Selling products and services to other businesses is a complex process. At the very least, you will need to reach out, build a working relationship, make a great pitch, and close the deal. All of these tasks are part of the B2B sales cycle.
In the real world, the sales cycle is actually more complicated than this. As a result, many businesses don’t quite get it right — leading to wasted effort and reduced sales.
If you would like to optimize your business-to-business sales process, you have clicked on the right link. In this article, we’re going to look at every key stage in the cycle and explain how you can make improvements.
In your sales department, everything that happens between first contact with a potential customer and your last follow-up is part of the B2B sales cycle.
How exactly you run your cycle can have a major impact on your sales results. A streamlined process should ensure you strike deals faster, leading to more revenue.
A well-constructed B2B sales cycle should also reduce the amount of pressure on your sales team, cut down on the number of leads who drop out of your sales pipeline, and allow sales managers to gauge progress over time.
While the exact shape of the B2B sales cycle varies, we can generally break it down into five key stages:
Before you make contact with any potential customer, it’s a good idea to do some research. Who are the decision makers? What are their likely pain points? Has the company recently raised money?
Answering these questions will help your salespeople to prepare for the next stage.
Once you have identified and researched a potential B2B buyer, the next step is to make contact. Prospecting can involve cold calling and cold emailing, sending a message via social media, or getting in touch with leads from your marketing funnel.
After the initial point of contact, your reps should be aiming to build trust — the foundation for stage three of your strategy.
Once you have introduced yourself and your product, the next step is pitching for business. This might be through a video meeting, in person, or over the phone.
Whichever approach you choose, success at this stage usually depends on delivering the right offer to the right person.
Once you have presented your pitch to a decision maker, your sales team needs to close the deal. When large contracts are at stake, this process can involve multiple follow-ups and conversations. Potential customers might raise some doubts during these meetings, which your reps will need to handle.
Assuming your team is able to land that initial deal, the sales cycle continues with follow-ups. Some customers may make a repeat purchase with a nudge from your sales team. You can also generate further sales by asking for referrals.
Progressing through the full B2B sales cycle can take anything from a few weeks to more than a year. But how long does the cycle typically last?
Data collected in 2018 by CSO Insights suggest that the cycle for new customers most commonly takes around 3–6 months to complete. For existing customers, the cycle takes around one month.
More recent studies by Hubspot have found that sales cycle length in the SaaS industry is very closely linked to annual contract value, or ACV.
When a lead has an ACV under $5,000, the cycle will last approximately 40 days on average. If the ACV is above $100,000, the cycle is more likely to last 170 days. That is five-and-a-half months.
In summary: the bigger the deal, the longer your cycle is likely to last.
Understanding the B2B sales cycle is an important step towards success. But if you really want to see your sales take off, it’s worth studying your current process and making adjustments.
Here are some of the changes you can make that will have the biggest impact on your sales performance.
The first step in improving your sales cycle is to define clearly how it works.
We don’t mean the theoretical structure. You need to speak to your sales reps and managers, and understand how the whole process unfolds in reality.
Along the way, you’re likely to uncover some areas that can be streamlined. Just as importantly, the overview you create will help your staff to make better sense of the cycle and their role within it. They may even be able to suggest improvements.
As we established earlier, cultivating a B2B client can be a time-consuming process. So, the last thing you need is your sales reps to be wasting time on people who are never going to buy.
This is why we highly recommend focusing on lead qualification within your B2B sales strategy.
In the prospecting phase, make sure that your reps are establishing the following facts:
- Does this contact have the authority to make purchasing decisions?
- Does their company have pain points that can be resolved using our product or service?
- Does the business have the budget to make a purchase?
Only a potential client who gives answers that fit your ideal buyer persona should be regarded as a qualified lead. Everyone else should be placed on a lower priority list.
If you want to become really efficient, it’s sometimes possible to answer these questions through research instead of making a call or sending an email.
From website visits to social media interactions, your marketing team may have a wealth of information on potential customers.
Yet all too often, data from lead generation isn’t passed across to sales staff when a lead enters the funnel. By keeping your marketing and sales teams in sync, you should ensure that the same questions don’t have to be repeated. This means that your sales team should forget questions like “How to track sales leads in Excel?” and fully embrace automation and sales tools.
