Many manufacturers act as if the sales cycle starts when they have the opportunity to provide a quote. This can work well for distributors or firms that practice e-commerce. In those instances, the decision to buy can happen in mere minutes—even seconds.
For most manufacturers, though, a sales transaction generally does not happen that quickly. Buying decisions happen over months, not minutes. And leads—or potential customers who have expressed interest in your company—must be carefully nurtured throughout the sales cycle and beyond.
In fact, the sales process for most manufacturers is so long and complex, it actually has distinct stages that sales teams should follow. Understanding the customer’s buying process—and how sellers can meet their needs—can help businesses grow their customer bases and increase their sales.
The exact buying process customers follow varies from business to business and industry to industry. But in general, there are four main stages. They are:
1. Awareness. In this stage, customers are just beginning to understand their needs and identify potential suppliers. They do not know about all the options that are available or even which solutions or suppliers are the best fit for them.
2. Interest. Once customers have defined the problem they are facing, they are likely to begin contacting suppliers to investigate options. At this stage, they are ready to set up a call to learn more.
3. Evaluation. After customers have met with potential suppliers, they are able to start evaluating possible alternatives and the risks associated with each. They generally have a short list of suppliers they are considering. This is typically the point at which a customer will ask for a quote. Note that this is already late in the buyer’s cycle. The most successful companies have already started engaging the customer much earlier in the process.
4. Conversion. Conversion occurs after making the initial sale to a customer. One might think that the sales process ends here—but that is not usually the case. A single sale is generally not a seller’s ultimate goal. Most companies want to turn one-time sales into repeat business—and to do that, they need to continue to nurture the customer over time.
Remember, not every customer who enters a sales pipeline will make it all the way through to a sale and repeat business. The most critical thing these stages should make clear is that in the B2B world, “sales” isn’t just one specific activity. It is more than providing a quote to a customer. It’s a process, and the goal is to move the customer into the next step.
If a seller is persistent at engaging customers early, moving them through the process, and nurturing them after a sale and beyond, they will be more successful at adding new customers—and ultimately, generating repeat business.