Sales is one of the essential functions of any business. Your sales team plays the crucial role of converting prospects into happy, paying customers that contribute to the survival and growth of your business.
If you ask, most salespeople will say they love their job because it keeps them on their toes and has scope for creativity. Whether it is in B2B or B2C sales, no two customers are the same. Each customer has their own individual needs and motives. And remember, customers can be picky, impulsive, indecisive, impatient, unresponsive, or even suspicious at times.
Dealing with diverse customers requires salespeople to be flexible and adaptable. That’s where good sales reps use their creativity and smarts to get the desired results, irrespective of who their customers are.
With sales being extremely dynamic, sales teams can greatly benefit from a well-defined sales process.
What is a sales process?
A sales process is a set of important steps that your sales team can follow to complete a sales cycle. By following a sales process, your sales reps can take prospects from the stage of being aware or unaware of their needs, to paying for your offerings to meet these needs. Well-defined sales processes also provide the right actions to be performed at every stage to ensure deals do not fall through the cracks.
A sales process can act as a roadmap for your sales team to successfully move prospects through the necessary stages of the sales cycle till they are converted into customers. The best sales processes also include steps or stages that define how salespeople can keep customer relationships alive and thriving.
An ideal sales process is:
- Customer-centric: Today’s buyers are empowered with access to information and wider choices. Smart businesses align their sales process steps with their customers’ buying patterns and processes.
- Clear and actionable: Each stage and element of the sales process should be clearly understood by all stakeholders. Defining the necessary actions will eliminate ambiguity and the possibility of errors.
- Replicable: Any sales rep should be able to follow each step of the sales process as prescribed. Reps should also be able to apply the sales process or its individual steps in different sales scenarios.
- Predictable: The expected outcomes of each stage and the flow from one step to another should be predefined.
- Goal-oriented: The sales process should guide sales teams on how they can achieve their set goals.
- Measurable: You should be able to quantify all the actions and activities involved in the sales process to ensure compliance and enable improvement.
- Flexible: Rigidity does not allow improvement. The sales process should be adaptable to changing business and customer needs, technological enhancements, or alterations in sales operations.
Following a sales process may seem like a no-brainer but surprisingly many sales reps don’t. And while top reps may close deals easily, most sales reps do need some guidance to avoid common sales mistakes that may delay or drown deals. Often these mistakes include missing crucial sales process steps.
Why should you establish a sales process?
Imagine a sales process as a road map that guides your sales team in transforming potential leads into loyal customers. Without this map, the efforts of your marketing team to generate leads would be wasted.
Implementing a standardised sales process offers numerous benefits, including enabling inexperienced representatives to quickly grasp best practices and understand how to navigate various stages of the sales cycle.
A well-designed sales process leads to increased profitability. Equipping your sales team with a structured framework provides them with an efficient road map to successfully close deals. To delve deeper into the importance of sales processes and learn about their “what,” “how,” and “why,” take a look at this informative video.
Now that you understand the concept and significance of a sales process, let’s explore the typical stages or steps involved in such a process.
Why is a sales process important for your sales team?
If your sales team does not follow a sales process, the only metric your sales managers can measure is the number of deals closed and their value. In this case, there is no way for you to know exactly what went wrong, and where, when your sales team misses quotas.
Having a sales process in place allows you to track your team’s performance at every stage of the sales cycle and help them improve accordingly. For instance, you may find that your sales team is great at delivering pitches but struggle with objection handling. Now, you can provide them with more guidance and training to tackle objections better.
Here are some more benefits of implementing a sales process:
- Stay on track: As mentioned earlier, a sales process can guide sales teams to always follow all the right steps for converting a prospect quickly and easily.
- Better understand prospects: A sales process includes prospect research; so in following a sales process, your sales team is more likely to invest time in research. This will help them understand who the prospects are and what they may be looking for. An effective sales process also outlines buyer personas and ideal customer profiles, helping sales reps identify those most likely to convert.
- Focus on qualified leads: Sales reps can then dedicate their time and effort towards engaging prospects with higher potential to convert. By prioritising highly qualified leads, sales reps can increase their chances of closing more deals in less time, and possibly reduce the overall sales cycle duration too.
- Accurately forecast sales: Knowing at which stage of the process each sales reps is in can help management forecast sales more accurately. You can predict how many deals can possibly be closed in a given time frame and set more realistic quotas.
- Follow up in a timely manner: Continuous engagement is crucial to moving deals forward. A sales process can ensure that reps always follow up with prospects in the right moments and channels to keep them interested.