Taking this measure will also mean that your sales staff are better prepared for meetings; some sales enablement platforms can even use online behavior to predict the best approach for sales reps to take.
One reason why the sales cycle can become overly long is that your sales reps can get a little lost in the process. When you’re on your sixth call with a particular client, it’s easy to forget what you’re trying to achieve.
The way to fix this issue is by setting clear goals.
Create a workflow for your sales team where every major action includes a goal. For instance, the task of making that first discovery call can be accompanied by the goal of booking a follow-up meeting.
Mapping out the buyer’s journey in this way will give you a better understanding of your sales process, and will help your sales team to conduct lead nurturing more efficiently.
In a broader sense, you might want to set up some KPIs. These give your team something to aim for, and they can help you to track sales performance over time.
You can contact potential clients on the phone, via email, on social media, through live chat, and even using direct mail.
But the truth is, you don’t need to use them all. In fact, you should avoid it.
We can’t tell you which channels to focus on, because the best options are defined by your business, your industry, your price point, and many other factors.
However, we can say that you should be narrowing down your channels to the best two or three. Spreading yourself any thinner almost guarantees that your staff will waste time.
Sure, using a less successful channel could unlock one or two clients who may have gone elsewhere. But at what cost? You might have spent the same time capturing three or four via your more successful channels.
When sales reps sleep at night, they dream about clients who glide through the buying process.
While this happens on occasion, the vast majority of new leads are likely to raise some objections or concerns along the way.
If you wait for these to surface organically, you get all the way to the closing stage, only to discover that your lead doesn’t like the price, or some other major part of your offer.
You may then have to spend some time on the phone trying to handle those concerns…or you might lose the lead altogether. And that means all the effort you have invested up to that point will go to waste.
So, we highly recommend that you get your sales staff to prompt every potential client, early in the sales cycle. Ask, “Is there anything about [your product] that might not work for you?”
It seems counterintuitive, but by raising these points during a call, your sales team has the opportunity to flatten the doubts. Plus, the client will feel more confident as you enter the business end of the sales cycle.
In the later stages of your B2B sales cycle, closing is the name of the game. The sooner you can turn an interested lead into a new customer, the sooner you can move on to the next hot prospect.
Obviously, delivering a honed sales pitch is important here. But perhaps the best way to speed things up and improve your conversion rate is by introducing social proof.
What is social proof? Essentially, it is any third-party resource that backs up your claims. It’s the “don’t just take my word for it” move.
Hit clients with case studies or customer success stories during the buying stage, and you are statistically far more likely to make a sale.
Alternatively, you could use online reviews and testimonials.
Not convinced? Check out these stats:
- 66% of potential buyers say they are most likely to be convinced to purchase a product because of positive reviews (Retail TouchPoints, 2020)
- 88% of consumers trust user reviews as much as personal recommendations
- 56% of B2B tech vendors utilize review sites for social proof (Liu, 2020; Sullivan-Hasson, 2020)
In other words, social proof is a very powerful tool when it comes to improving your B2B sales process.
All of the upgrades mentioned above relate to specific parts of your B2B sales cycle. However, there is one additional change you can make that should improve the entire process.
Introducing automation is one of the best ways to increase overall productivity in your sales department.
For example, you can:
- Reduce the burden of administrative tasks on your sales reps
- Reduce time spent on writing outreach emails by using templates
- Increase engagement with clients via automated email sequences and chatbots
- Get real-time insights and metrics to guide your pitch
- Gather ideal customer data with zero effort
- Research new leads faster
If you choose a good platform, your CRM should be able to help you with many of these automations, and Zapier is a good add-on tool to fill in the gaps.
But when it comes to lead research, you will probably want to use a more specialized tool.
When it comes to collecting contact information and other important details about new leads, Datanyze provides the ideal solution.
After you download our free Chrome extension, you can visit any LinkedIn profile or company page and find key data with a click.
Datanyze is powered by a database of 120 million professionals, which is fully compliant with GDPR and CCPA regulations. Just as importantly, all our information is verified for accuracy.
Every contact you research is added to your online account, where your whole team can access it. And it’s easy to export the data to your CRM, Salesforce, or whichever tools you use.
Want to give it a try? Sign up today to get your free 90-day trial!