7 SALES STAGES OF THE SALES CYCLE AND PROCESS AND QUESTIONS FOR SUCCESSFUL CLOSING
A sales stage of the sales cycle shows the level of engagement of a customer or a prospect with you in the sales process. These stages are an indispensable foundation for every salesperson in the successful closing of the sales. Understand these sales stages, help a salesperson or a team to develop innovative ideas, business plan and improvising the engagement with the prospect for easy sales closing.
The prime quality of a salesperson is to ask the right questions at right time to open up the prospect mind. Once you’ve asked a question, listen carefully to their response rather than preparing what to ask next.
Sales stages will help you to prepare the right questions at the right stage for the right person. Each stage has its own prime questions to proceed the lead to the closure of the sale in our favour.
key benefits of knowing the sales stages of the sales cycle.
- Team structure can be optimized to support your sales cycle.
- Track the progress of sales for your business’s success.
- Effectively manage the team count and time for short-term and long-term goals of the business.
- Prepare well in advance to handle the sales objections and control the sales discussion.
- Help to understand, how each step of the sales cycle supports the next stage and to take the improvisation actions.
- Eliminate low ROI projects in the initial stage itself.
- Help salesperson to focus on the customers who give the most results.
The sales stage of the sales cycle help management to identify the current shortfalls and take corrective actions for more business. For example, If the team is excellent at identifying leads but unable to close them, then management can consider offering training on how to handle the objections salesperson is facing from the market.
Every salesperson should remember that sales are an ever continuation process, many sales will not be closed during the first meeting, it may take multiple levels of meeting and discussions. The products like complicated machines or large software can take multiple rounds of discussions and it may take months to identify the right person and to close the deal.
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The sales cycle will be active until the sale is made or a prospect declines to proceed further, time is doesn’t matter. Below are the 7 sales stages of the sales cycle.
SALES STAGE 1: Discovery of Prospects.
We can call this stage as: 0% Sales Stage: Prospecting: Discovery of prospects: Cold Call: Lead generation: Unqualified:
The first step in the sales stages of the sales cycle process is called Prospecting. In this stage, you need to identify your target customer by checking their profiles in the online platform or getting the reference from your current customers. You need to identify your potential customer’s contact and request the best way to approach them, like a suitable time for discussion, meeting etc.
TIPS: Research your prospects thoroughly before your first approach to them, which help in better ROI.
Sales Prospecting Questions:
- We would like to present our product which will be beneficial to you?
- Is it possible for you to spare about 5-10 minutes this week or next week?
- What time you will be able to spare for us in your office for a short presentation/ meeting?
- In your organization, to whom we can present our products/ solution?
- Do you currently use any solution similar to our offering?
- Would you like to understand more benefits which you can get with our solution?
- Do you look for a more efficient and cost-effective alternative solution?
- Have you heard of us/ our solution before?
SALES STAGE 2: Pre-qualification.
We can call this stage as: 10% Sales Stage: Pre-qualification of prospect: Initial contact: Identifying Potential Customer: Unqualified Sales stage: Lead Stage:
The second sales stages of the sales cycle are the Pre-qualification or Identifying Potential Customer from the listed prospecting customers. For the success of any sales, It’s critical for you to know to whom you’re contacting and why he is a Potential Customer.
To start with, first, you need to filter all the prospects with some qualification criteria to shortlist ideal Customer, To whom you can further discuss. During the process of identification of the potential customer, you will uncover new insights and it will help for the focus sales campaign. Qualification criteria can be decided on the basis of company standard, customer profile, previous experience etc.
TIPS: Select the customers, who offer you great value in terms of ROI and future potential.
Pre-qualification discussion Questions
- How do you manage your processes today?
- Is it possible for you to let us know, why did you choose that vendor?
- Do you have any problem with the current product?
- What is the problem you’re trying to solve?
- Do you interest to evaluate an innovative turnkey solution?
SALES STAGE 3: Qualification of Customer.
We can call this stage as: 25% Sales Stage: Qualification of prospect: Initial Qualification: Opportunity assessed: Lead Stage.
Qualification of the customer is the third stage of the sales cycle or the first stage of the vetting of the client on the basis of the evaluation during the first sales meeting or appointment.
This stage will help you to save your resources, by evaluating your point of contact. In this stage , you need to identify the decision-maker and your customers level of interest in your product or service.
- If your point of contact is not a decision-maker, you can explore with your POC to identify the decision-maker and the possibility of involving the decision-maker in the next level of the meeting.
