A key component in the effectiveness of salespeople is the sales cycle. The sales cycle—how long it takes to close a sale—can be measured in steps, in days, or in months. As Figure 13.9 The Sales Cycle shows, the sales cycle is depicted as a funnel because not all the people and firms a salesperson talks to will become buyers. In fact, most of them won’t.
The cycle starts with a lead, which is nothing more than contact information of someone who might be interested in the salesperson’s product. To follow up on the lead, the salesperson might phone or drop by to see the person identified in the lead. This beginning of the sales process is called the approach. During the approach, the salesperson introduces himself or herself and his or her company to the buyer. If the buyer shows interest, the salesperson then moves to the next step in the sales process.
A suspect is a person or organization that has an interest in an offering, but it is too early to tell what or if they are going to buy. They’ve agreed to meet with the salesperson and will possibly listen to the sales script or participate in a needs-identification process. During the needs-identification stage, the salesperson is trying to qualify the account as a prospect. Qualifying a prospect is a process of asking questions to determine whether the buyer is likely to become a customer. A prospect is someone with the budget, authority, need, and time (BANT) to make a purchase. In other words, the person has the money to make the purchase and the authority to do so; the person also needs the type of product the salesperson is selling and is going to buy such a product soon.
Once the purchase has been made, the sales cycle is complete. If the relationship between the company and the buyer is one that will be ongoing, the buyer is considered one of the salesperson’s “accounts.” Note that the buyer made a decision each step of the way in the cycle, thereby moving further down the funnel. She decided to consider what the salesperson was selling and became a suspect. She then decided to buy something and became a prospect. Lastly, she decided to buy the salesperson’s product and became a customer.