Generally speaking, the Sales Cycle is a salesperson’s follow-up plan to close new consumers and prospects. In order to turn a potential customer into a sure buyer, there are certain steps to take and certain phases to walk the customer through.
Now, according to HubSpot, the Standard Sales Cycle has five distinct stages:
Different stages require different approaches and different pieces of information. The names themselves are pretty self-explanatory, but we’ll give a brief overview and explanation of each later on.
Interestingly enough, the Sales Cycle is often confused with Sales Methodologies. In a way, this isn’t wrong. Sales methodologies are frameworks that implement the sales cycle. The Inbound Methodology Lifecycle, in particular, is a managed strategy under lifecycle marketing that small and medium-sized businesses use to continuously build up sales and marketing activity.
So technically, if you call lifecycle marketing a sales cycle, you’re still right.
The Lifecycle Marketing cycle has four phases:
Just as with the Sales Cycle, each stage requires a different approach. Good thing they’re also pretty self-explanatory.
We’ll jump into each cycle in detail—the Sales Cycle and Lifecyle Marketing—and discuss their stages, their uses, and their differences.
Standard Sales Cycle: The Tactical Approach
As mentioned earlier, there are five stages to the sales cycle: Prospect, Connect, Research, Present, and Close.
Prospecting is basically the virtual legwork. As the name implies, this is the stage where you go around looking for prospective buyers. A good way to go about this would be to check socials—like Facebook and LinkedIn—go through referrals, and maybe scroll through newsfeeds using relevant keywords.
Prospecting is all about finding people whom you believe fit your buyer persona (something you should have established way before you started marketing campaigns). These are the people who might actually want to hear what you have to say.
You need to fill your pipeline with these matches—also called Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs)—and double-check their contact info. This is because you will have to reach out to them in a few days if you want them to stay fresh leads.
This is why you want to make sure you have your leads’ contact info. Once you’ve identified them as SQLs, you need to initiate contact. There are a good dozen or so ways to do this, so don’t worry; you’ve got tons of available approaches:
- Connect through a mutual acquaintance/existing consumer
- Engage through social media
- Reach out via email, phone, or chat platform
You aren’t necessarily pitching your product or offer just yet. What you are doing is confirming that they could, indeed, benefit from what you have to offer them. So during the Connect phase, all you’re really doing is introducing yourself and briefly summarizing the value of your product/service. They’ll let you know if they’re interested in learning more.
If they are interested, great. Bring them right over to the Research phase.
This is where you hold discovery or qualifying calls—for two reasons:
- Verify that the prospect fits your target avatar
- Verify that you fit the prospect’s expectations
On their end, the client will conduct their own research—hence the name of this stage—regarding your brand and your product. You can help them by sending relevant, informative content like blogs, customer reviews, and product demos. Just because they have full access to whatever’s been published online doesn’t mean they’ll find the ones that are necessarily favorable.
This is where you bring in the sales pitch. You should have a standardized sales pitch or template that you can easily pull out and customize to suit your prospect’s specific needs.
In the world of merchandise and commerce, this sometimes doesn’t take too long. In fact, when it comes to purchasing products, the Research and Present phase can be rolled into one. For instance:
- a salesman pulls out his merchandise and explains what they do (Research)
- asks if you can relate to the pain point the products are meant to address (Research)
- gives a sales pitch explaining why this product will succeed where others failed (Present)
On the other hand, in the case of services or partnerships, this phase is potentially one of the longest—and most crucial. A sales team will have to put together an actual presentation, execute it in front of the prospect, and then get ready to field questions.
This is the deciding phase. It’s 50/50 at this point. The ball is entirely in the customer’s court. Once you’ve fielded all their questions, given them all the information they’ve asked for, and basically laid all your cards on the table, you can then “ask for the close” — which basically means asking if they’re ready to buy.
