for, and how you can target more use cases like theirs. 

  • Industry: What industry is the company in?
  • Geography: Where is the company based? Is the company now fully remote?
  • Size: What’s the size of the company?
  • Budget: What’s their budget? How much are they spending on your product/service?
  • Pain points: What are their specific pain points? What are they using your product or service for?

Once you have these details, you can build your new customer persona. 


Step 2: Outreach

Once you have your ideal customer profiles or buyer personas, you need to find the right way to contact your leads. A great place to start is by looking at how each lead was generated and then using those channels to connect with them.

But before you reach out, you also need to be aware of where your leads are in the buyer journey.

stages of a customer journey graphic
Source: ProMX

Depending on which stage the customer is in, you can decide what form of outreach will best suit their needs. 

For example, leads in the awareness stage or the consideration phase haven’t decided to buy from your company—a hard-sell won’t work for them. Instead, help resolve their pain points so they come back for more until they are ready to make a purchase.

When they do enter the purchase stage, don’t wait to get in touch with them. If prospects have shared their phone numbers or emails, contact them immediately, not in a few hours or a day. Contacting leads within five minutes increases the chance you’ll be able to qualify them by 2,100 percent, falling to 700 percent if contacted within the hour. Sales teams need to hustle the moment they confirm an inbound lead.

Keep in mind that leads will likely not reply instantly. According to studies, it takes at least six calls to make a sale. Be persistent, but understand when to give up.


Step 3: Qualifying prospects

Not all leads fit your ICP and are worth pursuing. Analyzing and understanding which leads are worth putting your time and energy into is crucial to saving you time and closing more deals. The qualification process will help you determine which leads could buy your product or solution and help you convert those leads into prospects. 

Before contacting a lead, you should do a bit of preliminary research to ensure it’s worth your time. Tools like Crunchbase Pro can give you a high-level overview of a company before you spend time on outreach. Otherwise, your lead qualification can start with your first contact. This can be done through a few questions over the phone, via email, or through a lead generation form on your site.

Here are a few sample questions that can help you determine if a lead is qualified: 

  • Do they have a pressing need for our solution?
  • What kind of budget do they have for this problem?
  • Have they tried solving their problem before? If yes, why didn’t it work?
  • What is the decision process for this sale?
  • Do they know what results they are looking for?
  • What roadblocks do they foresee?
  • Are they working within specific deadlines?

If their responses and your research indicate your product or solution could help, and their budget aligns with your prices, it makes sense to continue with the lead.


Step 4: Making your offer

When you’ve qualified your leads, you can begin presenting your offer. Give them the option to sign up for a product or service demo. You may need to share a presentation with your prospects or with key decision-makers in the business.

Your presentation should be branded with your logo, colors and fonts, and include your prospect’s branding, as well. This will help build a relationship between your companies.


Step 5: Overcoming objections

It is highly unlikely that your prospect will make a purchase immediately. Usually, they come back with a few objections. This stage of the sales cycle can be frustrating, but by overcoming objections you can finally close the deal.

Objections are often raised around prices, the amount you are offering, or terms of the sale. It is possible to compromise on these but it will require more conversations.

When all the objections are handled, confirm with the prospect that they are happy to move on to the next step. Don’t take anything at face value.


Step 6: Closing the sale

You’ve done everything you can to win over prospects and now you need to close the sale. This is the stage at which many companies can get stuck.

If your prospect is still unsure of purchasing, give a reason to complete the deal. Offer additional incentives, a discount, or set a deadline.

For prospects who are still on the fence despite all you have to offer, ask what is holding them back from completing the deal.

Some leads may still need more nurturing, so focus your energy first on prospects ready to make purchases.


Step 7: Getting referrals

Once you’ve closed the deal, you will need to continue to grow your relationship and bring in more prospects. Don’t be afraid to ask for sales referrals—this will help you earn more leads without having to go through the entire sales cycle again.

You should also ask for online reviews and whether you can showcase your customers in case studies and website testimonials. This acts as social proof and an incentive for new prospects to engage with your company.

Ronita Mohan is a content marketer at Venngage, the online infographic maker and design platform. She regularly writes about marketing, sales and small businesses.

  • Originally published December 18, 2020, updated May 3, 2024