How to Master the Stages of the Sales Cycle

No matter what you're selling, every sale follows roughly the same pattern of seven steps. Salespeople don't always think in terms of stages of a sale as being different events, but, in fact, they are, and they're all necessary to advance the process toward a sale.

Mastering each one of these stages is essential if you're going to succeed in sales. If you're weak in one or more areas, you might survive as a salesperson, but you won't thrive. Most salespeople are chronically challenged in one or two areas, so identify your weak points and work to improve them to boost your sales results.

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Prospect for Leads

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Prospecting refers to the process of finding new potential customers. Your company might take care of the first part of this process by giving you lead lists to work with, or you might be responsible for finding leads on your own.

Note that a prospect and lead are two different things, although they're often used interchangeably. A lead is a contact that hasn't been qualified. Once qualified as being a potential sale, it becomes a prospect. So basically, prospecting is about finding leads, and then qualifying them to turn them into prospects.

When a lead is determined to be a good prospect, you can then enter them into your sales process or funnel.

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Set an Appointment

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It's time to use those leads you collected in the first stage of the sales process. Many salespeople prefer to cold call on the phone, but you can also visit in person, send emails, use social media, or even mail sales letters.

Whatever method you use to set appointments, you'll usually want to set one up face-to-face rather than try to sell over the phone or through messages. You'll better present your features and benefits to meet the needs of your prospect and answer questions in person. Plus, it's easier for people to avoid your sales message and say "no" through non-direct contact.

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Qualify the Prospect

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Normally, you don't want to waste your time on unqualified prospects, so you should have a basic qualification at the time you get the lead. However, during your appointment, you'll want to qualify them further. The qualification stage is to confirm that your prospect is ready, willing, and able to buy your product before you spend a lot of time trying to pitch to him. That means they have an interest in what you're selling, they have the resources to buy it, and have authority to make the purchase.  

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Make Your Presentation

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The presentation is the core of every sales cycle, and it's probably where you'll invest the most preparation time. Keep in mind that you're not just selling your product, you're selling how your product will solve your prospect's problem. You're also selling yourself as a person to trust when it comes to finding a solution for your prospect. You represent your company, so appearance counts. Dress the part. 

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Address the Prospect's Objections

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It can be worrisome to hear a prospect's concerns; however, objections can actually be a positive sign because they mean that your prospect is interested in what you're offering. Prospects don't ask questions or indicate concerns unless they're considering buying.

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Close the Sale

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When you've made your presentation, answered your prospect's questions, and addressed his objections, it's time to ask for the sale. This is the second-most neglected stage of the sales cycle, which is sad given that it's one of the most important.

Closing means you ask for the sale or whatever the next step in your process is. You can't expect your prospects to excitedly pull out their wallets.

Many people feel like asking for the sale is pushy, but it can be done without being obnoxious. If you've shown how your product or service is exactly what the prospect needs and have been helpful and friendly, getting the sale will be a logical next step. There are a variety of closing techniques such as the assumptive close, question closing ("Do you want two or three?" or "Do you want it in red or blue?"), and now-or-never closes ("This special price ends tomorrow.").

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Ask for Referrals

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Ask for referrals is hands down the most commonly neglected step. Too many salespeople are so relieved to get a sale that they grab their things and race out the door as soon as possible for fear the prospect will change their mind.

Instead, wind the sale down gradually. Reiterate the great benefits the buyer is going to get. Give the customer your business card. Ask if they know of anyone else who might be in the market for the goods or services you provide. 

Note you can ask for referrals even from prospects that say no.

Will all your prospects buy? No. But that doesn't mean the sale is lost. You don't want to become a pest, but sometimes a "no" today, could be a "yes" in a month. For that reason, you should have a system for staying in touch with your prospects. Also, your no-prospects can be a source of referrals, so it's not necessarily a waste of your time if your prospect doesn't buy.

If your prospect does buy, be sure to follow up with them as well to make sure they're happy with the purchase and answer any questions.

Achieving success in sales doesn't have to be complicated or scary. Understanding and using these steps will help guide your prospect through the sales process.