Lifecycle Marketing: Emotionally Driven
As we mentioned earlier, lifecycle marketing is a sales methodology that implements the sales cycle in its approach. It’s meant to help businesses attract and engage new customers as well as nurture existing clients. In fact, lifecycle marketing holds retaining current consumers as just as important as finding and converting new consumers.
In a previous article, we defined it as a process that directs how you—as the business owner/marketer/salesperson—can engage with a prospective customer and naturally bring them to the “path-to-purchase.”
The ultimate aim of lifecycle marketing is meant address your clients’ needs and expectations as many times as needed. It helps you keep your strategy adaptable to most any situation. This also means you can shift and evolve your marketing approach in line with how your prospects choose to engage with your business.
There are four standard phases: Attract, Nurture, Convert, and Delight.
Much like the Prospect stage in the sales cycle, the Attract stage is all about finding new clients. If you have an existing buyer persona (as you probably should), you can use it as a lens with which to find, filter, and qualify potential consumers.
Unlike the Prospect stage, however, you don’t have to wait for the next stage to reach out to these prospects. You can communicate with your prospects and establish connections as early as the attract stage. Marketing during this stage should be geared towards capturing your target’s attention and somehow convincing them to take a second look at your brand.
That being said, it’s a good idea to optimize your inbound marketing strategy to do one or all of these three things:
- answer immediate potential questions your prospect might have
- engage the prospect
- collect contact information for further interaction
In this stage, your prospects is starting to weigh their options. They’re still not 100% sure that you’re what they’re looking for, but they definitely see you and the opportunity you present. They’re aware of their pain point and they know that you can help, but there are still some things they need to consider. For instance:
- Is their pain point prevalent enough and detrimental enough that it warrants a solution
- Why should they choose your solution instead of someone else’s
At this point, you need to make sure you present yourself as the best choice for your prospects, hands down. This is the stage where they’re looking at the pros and cons of every choice they have so they can find the solution that best suits their needs. If you can reassure them, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are that solution, they’ll pick you in a heartbeat.
That being said, this is the chance for you to send more informative content their way. Just like the Research phase of the sales cycle, this is the stage where it’s imperative your prospect finds only quality related content.
This is the stage that makes or breaks your sale. At this point, your prospects are way past the “just interested” point. It’s 50/50, and you need to do whatever you can to make sure they fall into the favorable percentile. The client is ready to decide, and how you handled them in the previous stages will greatly affect their final decision.
One of the best practices to do during the Convert stage is to educate the customer just a little further. You don’t want to seem as though you’re pushing your product at them though, so do it in a way that’s subtle and flows naturally from where you left off in the Nurture stage.
Some ways to do this:
- Create a custom campaign of follow-up messages that are specifically tailored to address their concerns
- Create personalized follow-up messages for them via a chat platform (like FB Messenger) and respond to their response
- Introduce them to previous or existing clients that used to be in a similar situation like theirs, but are now genuinely happy and positive thanks to your product
And when you get that close, don’t treat it as an exchange of money for goods or services. Really communicate with the client and go above and beyond what they expected.
This is the most mature stage in lifecycle marketing. At this stage, your clients already know you and your business. Depending on how you treat them, they’ll either become one-time purchasers or repeat consumers and loyal advocates.
Obviously, we all hope for the latter.
The best thing you can do during the Delight phase is to continue to nurture your customers and prioritize their best interests. Add value whenever you can and make sure they have your time. With long-term engagement and consistent communication, you can ensure happy, loyal consumers who are all too willing to purchase from you again and again.
In the end, there is no “right” cycle. Both the Sales Cycle and Lifecycle Marketing have their pros and cons. And, as mentioned earlier, lifecycle marketing is a methodology that implements the sales cycle, so both have the same intended effect.
Perhaps the biggest difference between both cycles is simply:
- The intent of each stage
- The length of each stage
- The information delivered at each stage
- The way the prospect is handled at each stage
Understanding best practices for each sales cycle and lifecycle marketing phase will allow you to engage with prospects and successfully nurture them into loyal advocates. Once you start treating it as more than just revenue, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with positive results.