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 supported by continuous marketing efforts that reach out to prospects in three stages: cold, warm and hot.
Cold prospects: These are either members of your particular target audience or companies you have placed on a list of prospects who know nothing about you.
Warm prospects: These most likely make up the bulk of the prospects that are in your company database. They are businesses or individuals who've been exposed to your marketing message but aren't completely ready to close.
Hot prospects: These are the prospects you've successfully moved through your sales cycle-cultivating them through multiple marketing contacts and sales efforts-or who have come to you as referrals with an expressed need for what your company offers. Personal selling in some form, whether face-to-face, on the phone or even via e-mail, is often all that's necessary to add the final heat to close the deal.