In this stage of the sales cycle, you need to identify your customer exact requirement and list out what all are the customer buying criteria, concerns, and their pain points ( issue customer is facing).
TIPS: Prepare a customer map of your potential prospect on the basis of their position, like decisions maker, user, Finance, Purchase etc to make a strategy and sales plan to close the sales.
- How does your company evaluate new services before deciding to buy them?
- Do you need a demo of the product or a presentation (online/offline) is fine?
- Who all are involved in the procurement decision process?
- What is your procurement process and cycle?
- How long are you using your current solution?
- How many systems do you have?
- What are your expectations?
SALES STAGE 4: Present your Solution/product.
We can call this stage as: 40% sales stage: Solution defines: Advantage explanation: Product Demonstration stage: Lead Stage:
Through the previous sales stages of the sales cycle, you identified your potential customer and their exact requirement. Now in this stage, you need to present your product or solution as per the customer requirement to your point of contacts.
- You should present your products or services with good preparation to make sure that, customer should feel our solution will solve their pain points and help to improve their day-to-day operations.
During this presentation,
- You should understand more about their concern and educated them to identify and select the right solution.
- You should present the best possible solution by keeping your body language and mannerisms as they can influence the sale decision.
- Finally, present the package solution by considering their budget, challenges, and long-term goals.
TIPS: Present your offer relevant to the customer and it should be personalized to the needs of the customer.
- Do you feel this solution impact your daily work?
- How does this solution look like?
- Do you feel this solution will help you to improve your organization productivity?
- How do you think changing this process could make your job easier?
- Do you ever see this solution before?
- Do you feel our solution meets your requirements?
SALES STAGE 5: Objections Handling and Price Presentation.
We can call this stage as : 60% sales stage: Evaluation: Price presentation: Objections handling: Pipeline Stage:
Price presentation and Objections handling are the most important sales stages of the sales cycle.
Even if our prospect is attracted to our solution and our price offer is within their range, they will come up with the following most common objections.
- The offered price is too high!
- Your terms and conditions aren’t right!
To handle these objections, two things we need to do in advance.
Step 1: In Stage 4 of the sales cycle, do extra research regarding the customer budget and how much they are willing to pay and their previous vendors terms and conditions etc.
Step 2: Prepare an up-front comparison stating extra benefits and future returns customer will get from our solution with the cost of our offering.
Step 3: Discuss with the customer about the context to their objections and Present benefits in such a way that, the extra cost is negligible with respect to the extra benefits which they get with our solution and terms.
Tips: Listen to the customer objections patiently and understand their concerns and frame your sales pitch to overcome their concerns with benefits. Show the value of our offering as higher than the price which they need to pay.
Handling objections Questions:
- What price range do you offer for our solution?
- Is there anyone else, I should speak with / present the product?
- Who all are involved in the final decision-making process?
- Is budget is a barrier to take up our product?
- Do you realize the benefits you are going to get from our offering?
- Can you convince your boss, regarding our solution?
- What do I need to do further to support your organisation?
- Who are the Decision-Makers, and what is the Approval Process?
- Do you feel our solution benefits more than your current solution?
SALES STAGE 6: Handling Decision Maker.
We can call this stage as: 75% Sales stages: Presented to Decision Maker: Scope of work discussion: Forecast Stage:
Handling a Decision Maker is one of the important stages of the sales cycle, In this stage.
- We need to learn to read between the lines and respond accordingly to the decision-makers.
- We may not get a second chance to position our offering to the decision-makers.
- We should be well prepared to handle any type of rejections and clarification questions.
- We also are prepared to handle the situation of customers previous bad experiences related to our products from other vendors or other products from our offerings.
As in the previous stage, we shared our product information and pricing, Now, the control is with the customer side, hence we should respond with the patient, empathize with their concerns, never being rushed and never try to pressurize the customer.
As now we are in front of the decision-maker, don’t leave the meeting without clearing all the queries from the customer. If you are unaware to answer to any specific customer concern, never try to be smart, be professional and let them know, by when you can clarify their queries and make sure you get back to them with the best possible response within the specific date.
Once after all the objections are handled, it is time to move to the final stages of the sales cycle, don’t leave the meeting without setting the date for the next level of final discussion.
TIPS: Once you have the objection from the decision-maker, immediately after you explain your response, ask them to confirm that you’ve answered their queries.
