Sales Cycles: An Actionable Guide to Sales Cycle Management
Are you making the sales you want? Bringing in the revenue you deserve? Building enough customer relationships to ensure long-term success?
If you answered "yes" to these questions, congratulations. You don't need this guide.
But if you think your sales team can do more, this is the ultimate guide to sales cycles (aka sales life cycles.)
In a way, the sales cycle is the heart of your company. It's how you turn strangers into customers. It's how you generate revenue, hire more salespeople, build your empire, and retire to your own private island (ideally).
Here, we'll cover everything you need to know about sales cycles, from what they are to how to document them to how to make them better.
Discover the synergy between CRM and revenue growth in our informative article.
What Is a Sales Cycle?
The stages of the sales cycle can vary between companies and industries, but they're usually similar. Below is a five-step sales cycle diagram that includes everything from lead generation to closing.
The steps in your sales life cycle will differ from other companies'. Here are some of the stages you might include:
- Prospecting/Lead generation
- Initiating contacts
- Addressing objections
- Following up
- Asking for referrals
Most companies don't have this many steps in their cycle. Six or seven are usually enough.
What influences the number of steps in your process? It's mainly what you sell, how you sell it, who you sell to, and your sales goals, among other things. You'll find what works best for your team.
9 Reasons You Need a Sales Cycle Process
Whether it's documented or not, you have a sales cycle. If it's not documented, you might have many different cycles. Every salesperson has their own habits and processes. And maybe it works. But it's also a mess.
That's a shitty way to do things. You need a documented sales strategy that every sales rep can use.
But if your salespeople already have their own functioning sales processes, why force them to use a different one? You trust your salespeople to do their jobs, so why tell them how to go about it?
Your sales reps might win sales with their own cycles, but there are major benefits to standardizing your sales process:
- Consistency: Sales reps don't forget or skip steps.
- Transparency: Sales managers can see where reps are killing it and where they need work.
- Repeatability: Your sales teams can stick with what works, based on data.
- Easier handoffs: If every sale goes through the same stages, changing from one salesperson to another isn't an issue.
- Prioritization: Sales reps know where to spend their time to have the biggest impact.
- Faster onboarding: Reps can ramp up quickly when they have a document outlining every step.
- Predictability: It's easier to forecast sales when you know how long each stage takes.
- Increase sales: All of the factors above contribute to a better, more effective sales program.
- Better sales ROI: An improved sales process means you get more out of every dollar spent.
Depending on how your company is currently running its sales program, you might see more benefits, too. But even with just these, taking the time to establish and document your process will be worth it.
The Sales Cycle Stages: 8 Steps to Sales Success
Every sales team has its own sales life cycle, but some general steps are common among companies. These are the eight sales cycle stages we use at Close.
We've used them for years, and they've helped us build a kickass sales pipeline. You can use use this sales cycle template to start documenting your own selling process. Or you can start from scratch. Either works.
Here's our proven, eight-stage B2B sales cycle:
You need raw material that your salespeople can turn into gold—and sales prospecting is how you find that material. During prospecting, you'll find the companies you think might be interested in your product. You might use:
- lead databases
- outbound email
- outbound phone calls
- inbound marketing
- PPC ads
- email marketing
- outsourced lead gen
- any number of other lead generation tactics.
At this point, you’ll have two buckets: suspects and prospects. Suspects are companies you think might be interested. Prospects are companies that are definitely interested. Sometimes, sales teams use other terms like “sales leads.” What’s most important is that within your company, you have clear definitions for the nomenclature you use.
Because prospecting involves identifying qualified leads that fit your ideal customer profile, it’s often the responsibility of either your marketing team or sales development reps (SDRs). This overlap of responsibilities leads to some companies referring to their sales cycle as a ‘sales and marketing cycle.’
Your suspects and prospects have needs. If you can meet those needs, you'll get the sale. How do you know what they need? You research and qualify your leads.
Check out your potential customers’ social media feeds (especially company news updates on LinkedIn, or profiles of senior employees) to see what they discuss and find something to connect over.
Find media mentions to understand where they are in the company lifecycle. Look at org charts to see who the decision-makers are. Trawl funding news to learn if they have cash to spare—Crunchbase is a popular source for company information.
Depending on the size of the deal and the sales process, sales reps should spend some time researching potential pain points and figuring out how to frame the value proposition. Finding the right decision-makers is also important.
Research usually pays off. But don’t go overboard. Over-researching prospects is just as bad as not researching them at all.
Get ready to succeed in lead generation by mastering LinkedIn strategies.
We're still laying the groundwork for selling, and that includes initiating first contact with qualified prospects and setting sales appointments.
B2B appointment setting can be a complicated process in itself. It often requires sending multiple cold emails, cold calling, leaving lots of voicemails, and tons of following up before that contact is made.
Then, you have a limited amount of time to give a sales pitch that engages your prospect and piques their curiosity enough to schedule a discovery call. It takes time, patience, and persistence, but when this step is done, your salespeople will have a meeting with a prospect—and that's key.
Hey you! Seeking B2B mastery? Explore the B2B Sales Funnel strategies in our article.
