Introduction to Sales: The Stages and Sales Funnel
If you build it, they will come’. Famous words from Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. And entirely not useful when it comes to starting your own business and learning sales basics. All too often, folks spend years crafting their product, to something approaching perfection.
And when they’re done, they have no-one waiting to buy it – if you’re going to build something, you’ve got to learn how to sell it.
We’re beyond (hopefully) the age of Wolf of Wall Street now, so sales basics has become something a little more intelligent these days. Books like The Challenger Sale & Never Split the Difference all point to methods of selling that ask for emotional intelligence & active listening. But it is repeatable, and once you understand the process, simple.
- Awareness – Use marketing & other approaches to make prospects aware of what you do
- Consideration (Discovery, Evaluation & Intent) – Build desire to buy with great content, user experience and customer testimonials
- Purchase – Prospects buy your product through a sales team, or via a website (self-service)
- Loyalty – Prospects get a great product, recommend you, and keep buying
A new business usually starts off fairly invisible. So, job number 1 – make people aware of what you do and who you are.
At this stage, your target customers could be categorised as prospects – people you want, but don’t yet want you. To avoid wasting time and money, do a basic exercise on identifying your ideal customer profile – you can get a template here.
For the most part, building awareness is a marketing activity. So if you’re a B2C business, you might use performance marketing (e.g. Google, Facebook ads) to get people to head over to your website. You could also look at ‘above the line’ options if you’ve got more cash (TV, radio, print advertising). If you’re B2B on the other hand, look into sending email or postal campaigns, calling relevant businesses, or turning up at events where your ideal prospects are likely to live. All of these cost different amounts and reach different audiences. Your job is to work out the best option for your business, and what you can afford.
Once they’ve started paying attention to you, prospects move into the Consideration phase.
Consideration - part 1
Here, a prospect has started to consider whether your product suits their needs or not. Perhaps they’ve signed up to your newsletter, or have subscribed to your YouTube channel. If they’re B2B, they’ve opened your emails and clicked on the links inside (you can usually track this with an affordable CRM tool).
If these prospects who areengaging match up with your target customers, they’re now marketing-qualified lead (MQL). A lead you know could buy from you.
You’ve got their details, so let’s start developing that relationship. Here are some things you can start emailing them, or directing them to, to build interest:
- Case studies of other happy customers
- Content that is relevant to their profile
- Content that preemptively handles objections an MQLcould have
You want to establish a sense of trust & credibility, then create desire by showing very clearly how your product lines up with them and what they represent.
Consideration - part 2
Right, now things are getting serious. Perhaps they’ve booked a meeting, or been sat with something in their basket. Go get ‘em.
If you’re a B2B startup with high average contract value, chances are this is when you’d want a salesperson to get involved. Set up a discovery call to establish the needs of the client and demonstrate how you meet them and more. Follow up with a proposal, presented to the right people in the business.
If you’re B2C, it’s more nuanced – when you’re selling something like luxury goods, it may be that a salesperson led approach is what the customer wants. If it’s buying a cheap watch online, you’ll want them to do it themselves. Marketing can manage this piece, yet again. Just think about how people like Booking.com do it by creating urgency (1500 people are viewing this right NOW!), offering credibility (Jeff’s been to the cottage and loves it) and good deals (Free breakfast included).
At this stage, particularly for B2B, your MQL is now a sales qualified lead (SQL). A viable opportunity exists, and the customer is the type of person we want to buy from us.
This is just an overview, but hopefully gives you a place to start. The earlier you build awareness, the faster you’ll have MQLs, SQLs, and then (hopefully) revenue to start realising. It’s not easy, but it can become simple and repeatable if you keep the funnel in mind.
Purchase & Champion
Once they’ve purchased (and closing a deal is a whole separate topic) the next challenge is getting them to become satisfied, loyal customers who love you.
Ultimately, that’s what creates inbound sales – people who come to you, not because of the spend on Google Ads, but because the community likes you and shouts about you. Many never get there but having champions should be a part of your long term strategy, as it compounds all of the work you do at the top of the funnel.
As an example, if you signed up 100 customers through Google Ads, and half of them recommended two people to your site, you’d end up with 200 customers. Perhaps you want to give them an incentive (get £10 off your next box), but either way, this lead is going to be far cheaper than ones you pay to acquire with Facebook marketing, or 30-minute ad on Channel 4.
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