- Enhance customer experience: Sometimes, reps are eager to close deals and may rush prospects to close. When prospects are not ready for the next step, they may get confused, develop distrust, or simply drop the deal. A sales process ensures that reps follow the necessary steps to gradually move prospects towards a purchase while keeping their buying behaviour and expectations in mind.
- Get new reps up to speed: A well-defined and consistent sales process makes it easier for new sales reps to understand the company’s processes and get up to speed rapidly.
Following a sales process also allows sales managers to divert their focus from micro-managing their team to more high-value tasks such as planning and strategising, assigning work to the right reps, managing the team’s performance, etc.
Sales process vs sales methodology: What’s the difference?
The terms sales process and sales methodology are often used interchangeably. However, the two are different aspects of the sales function.
A sales methodology is a codified ideology or philosophy that guides salespeople through various stages in the sales process. It reflects the company’s values, mission, culture, and vision. The sales process, on the other hand, is a series of repeatable steps that is followed to lead prospects towards becoming customers.
Put simply, a sales process provides salespeople guidance on which steps they should take to close a sale, whereas a sales methodology gives them guidance on how these steps should be taken.
The sales process flowchart
A sales process can be depicted in pictorial form as well – called a sales process flowchart – to show the progression of the sales process steps. The sales process flowchart should list all steps in chronological order and could also highlight key activities to be undertaken within each step.
A sales process flowchart will help salespeople clearly visualise the sales process and better plan their outreach.
Note: The sales process flowchart illustrated above is a template; sales managers can modify it to suit the specific needs of their sales goals and operations.
The 7-step sales process
A typical sales process progresses from prospecting to collecting feedback and nurturing the customer-supplier relationship. Here’s how each step can go:
Prospecting involves finding new sales leads. As the first step in the sales process, prospecting is incredibly important, as it determines how the rest of the steps will follow. Prospecting properly can ensure wins and prevent sales reps from investing in prospects that may drop off somewhere along the sales process.
To identify the right prospects, create buyer personas and ideal customer profiles based on people who have already bought from you in the past, and articulate why they did. Understand the challenges prospects face, and how you can position your offerings as a solution for their most pressing pain points.
Salespeople can use various online and offline tools for prospecting. Online tools include emailing, and social selling through platforms like LinkedIn. Offline tools include cold calling, conferences or webinars, trade expos, and industry events. Savvy sales reps also try to generate referral leads through current customers.
The next step in the sales process should be connecting with prospects and figuring out whether your offerings are a good fit for them or not. Also, determine if it would be fruitful to take them through the rest of the sales process. A sales rep can connect with a lead over a discovery call or email to find out:
- What role they play in their company
- What their day-to-day responsibilities include
- What problems they are looking to solve
- Why solving the problem is important for their business
- Other solutions they are considering
You can use a sales qualification method to ensure that the prospects you are pursuing are likely to buy from you.
At this stage, the sales rep must learn more about the prospect. Such research allows them to put themselves in the prospect’s shoes and understand their problems and needs better. This, in turn, allows reps to tailor their sales pitches – positioning their offerings as the solution. The research a sales rep conducts must be deep and multifaceted.
Once the salesperson is confident that they know enough to truly understand the prospect’s needs, they can run a formal demonstration of the offerings for the prospect. Each demonstration or pitch must be tailored to satisfy the prospect’s particular use case. For certain types of offerings, such as technological solutions, a salesperson might also consider collaborating with an engineer who can answer any technical questions on the pitch.
Pitching is a time-consuming step, which is why the step of qualifying leads is so important. Salespeople’s precious time shouldn’t be spent on pitching to prospects that are unlikely to convert to actual sales.
5. Objection handling
It is natural for prospects to have questions and concerns about your offerings. This is an important step in the sales process that can make or break a deal. If your reps can successfully answer all the questions and allay prospects’ fears, it’s easier to close the deal without any hiccups. Reps should anticipate and prepare for common objections such as:
- We don’t have the budget currently. Is there a more economical version of your product we can buy?
- Your competitor is offering more features at a lower price.
- I don’t understand how your offering can help me achieve my business goals.
In fact, salespeople should use the lead qualification and research stages to identify all possible objections the prospect could raise and prepare responses to them. Handling objections gives salespeople the opportunity to solidify the prospect’s understanding of how your offerings are the best solution.
This is the stage every sales rep hopes to cross. Closing a sale depends on various processes that need to be completed for a sale to be considered closed – submitting a quote, final negotiations, signing the contract and other important documents, etc. If the close does not go as planned, sales reps should put the prospect on a nurturing program to re-engage them in the future.