It's time to sell, and the sales presentation is where your sales reps shine. The type of presentation you give depends on what you're selling. You might show the prospect around your software, demo your product, or present an outline of how your solution will benefit the prospect.
Whatever the case, this is the step in the selling process where you review your prospect’s pain points and demonstrate how your product or service can solve them. This is where you convince the prospect to buy. This is selling.
If you're stuck on how to structure your sales presentation, these examples can offer guidance.
5. Handling Objections
Before closing a deal, your sales reps have to deal with sales objections. Here are a few objections they might face:
- "I can't make a decision now, call me back next month."
- "We don't have the budget for this."
- "We like how we're doing things now."
- "I'm already in a contract with another vendor."
- "Your product doesn't have all the features we need."
- "Send me more information and I'll get back to you."
- "I don't want to commit to a contract."
These can be frustrating as hell. But dealing with objections is a part of sales, and reps need to be prepared. Certain objections come up more than others. Include these common ones in your sales documentation with tips to overcome them. For example, use a sales script or send a case study.
You might be tempted to put addressing objections together with giving the presentation. They're the same conversation, right?
Yes. But listing this step separately encourages your sales team to better prepare for objections.
When reps review your documented process and see "address objections" as its own life cycle step, they know they need to be ready. Even if they think they're prepared, this stage encourages them to spend a little more time on it. And that's always good.
6. Closing the Sale
Once the customer is satisfied that you've addressed their objections and can solve their problems, it's time to close the sale. Present the contract, get the prospect to sign, and get yourself a new customer.
Unfortunately, it's rarely that simple. A lot of things need to happen. You'll often need to wait for the deal to get approved by higher-ups or have a few final negotiations. You might even have to run your presentation again.
But this is another step where your sales reps get to do what they do best. Give them the time and resources they need to close the deal.
Many people assume this is the last sales cycle stage. But we're not done yet.
Psst... Looking for a game-changing sales approach? Discover the Challenger Sales Model.
Your prospect signed the contract and it's time to deliver. Get your solution to your customer and ensure they know how to use it. The sooner they see a quantifiable benefit, the better.
This might mean getting your implementation or customer success teams aligned with your sales process. At this stage, do whatever you need to help your customer get the most out of your solution.
8. Asking for Referrals
Referral sales are the best sales. They save a ton of time. You can skip right to setting an appointment when one of your existing customers sends you someone who might be interested in your solution.
But your salespeople need to ask for those referrals. And there's no better time than right after making a sale.
Your customer just gave you money for your solution—so they're obviously excited about it. This is when they're most likely to share what you're selling with their contacts.
Asking for a referral right away isn't easy, but it's absolutely worth it. And it's a crucial part of the eight-step sales life cycle.
Ready for a bonus tip? Set reminders to follow up with your customers after three, six, and twelve months.
If you want to stay on top of your follow-up game (and save tons of time), Close CRM has powerful, automated follow-up features that suit your workflow. Easily set follow-up reminders using the tasks feature or use automated email workflows.
With Smart Views, you can even create dynamic lead lists to follow up in bulk.
Check how they're doing, ask for referrals, and provide assistance to make sure they're succeeding with your product. You'll get more repeat and referral customers—guaranteed.
Sales Cycle Length: What to Aim for and How to Shorten It
The length of the sales life cycle varies between companies and industries. But there are some benchmarks you can use to gauge your own process.
One study by databox found the average B2B sales cycle to be between 37 and 141 days–that's long.
In enterprise sales, a 6–18-month cycle is not uncommon.
When selling to existing customers, companies are more likely to close the sale in 1–3 months. That's one reason why repeat customers are so valuable.
These are rough guidelines. There are many factors that influence the length of your sales cycle:
- Customer needs
- Cost of your product
- Average company size of your customer
- How well your target market knows your company
- Your sales win rate
- Sales process quality
- Sales rep turnover
Any of these factors can make your sales cycle longer or shorter. To find your own sales cycle length, use a CRM that helps you track leads through the entire process.
When striving to enhance your B2B sales funnel, integrating the right CRM solution, as discussed in our comprehensive article on B2B CRMs, can be a game-changer.
Sales Cycle Time: Typical, Full, Long, Short
Knowing the length of your sales cycle in relation to your industry average is great. But watch how long it takes to close a sale compared to your own average, too.
With detailed tracking, you can get an idea of how your typical and full cycles work together—and discover if you're working with a long or short cycle.
- Typical sales cycle: This is the sales cycle your reps usually go through. It might be the eight-step process above or something similar. In B2B, a typical sales cycle ranges from 4–6 months.
- Full sales cycle: Sometimes, your reps take additional steps. For example, if you work with large enterprises, they may need more time to find the right decision-maker. This is your full sales cycle. It could take a year or longer.
- Long sales cycle: If your sales cycle is longer than your industry's average, you have a long sales cycle. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. But it's good to know. If your cycle is a year or longer, it's definitely a long cycle.
- Short sales cycle: If your cycle is shorter than similar companies, you have a short sales cycle. B2B companies completing their cycles in under four months are short-cycle companies. This may be an advantage—but if you're skipping important steps, it could be a liability.