Closing Questions with decision-makers:
- How will the decision-making process work?
- What points might get stuck in the way of this moving forward in the final decision?
- What range of budget do you have for this current project?
- What are your concerns about making a change?
- Any questions do you have in your mind, that I haven’t answered yet?
SALES STAGE 7: Final Negotiation and Closing.
We can call this stage as : 90% Sales stage: Negotiation and Closing: Scope of work finalization and agreement discussion: Forecast Stage
This is the prime and last stage of the sales cycle. As a salesperson, you should never expect, the customer will close the sales themselves, even for a perfect prospect, who is really interested in your product or solution. You should trigger them with suitable questions to take them to the final decision stages of the sales cycle. It will help you to close the sales in favour of you.
The salesperson needs to play different approaches in closing a sale, based on the preceding stages of customer Performance, Preference and Attitude.
Case 1: If the customer has eagerly listened to your offer and you could able to establish a good connection, you can use a direct closer:
- You can negotiate and discuss non-important factors first like, your delivery date, and after-sales support and close the deal with the best possible terms and conditions suit for the customer. Once the customer is in the agreeing mode and made his mind for purchase, you can discuss non-negotiable terms like Price and close the sale.
- You will get a long term customer.
Case 2: If the customer is less enthusiastic and still not listening to your offer and the solution, you can use a nuanced approach for closure:
- Step 1: You can start the negotiation discussion with all the previously discussed points which are favourable to the customer in the previous stages of the sales cycle. It will help you to develop a further connection with the customer.
- Step 2:Once the customer start listening to you, start the discussion with the least important negotiation point for you like after-sales support, standard warrant coverage etc and agree in favour of the customer. Ask more questions to make the customer open in the discussion. It will help you to make the customer in a comfortable position for an open discussion.
- Step 3:Once the customer reaches into an open discussion mode, we can negotiate on the prime factor like price, terms and conditions etc, which we can’t compromise. As we had agreed to most of the previous points, the customer will feel more comfortable in agreeing to our terms.
After the negotiation, still, your prospect is hesitant to take the final decision, follow with them with questions like “Do you have any questions or what else we need to do for you to make the final decision”. You will get a clear step or action with this question and proceed accordingly in the stages of the sales cycle.
- Once after you closed the deal, ask them, “do we need to clarify anything further ?” and set the clear next action plan and write a thanksgiving and concise confirmation mail which cover the scope of work and all the point of discussion.
Tips: Negotiation is given and takes: First give/ agree for non-important terms and take important terms in our favour.
Negotiation triggering Questions:
- Shall we do the “Scope of work” reconfirmation?
- When do you want to start?
- What’s the next step and by whenwe can we finalize the deal?
- Are you happy with the features and specification of our product or solution offering?
- Shall we start to prepare the final terms and condition for the order acknowledgement?
- Would you like to go ahead and sign up now?
FINAL SALES STAGE: Asking Referral.
We can call this stage as: 100% sales stage: Referral stage: Agreement signed: After-sales stage:
Once the order is signed, It is the right time to ask for referrals for new customers. Your new customer will be an ideal referrer for your future funnel. Don’t feel shy to ask your new customer about their colleagues or co-team who may get benefited from your service.
Referrals will help you to grow your business and the relationship with your new customer. The referral will also help to shorten the sales stages of the sales cycle to the new referred customer. Also, you can use this stage to identify, why this new customer purchased from you. As a salesperson, we can use this information to replicate the success with other customers.
Tips: As referrals will help the salesperson to shorten the sales cycle, even if our prospect objected to our proposal, don’t forget to ask for a referral. Nothing to lose, by asking referral.
- Could you please let us know the future development plans?
- What made you think to buy from us in the first place?
- What’s one thing we did better than others, make you do business with?
- What’s one thing we need to improve in our service for better support?
- Could you refer us to other customers or to your colleagues?
- To your knowledge, who will be the other customers get benefited from our solution?
Each sales process is unique based on the customer, product, technology, application etc, however, the sales cycle remains the same for all. For some sales stages of the sales cycle, 2 or 3 stages can be covered in a single meeting or as short as a few minutes and for some other sales, these process may last for a few days or months, but in general, every sales cycle goes through all the seven sales stages mentioned above.
Each stage of the sales cycle can be named differently by different companies as per their process. Understanding and practising the sales stages of the sales cycle help you to prepare and sharpen your skills and techniques, which will help you to close the sales smoothly and grow your business.
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