A very important aspect of the sales process/pipeline that is overlooked is not just the importance of which stage the client is in, but the milestones throughout the process. Before discussing the stages – let’s spend some time on the milestones as these shape the discussions within the stages.
There are 4 main milestones that exist within the sales process:
Target Becomes Prospect
Many sales people have lists of names of ‘ideal’ businesses. At this point these names are just targets. Many people protect these lists vigorously – but some actually struggle to act on them.
The first milestone is when this targets becomes a prospect. For this to happen you have to engaged with the target and open lines of communication with them to continue talking (however irregular). They can only become a prospect if you have this ability to continue to talk to them. If they say ‘go away’ – they remain a target until you enter regular communication to create value (the next stage).
Prospect Becomes Opportunity
Following continued discussion with your prospect and through creating and demonstrating value – one of two things should happen. You either figure out you can’t do business with the prospect (this is a very real part of the sales process and how you deal with this is important and discussed later) or, ideally, your prospect turns in to an Opportunity and permission to provide a proposal for their business – whether formally or not.
Opportunity Becomes Client
Then, ideally, you have demonstrated enough value to your prospect that they accept yor proposal and become your client. This is often the main focus for mainly businesses and sales managers – turning prospects in to clients.
What many forget is this isn’t the last milestone at all. The next milestone is often overlooked or forgotten – but is incredibly important.
Clients Become Advocates
Here, your new clients advocate your offering to others – whether unprovoked or at your asking. They endorse your credibility to others. This milestone is important for three main reasons. First, focusing on advocacy ensures a sales orientated business doesn’t forget the clients it won yesterday in lieu of the tomorrows targets. You deliver the promises made. Second, advocates continue to do business with you and stay with you. They form long term relationships around qualitative factors (like people) not just product, service and price. And, finally, they can fuel your pipeline. They will introduce and refer so others in their circle can experience the same service.
Milestones v Stages
It is always important to remember 2 things about the sales process:
- Milestones are important. Sure, the stage a client is in shapes how you should be interacting with a client but the milestone is the goal. The stage provides the direction, the milestone the destination.
- Don’t ever assume the sales pipeline finishes at ‘Client’ or ‘Deal Won’ – it doesn’t. Advocacy is the final step – and it lasts for a very very long time.
Don’t win clients or business, win advocates. Keep advocates. Focus on this milestone in the sales process and not only will you succeed in the long term, but your clients will as well.