The sales funnel. The sales process. The sales choose your own adventure. Whatever your organisation calls the journey that you and your customers travel, from mysterious strangers to the very best of friends, having a clear and concise plan of attack is paramount to its success.
But defining it as a journey, a funnel or a process can imply that there is an end; that at some point the task will be complete. In reality, however, you want this adventure, this relationship, to go on forever. So what happens after you close? Where to then?
To find out we spoke Julia Wilson, General Manager of Marketics (Big Red Group), Gerard Yeterian, Head of Sales Expansion and Retention at hipages, and Andrew Fazzone, Partner Consultant at Receipt Bank; 3 experts whose careers, in one way or another, have been built on turning that sales journey, funnel or process into more of a sales cycle.
So, what do you do after a sale is closed? What do those next steps look like?
The stages of the sales cycle
Before we get into the whys, whats and hows of post-closure sales strategies, it’s important to first understand the basics of the sales process. The stages that form any given organisation’s process will vary, but inevitably follow the same basic framework, described here by Wilson of Marketics:
Prospecting: “To be successful in sales you can’t be scared to ask for intros and referrals to build a solid base of potential clients.”
Qualifying the prospects: “We know that our product isn’t for everyone. Chasing a client who is a bad fit is a waste of everyone’s time and energy.”
Arranging a meeting: “During this stage it’s key to persevere – the customer doesn’t know at this stage how much they need our product!”
Presenting: “Presentations must be a two-way conversation – if we aren’t learning as much about their business as they learn about our product, then it hasn’t been successful.”
Following up/objection handling: “By this stage they have had time to think it through, and you will know how keen they are by how many questions they ask. The more the better!”
Finalising: “I hate to refer to it as ‘closing’ a sale. At Marketics we’re more about nurturing and retaining than simply acquiring.”
And it’s the interpretation of this final stage that separates the sales process wheat from the chaff. The end point of your organisation’s sales process isn’t, in fact, an end point. It’s rather the beginning of a new cycle of the same process.
Closing the sale, not the relationship
Ideally, the sales cycle will always be the first interaction in a deep and long-lasting relationship with a customer. As Wilson notes, closing that first sale should be seen as simply “confirming of terms of operation for an ongoing partnership.”
The value of retaining customers has been demonstrated time and time again. According to the Harvard Business Review, acquiring a new customer can be anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive for your organisation than retaining an old one, and increasing your retention rates by just 5% can result in an increase of profits to the tune of 25% – 95%.
On top of making obvious fiscal sense, loyal customers can also provide a torrent of new customers to your organisation. “Trusted long terms partners are the ones who will refer you new business,” instructs Wilson. “They’re like the gift that keeps on giving.”
How to form a long-term partnership
A client will have been brought into your sales cycle because you provided a solution to a problem. But once that solution is delivered, how do you keep the relationship alive?
Retention may be relatively simple or rather difficult depending on the solution your organisation provides. A consumable product or service will generally be far easier to build a relationship around than a one-off purchase, as the client has reason to come back. But no matter your situation, there are a few strategies that you can employ in order to build relationships and foster loyalty from within your customer base.
Get to know your clients: The better you understand them, the better you’ll be able to service them.
Set customer expectations: Be clear about what you’re offering to avoid disappointment, and always aim to under-promise but over-deliver.
Facilitate easy communication: If you want to retain customers, you need to know when a customer is unhappy. Make communication as easy for them as possible by offering a system for providing feedback.
Anticipate their needs: Understanding your customers and listening to them will allow you to anticipate what they may need from you in the future. And if you can’t fill an anticipated need, develop solutions that will. “Try rebuilding the value of your product or service within your team” suggests Yeterian of hipages.
Setting retention processes in stone
The success of your post-closure sales process will rest on you having other processes firmly in place that focus on retention. Making the strategies outlined above an integral part of your sales cycle is the only way to systematically ensure that you develop long-term and rewarding relationships with every one of your customers.
“People fail to realise that investing time now in improving and automating their processes will ultimately benefit them in the future” says Fazzone of Receipt Bank. A stitch in time does indeed save nine.
As we’ve covered before, leading tech companies are beginning to change their idea of what the ideal salesperson looks like, and are searching for hires that understand the modern intricacies of tech sales. Knowing what to do with your customers after a sale is closed is an important aspect of this understanding, enhancing your employability – and subsequently your job prospects – in a big way.
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