7. Nurturing and continuing to sell
The sales process does not end with closing a sale. Once the prospect turns into a customer, they can be passed on to an account manager or customer success representative to initiate the onboarding process.
A salesperson should continue to communicate with the customer about things like post-sales assistance that they may need. Nurturing a relationship with the customer will give the salesperson opportunities to cross-sell and upsell, as well as get qualified referrals through the customer.
How to create a sales process
If you are building a formal sales process for the first time, ensure that it is flexible and aligns with your customers’ buying journey. To map your sales process, go through the steps followed by your sales team. Try to understand how each of these steps affect the stakeholders – business, sales team, customers – to find what works, what doesn’t work, and how these steps help you achieve your business goals.
Here are five simple steps to start mapping a sales process:
1. Work backwards from your goal
To find the best route to your destination, define where you want to go. This means, to know the steps you must include in your sales process, you should define what you want to achieve at the end of each step or stage.
For instance, you can start with goals like reducing sales cycle duration or increasing your win rates by a few percentage points.
2. Involve all internal stakeholders
While defining goals for your sales teams, it is important to involve them and any other department or team member that has an impact on sales – such as the marketing or product design teams.
Share the defined goals with them and get their inputs on whether these work or need improvement. Getting all these stakeholders on the same page also ensures that their processes and activities ultimately align with your sales goals.
3. Define the sales process steps
To start with, you can use a sales process flowchart template like the one above to see which steps are followed (or should be followed) by your sales team. Remember, the order and elements of each step of your sales process will depend on your business type, industry, offerings, typical customer journeys, etc.
When mapping your sales process steps, think about:
- Which steps have been effective in the past
- Which steps did not seem to add much value
- Which stages do prospects usually drop off in
- How long it usually takes your sales team to progress from one step to another
- Which teams can contribute (and how) during each sales process step
4. Align with the buyer journey
Now you have a skeleton of the rough sales process your team follows. Against each sales process step here, write down the actions that your customers typically take. This could be for one or multiple customer personas. Doing this can help you determine how tightly aligned your sales process is with the actual buyer journey and how you can bring more harmony between the two.
5. Try, test, and tweak
Once you have created a concrete sales process, implement and measure it. As your sales reps follow the process, they should measure what’s working, what isn’t, and how your prospects respond to each element of the sales process steps. With time, you will be able to identify areas of strength and improvement. Gradually tweak the process until you start seeing the desired results.
A sales process can also help you understand what sort of tools and technologies your sales teams need to be more efficient and productive.
Common Mistakes in Sales Process Development
To ensure the creation of an effective sales process that benefits both your team and customers, it’s important to avoid common mistakes. Here are some key errors to steer clear of:
Lack of Specificity in Sales Process Steps:
- Defining clear and concrete actions that propel prospects through each stage of the process is crucial. Without identifying these triggers, your sales team may misunderstand what works or doesn’t work for prospects, potentially leading to mishandling of certain steps. Document and share the sales process with your team, practicing it through role-play exercises to reinforce key techniques.
Relying Solely on One Sales Methodology:
- While some teams adhere strictly to one sales methodology, it can be beneficial to study and incorporate useful elements from multiple methodologies. Stay informed about new trends and changes in buyer preferences, adjusting your approach accordingly as business and customer needs evolve.
Neglecting Continuous Improvement:
- Remember that your sales process is a perpetual work in progress. Regularly measure your success and conduct check-ins with your sales representatives to identify any significant issues or concerns. By continuously developing and refining your sales process, you can streamline your work and enhance customer interactions.
Misalignment of Sales Plays with Sales Process:
- Creating a sales process is ineffective if your sales plays (actions taken by reps at each step) are not aligned with the process. Document the specific plays involved in each stage for future reference. Consider creating a sales playbook, which can be a formal PDF document or a tool like Sales Hub, where plays such as prospecting emails can be stored and accessed by your entire team. Aligning sales plays with the sales process increases efficiency and effectiveness.
Overlooking Marketing Collaboration:
- Marketing should be aware of what’s happening in your sales organisation, including successful closing ratios, profitable industries, and potential market segments. This knowledge enables marketing to support each stage of the process by providing better prospects and lead nurturing materials. Regular communication and alignment between marketing and sales are essential for creating a profitable sales process. Consider scheduling monthly meetings or using an all-in-one solution like HubSpot, which combines marketing and sales tools in one platform.
