Every member of the sales team must fully understand the sales process to be successful. After all, how can you measure how well the team is performing if each member is doing their job slightly differently?
This is why it’s crucial to define your sales cycle and each sales stage within that cycle. Every rep knows exactly what they need to do to transform prospects into customers when sales cycle stages are delineated clearly. That shared knowledge and standard operating procedure keep the process consistent and efficient.
Further, measuring the length of time prospects spend in each sales stage gives the sales team insight into normal close timelines for their business. That way, teams can leverage that data to quickly assess the health of each deal and benchmark themselves against industry standards.
What is a sales cycle?
A sales cycle is the process a sales team goes through when selling to a new customer. It encompasses everything from the very first contact with the prospect, all the way to signing the deal. Sales cycles will vary in length, depending on the industry, business, and product, but the sales process itself generally follows a consistent pattern and aligns with several clearly defined sales cycle stages.
In addition to defining each stage in the sales cycle, it’s important to keep track of the length of time that each customer spends in each stage, as well as the average length of time of the entire sales cycle. The timing of these events can reveal how efficient your revenue operations processes are and provide you with a benchmark to measure yourself against industry standards.
The 7 common sales cycle stages
Sales cycle stages refer to the common phases of the sales process that most prospects move through. These stages encompass key moments throughout the full buyer’s journey—including when prospects start as sales leads, when they make a purchasing decision and become a customer, and when that customer renews or expands their contract with you.
The specific stages of your sales cycle will vary depending on your business and product, but most businesses experience seven common phases:
1. Prospect stage
The first stage of the sales cycle is prospecting, also known as finding potential new customers. During this phase, your sales and marketing team members will need to drill down into the unique value proposition of the product or service you're selling and identify the potential audiences that can benefit from your offerings. This sales cycle stage can also include the results of lead generation. For example, maybe you’ve had inquiries about your product or service come in through your website. These inquiries should be considered prospects.
2. Contact stage
After you’ve identified potential customers, it’s time to reach out to them. Traditional contact methods include cold calls, emails, and LinkedIn messages. During the contact stage, your goal is to set up an appointment to speak with the prospective customer about your product or service and see how you can help solve their challenges.
3. Nurture stage
More likely than not, your contact will need some time before they’re ready to buy—or even schedule a meeting. Sales teams need to nurture the relationship and provide helpful and relevant content—such as through marketing drip campaigns—to keep the prospect engaged and interested.
4. Qualification stage
Qualification stage is when you evaluate the customer. After all, you want to make sure they’re a good fit for your product, as well as ensure they’re in a position to actually make a purchase. You’ll want to investigate whether your contact person is also the decision maker for this purchase, and if not, learn how you can connect with the person with buying power. You’ll also want to gauge the customer's genuine interest in your product and their purchasing timeline. Qualification typically happens just before or after a meeting is set.
5. Pitch stage
This is it: the meeting. Pitching your product or service is the critical phase of every sales cycle. Do as much advance research and preparation as you can to ensure that you deliver the most successful presentation and address your prospect’s unique pain points.
6. Objection handling stage
Potential customers will have questions, concerns, and comments after they’ve heard the pitch. You’ll address these during this objection handling stage of your sales cycle. It’s critical to really understand what is important to your prospects and their businesses. This stage presents a great opportunity to connect prospects with like-minded customers who can provide them with relevant insight into your product and customer journey.
7. Close stage
Now it’s time to close the deal. The final stage in the sales cycle, the closing stage, is when you either win or lose the sale. Remember: Just because the prospect isn’t ready to ink the deal after the first meeting, doesn’t mean the deal can’t be won. It may take several meetings, email exchanges, or other contact to earn a “yes.”
Once the sale has closed, it’s a good time to ask the customer if they have any friends or colleagues who also might be interested in your product. It’s also a great time to outline and reinforce the customer journey to set yourself up for successful contract renewals and expansion opportunities over time.
B2B vs. B2C pipeline stages
It’s important to note that the sales cycle stages for a B2B business are somewhat distinct from those of a B2C business. For instance, in B2B sales, the sales cycle tends to be longer. Reasons for this include:
- B2B deals are typically larger.
- There are multiple stakeholders and, often, more contract negotiations.
- Payment cycles are longer.
Sales teams should keep all of this in mind to maximize their time and effort when selling a B2B product or service.
Download the Sales Stages Worksheet
Each business needs a roadmap of its unique sales cycle, with each sales cycle stage clearly defined, with applicable criteria and ownership. You can leverage this ready-to-use worksheet from Clari to help you create this framework.