From the September 2000 issue of Entrepreneur

Remember when you bought your last car? You probably didn't make the decision overnight. First, you started paying more attention to car commercials and ads, and then you looked at a few different models. Perhaps you did some research on the Internet and visited dealerships to check prices. When you were ready to buy, you completed the sale.

Your own business prospects move through the buying cycle in much the same way. At first, they know virtually nothing about your company, but over time, they become familiar with the benefits of your product or service-and eventually, they're ready to buy.

Every business owner needs a marketing program that involves customers from when they first start "kicking the tires" to when they offer their closing handshakes. And for most businesses, the sales cycle requires eight or more contacts with a prospect before a sale is closed. So to create a successful program, your sales cycle must be su