Focusing Solely on Closing Deals:
- While closing deals is the ultimate goal, prioritise delivering value at every step of the sales process. Even if a prospect seems uninterested in making a purchase, continue providing value if your product can address their business needs. Research each prospect’s challenges to deliver a compelling pitch that highlights your solution’s benefits. Centering your process on providing value throughout fosters stronger relationships and increases the likelihood of closing deals.
Failure to Measure Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):
- Not tracking essential sales metrics or measuring KPIs can render your sales process ineffective. Ensure you measure KPIs after developing or adjusting your sales process to gain insights into what’s working well and what needs improvement. While numbers shouldn’t be the sole focus, tracking KPIs helps you understand your performance. Utilise a sales dashboard or your CRM’s performance metrics to monitor and adjust your sales process accordingly.
How to improve your sales process
A flexible sales process allows you to continuously improve it to fit changing needs and goals. Remember, what has worked for you in the past may not work now. The basic structure of the process you follow doesn’t have to change completely or become complicated. Just look at the stages and elements that can be improved to make each step more effective.
Follow these best practices to constantly improve your sales process:
1. Observe your current sales process
Just as you did when first creating a sales process, dissect your current process to know where change is needed and how you can help your sales team do better. You can sit through calls with prospects or listen to the last 10 calls to know how your reps deal with prospects in practice.
2. Develop and share best practices
Gather best practices from industry experts and even your own top reps. By understanding what the top performers are doing right, you can replicate it across your entire sales team to maximise their output.
3. Look at your processes from the buyer’s perspective
Does your sales process align with your ideal buyer’s discovery and buying journey? Do you understand their challenges and why they are looking for an offering like yours? Understanding these things can help you shape your sales process in such a way that your team has all the information and tools they need to establish strong connections and pitch your offerings to suit buyers’ needs.
4. Look into pipeline challenges
To know why deals are getting stuck in your pipeline, you need to understand where your sales reps are struggling. They may not always come to you with their challenges, so ask them and take quick action to resolve bottlenecks.
5. Provide actions to further sales process steps
Identify the triggers that compel prospects to move to the next stage of the sales cycle. It can be anything from mentioning their pain points at the right time to addressing their objections satisfactorily.
6. Equip sales teams with the right resources
There are numerous sales enablement tools and intelligent customer management solutions that can help your sales team efficiently follow the sales process to close more deals faster.
7. Constantly measure the result
As mentioned earlier, the key to perfecting your sales process is by measuring the right metrics to see where the process can be tweaked to optimise efficiency.
Check out the next section to know how.
Measuring the success of your sales process
With your sales process in place, you are set to close more deals faster. Now, to be able to improve the process over time, start by measuring the following metrics:
- Conversion rates: Measure the time and effort it takes to convert leads into prospects and prospects into paying customers. This will tell you how well your sales reps are handling actions such as presenting demos or addressing objections.
Tip: Automate parts of your sales cadence that can reduce your sales team’s efforts while optimising their effectiveness at every stage.
- Sales cycle duration
This metric tells you how long it typically takes your sales team to convert leads into customers. An effective sales process should be able to ease the buying process, directly reducing the cycle duration.
- Sales quota achieved
Whether you measure individual or collective sales quotas achieved, this metric can help you identify challenges that can be resolved to increase your sales team’s output.
- Adoption of the sales process
Measure how many reps are following the sales process closely. This is very important to grow your revenue systematically.
Tip: Get feedback from your sales team on how you can improve the sales process to suit their needs.
- Forecast accuracy
The more accurate your sales forecasts are, the more confident your sales team is about the sales process.
Tip: If your sales forecasts do not match the actual results, go back to rethinking and improving your sales process further.
Implementing your sales process to grow faster
Creating and following a flexible sales process can determine your sales team’s performance to a great extent. A sales process can ensure that your entire sales team has a consistent, effective playbook to guide them at every step. This means your sales reps can provide a consistent experience to every prospect and customer, regardless of the sales stage they are at.
- What are the 7 steps in the sales process?
The 7-steps to the sales process are:
- Handling objections.
- What is sales process simple?
A sales process is a systematic and structured approach that outlines the steps taken by salespeople to convert leads into customers. It provides a clear road map of actions to be executed in a specific order. Although the exact steps and sequence may vary across organisations, sales processes generally follow a consistent format.
- What is the main process of sales?
The sales process, often called the sales cycle, represents the systematic approach your company takes to sell its products or services to customers successfully. It encompasses a series of well-defined steps, starting from the initial contact with a lead and culminating in the final sale. Similar to building a relationship with a new acquaintance, the sales process aims to establish rapport and guide prospects towards becoming satisfied customers.