Sales Cycle Management: How to Shorten the Sales Life Cycle
The best way to shorten the sales cycle is to create a sales process focused on efficiency and repeatability. It's not about skipping steps. It's about making them more efficient. There are two ways to do this:
- Gain insight into potential leads' needs.
- Create parallel processes so you can take multiple steps at once.
If you can do those two things, you'll shorten your sales cycle and increase sales.
It might sound simple—but it can be really hard. When you ask a buyer about the closing process, they'll give a short answer. "Well, my boss has to approve this, then it'll go through purchasing, and then we're in business."
But that's rarely the case. There are almost always more steps involved in the buyer's journey, and you'll have to dig to get more information. Once you have that information, you can start parallelizing your processes.
This has its own difficulties. You need clear documentation of your sales cycle, and info on which stages are prerequisite for future steps. At some point, you should find that one step doesn't need a previous one to be completed.
That's when you create parallel processes. For example, you might find that customers typically need to get their boss's approval and then get approval from the legal department. Instead of waiting for the first approval, why not start on the second simultaneously? This can shorten your sales cycle by days or even weeks.
Experiment with different tactics for shortening your sales cycle. When you find something that works, stick with it.
7 Tips to Improve Your Sales Cycle Process
Your sales cycle is the heart of selling at your company. If it doesn't work well, it's not moving you forward. Here are seven ways to optimize your sales cycle.
1. Improve Your Lead Generation
The first step in your sales cycle is filling your pipeline with leads. This impacts every step thereafter. If you have a ton of low-quality leads, your research phase will take forever, high-quality leads will slip through the cracks, and your reps will waste lots of time weeding them out.
By better qualifying new leads, you make every subsequent step more efficient. Curious how we generate tons of high-quality leads at Close? Here's how we got more than 300,000 leads in the last few years.
2. Collect and Analyze Data
If you don't know how your sales funnel is performing overall, you can't improve it. Using a CRM's sales funnel tracking, discover your overall conversion rate, team win rate, how every lead moves through the sales process, how long it takes from step to step, and much more.
You can use other data sources, too. Ask your sales reps how they move through the process to see if you're missing any steps. Keep collecting information, no matter how developed your sales cycle is. Use it to improve your sales process, monitor your improvements, and observe how your sales and marketing teams are performing.
3. Address Bottlenecks
No matter how well you think you've built your sales cycle, there will be bottlenecks. Every process has weak points. The data collected from your CRM and other sources can help you address them.
Look at those numbers regularly to see where you can improve. Maybe your objection handling stage takes longer than it should. You could put together a document for prospective customers with your responses to the most common objections. Think creatively about how to make your weakest stages stronger.
4. Score Leads to Help Sales Reps Prioritize Prospects
Not all prospects deserve a lot of your time. Scoring leads makes it easy for reps to see who they should hop on a phone call with, place on an email nurturing campaign—or put off for another day.
Do this during prospecting. Discover what your best customers have in common, then create a scoring system. Are large companies more likely to buy? New companies? Mission-driven companies? Companies with outdated software? Figure this out—then guide your sales team on where to spend their time.
5. Keep All Your Communication in One Place
Keeping call recordings, SMS logs, and emails in a single location helps reps make informed decisions throughout the sales process. When you make a hundred calls each day, you forget what you talked about at 8:00 AM.
A sales-focused CRM will seriously boost your team's productivity.
6. Automate Wherever You Can
You could create and go through your sales cycle manually, but why? There are so many ways to automate. Make prospecting, emailing, calling, following up, and many other areas of your sales cycle easier with automation.
Our CRM includes a built-in Predictive Dialer. It calls multiple numbers at once and routes an available sales rep when a real human answers. You can also automate email workflows to save time and improve consistency.
It might be a good idea to read over this article to gain a deeper understanding of how AI is reshaping B2B sales strategies.
7. Document Your Sales Process
If you've made it this far, you're probably already committed to documenting and standardizing your sales cycle process. But again: Have a clear, concise explanation of your sales cycle—and keep it where reps can find it.
It makes onboarding easier, provides a roadmap when reps get off track, and can be referenced when reviewing metrics. If you don't currently have it documented—change that.
Your first version doesn't need to be a masterpiece. Just get it done. We started with what we called minimum viable sales documentation. It's worth it. Trust me.
Create Your Winning Sales Cycle for Increased Sales and Booming Revenue
So, there you have it—everything you need to know about sales cycles. We've covered a lot here, and it might feel overwhelming. But all this will help you create, document, and improve your sales process.
And that equals more closed deals and revenue. That's the goal, right?
Don't stress about going from a poor sales cycle to a perfect one, either. Start with one step.
If you don't have a defined sales cycle at all, start collecting information from your reps to see what they're doing.
If you have a vague idea of your sales process, review your CRM's sales cycle analytics to get exact details on what's happening and how long it takes.
If you're confident in your current sales lifecycle, look for ways to make improvements in each stage.
Take one step at a time, and you'll end up with an amazing sales process that gets you killer results.
Ready to dive in with Close CRM? Try it free for 14 days and gain key insights into your sales cycle.