Customer cycles or sales funnels?

"The top salesperson in the organization probably missed more sales than 90% of the sales people on the team, but they also made more calls than the others made."
                                                                                    ~Zig Ziglar

The difference between a customer journey and a sales funnel - is your perception of either.  Inexperienced sales rookies are coached to label what phase their customer is at in their buying cycle by their management and/or organization.  The most definitive one you tend to see is divided into thirds .... commonly referred to as "the sales funnel".





The top third and widest with the most numbers is "Suspects".   Otherwise referenced as leads.  You are at the beginning, likely haven't met with a decision maker, or even understand why or how they buy.  They  have been identified as a potential customer by:

  1. Cold calls
  2. Lead generation
  3. Referrals

The second tier is "Prospects" or called opportunities.   Are a mid-volume of numbers.  Prospects have moved from being a "Suspect" to a "Prospect" because they have been qualified.  The sales professional has identified them as a potential customer from a number of avenues: 

  1. Web contact inquiry contact 
  2. Inbound telephone call asking questions 
  3. Internal leads:  referrals, heads up or personal recommendations
  4. That first meeting, cold call
  5. They've been identified as having a need that your company can fill
  6. Follow up from cold call, or investigative meeting
  7. Someone has read or shared information that shows where growth may be
  8. Knowledge of key players are:  decision maker, influencer, user, authority, payment
  9. They have the ability to pay for your service or product
  10. Who you are speaking to has  the authority to make a decision to move forward or will simply be making a recommendation or gathering prices
  11. What internal endorsement is required to proceed with providing a solution, quote or proposal or be established as a vendor, provider or partner
  12. A decision will or can be made based on the need you can fill

The final third tier is "Customers".   These are the fewest numbers.  They have traveled through the funnel to arrive at a transaction, contract or agreement to buy.  They have satisfied your organizations criteria to do business or you have met their's:

  1. Set up an account: met credit requirements:  credit check, references
  2. Have the ability to pay:  financial resources, how or when and authorized by someone
  3. You have identified that your prospect wants or is willing to pay for your service or product
  4. You understand their buying frequency:  one time, annual, intermittent, monthly, daily, etc.
  5. You understand how they work and how to work them within your own system or processes ... sometimes customized
  6. You know their structure and where they may buy from:  global, national, or local 
  7. They have issued a purchase order (PO#), requisition or cheque to buy
  8. You have broken them down by value to your organization:  major account, corporate, enterprise, business, entrepreneur, consumer
  9. You have systems or structure to match their buying:  an account executive, major account representative, territory manager, sales representative, customer service
  10. You have adapted your structure to mirror your customer's behavior:  single point of contact on major accounts or enterprise sales, business to business local or global points of contact, order forms, web order systems, incoming telephone orders, fax'd orders (forms), catalogue, directories


The most successful sales professionals or sales oriented organizations match their behavior or identity system to that of the potential customer.  They understand where their customer is in the buying cycle:

  1. Research
  2. Information gathering
  3. Price shopping
  4. Vendor qualification
  5. Who can provide the desired product or service to match what they think they want
  6. Criteria outlined on how they will decide to act (make a purchase)
  7. Established approved list of vendors or providers authorized to be purchased from
  8. Budget accounted for
  9. Approval process (by transaction or by location or by authority)
  10. Payment structure
  11. Review structure 
  12. Service structure
  13. Support to maintain orders
  14. Ability to meet needs
  15. Reputation to meet requirements or identify unknown needs and proactively fix gaps
  16. Established trust



How you identify where you are at is important to create a language among your team as to where you are at in a sale:  are you on a fishing expedition or are you assembling your team of resources to put all heads together to put together a win-win proposal?


"If eighty percent of your sales come from twenty percent of all your items, just carry those twenty percent."
                                                         ~Henry A. Kissinger

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems have these areas identified and can populate into graphs or graphic funnels to help those:

  1. Forecasting potential revenue, profit margins, marketing efforts
  2. Budget resources:  people, equipment, processes, tools, systems, 
  3. Have all the systems and resources in place or easily activated responses
  4. Policies and procedures in place for escalations or when things go wrong or extra assistance required for customer are in place
  5. People resources match customer orders:  equated to response time, hours of operation, scheduling

It is the footprint of your sales efforts success:  as both an organization and the customer facing personnel status in the customer's buying cycle.  I recommend that you break it down into bite size chunks so that they can be addressed.  If you are writing a business plan, a key component is answering:  "where and how will you get or retain customers?".  This should be long before you are looking for investors or financing to launch or continue operations.  I liked this diagram via Google by Andrea Callahan:


Ironically, most start ups and entrepreneurs gear up on marketing, outbound campaigns, telemarketing, sales coverage long before they have answered any of the above.  It can easily foreshadow failure over success.  Yes, you need to walk before you run.  However, assembling and identifying who are suspects, prospects and customers and where they are in the funnel, and the numbers associated with those numbers, clearly outlines the road map to monitor and manage growth.



It takes patience, practice and precision to be able to do this automatically.  The more adaptive or fluid you are in meeting demands are going to allow you to pinpoint the when, who and how to focus on your grow and ability to flourish.  If you recognize how you will move and keep pace with your customers at their speed, not your own, will signal a mature organization with a clear understanding on who is their customer and how great the relationship can be.


"Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says: 'Make me feel important.' Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life."
~Mary Kay Ash









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