How can your sales team turn prospects into customers, and then customers into loyal fans? It’s the million-dollar (or billion-dollar, depending on the company) question every business asks. Every successful company has a different answer, but whether they expressly say it or not, their sales process likely drives the majority of their revenue.

The sales process is a set of steps professionals take to connect with customers and bring them closer to making a purchase. While many businesses create a unique or proprietary process for getting prospects to convert, most have a few things in common.

Since sales are the foundation for generating profit, optimizing the steps in your sales process can be the difference between throwing time and money at ineffective strategies and rocketing past last year’s sales projections. However, simply having a process isn’t enough. Top sales teams document their process, use technology to streamline and scale, and constantly make tweaks and refinements to squeeze even more efficiency from it.

Every business needs a sales process. In fact, every company that has ever made a sale already has a process, whether it’s documented or not. Your organization may call the process a sales funnel or, collectively, sales procedures, and you may have a sales process map or flowchart to help walk your team through it. Companies that have a clear, formalized sales process are more competitive than those that don’t; they may see 18 per cent more revenue than those that don’t, and there are a variety of reasons why.
Having a sales process flow chart or other visualization allows your entire team to use proven tactics from day one. Reps can quickly learn and implement your entire sales process because procedures are already laid out in an easy-to-reference format.
Companies that formalize their process with documentation likely find it easier to break down silos between sales, marketing, and customer service departments. Easier collaboration helps companies present consistent messaging throughout the customer experience, which improves branding and retention.
A formalized process that employs consistent terminology and tactics also helps companies track data more easily and accurately, which can lead to better forecasting.
The Salesforce 2018 State of Sales report suggests that 63 per cent of sales reps spend too much time on non-selling tasks, such as looking for the right data. Teams that track and organize data more efficiently, however, can better pinpoint which steps are moving prospects smoothly through the sales funnel, and which are causing friction for potential customers.
The possibilities for specific tactics and procedures to include in your sales process are about as varied as the companies that use them. That said, most companies follow these basic steps in their sales processes.
There are two sides to the research coin. First, sales pros learn all about their products and company to answer questions like, “What makes our offer unique?” and “Who would benefit from this product most?” On the flip side, sales teams research potential customers, compiling data and creating customer profiles. Using this information, managers can prepare materials such as sales scripts and pitch decks.
Prospecting is the process of finding, developing, and qualifying sales leads. This step can include collecting contact information from website visitors, nurturing leads with email campaigns, and tracking touchpoints to gauge where prospects are in the customer journey. This will tell you which leads are more likely to convert so your sales team can allocate resources most effectively.
Assessing a prospect’s needs begins in the qualifying process, but further communications such as sales calls, emails, or in-person meetings allow for further understanding. In fact, most prospects require seven to 13 (or more) touch points before they buy. During early sales interactions, successful reps create low-pressure situations in which they do far more listening than talking in order to understand a prospect’s needs.
Once prospects reveal their needs, concerns, budgets, and other considerations, it’s time to make the pitch. While having a template prepared for this step can help save time, top performers still tailor pitches to each prospect.
In many cases, salespeople can discover and proactively address objections earlier in the sales process, but some objections may not arise until a prospect is on the verge of making a purchase. Since objections often include concerns like efficacy and quality, salespeople may offer testimonials, guarantees, or other assurances at this stage.
For B2C businesses, closing the sale may be as simple as the prospect going through the checkout process and paying for their purchases. For B2B companies, or if the purchase is especially large or complex, closing can involve drawing up a proposal or sales quote, reviewing it in detail, and going through several rounds of negotiations.

After a successful sale, top performers check in with customers to ensure satisfaction and keep customers updated with new offers, services, and help. This is also the perfect time to ask for testimonials and referrals, while also assessing the need for additional services.

Even after an unsuccessful sale, many sales pros can still ask for referral business. After all, the prospect may know someone who needs the same product or service. Depending on the final objection, too, it may be possible to schedule re-engagement with the prospect later, when the objection no longer applies.

Documenting the sales process can take a company’s close rates and revenue to a whole new level, but that only happens when that process is tailored to the company. The best place to start is right where you are.

Established companies begin creating a formal sales process by documenting the tactics they’re already using and placing them in the corresponding sales steps from the list above. They also collect any related performance data.

Startups that have yet to make a sale should begin by researching how similar or competing companies sell. Then they can alter those tactics based on the methodology that seems appropriate for their unique business.

The sales methodology your company chooses to follow should inform which tactics your sales team will use, and which they won’t. Whether you build a sales process from scratch or adapt one already in use, understanding the methodology behind each tactic is critical for maximizing success. It will also help you frame and prevent failures. Depending on market conditions and your industry, branding, customers, and products, different methodologies may be appropriate for each portion of the process.
How will you know if your sales process is successful? Closing deals is one way, but simply keeping a tally of successful sales won’t tell you whether your process could be better or, more importantly, how. You need analytics: Key performance indicators may include revenue per sale, average sales cycle length, how many new leads are generated, and the quality of those leads.
Another critical component of a successful sales process is ease of use. A trusty spreadsheet may have worked for sales reps in the past, but the complexities of customer expectations mean that filling cell after cell of steps and tactics is simply too time consuming and limiting. Instead, many companies use a customer relationship management (CRM) platform to build, implement, track, and refine their sales process.
Designing and implementing a sales process is a journey, not a destination. It takes time to collect data on the effectiveness of the current process, gain insights about what’s working and what isn’t, decide on a new course of action, and get a sales team refocused in a new direction. Since all this happens alongside changes in the market, development of new products and services, and technological innovation, sales managers should consider the act of refining their sales process a continual endeavor.

In the past, knocking on doors and spending hours on the phone were the best ways to sell. Maintaining relationships depended on an elephant-like memory for details and an instinct for reading a prospect’s mood and situation. Today, technology makes it easier to reach prospects digitally while maximizing time, tracking prospect details, and gaining insights into how well sales teams perform in repeatable, scalable ways.

CRM platforms allow sales teams to track touchpoints and collect data, while built-in artificial intelligence analyzes it and teams and individuals use the resulting reports and dashboards to figure out how to improve. Furthermore, CRM platforms with mobile technology let salespeople access crucial tools and communicate with prospects anytime and anywhere, while cloud storage makes it easy to align sales, marketing, and customer service for a better customer experience.

Since technology and other market factors change so rapidly, building scalability into the sales process is critical. Hiring more sales professionals every time leads surge isn’t possible or practical, so having the right technology in place to help manage the ebbs and flows is invaluable.

When hiring more salespeople is necessary, onboarding and training will be faster and easier with a carefully planned, well-documented sales process. Consider creating visual aids, such as a sales process map or flowchart, to help your team grasp the sales process at your business.

Today’s sales professionals face complex challenges. Having a documented process is the key to scaling and improving performance. If your company doesn’t have a formal sales process in place, take the time to create one.

 

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Kathryn Casna is a digital marketing and travel writer from San Diego, California.

Customer-facing retail, hospitality, and event production make up her professional roots. Today, she runs her own writing business from whatever new locale she happens to be exploring.