When you get right down to it, all businesses thrive on their ability to make sales.
Yes, companies do have to provide value to their customers. But, if a company isn’t able to sell their audience on the solution it offers, it really doesn’t matter how valuable that solution actually is.
(Your prospects can’t experience what they don’t purchase, right?)
Unfortunately, the majority of businesses openly admit that their sales game is subpar. According to Salesforce’s 2019 State of Sales report, 57% of companies surveyed said they were expecting to miss their sales quota by the end of the year.
When speaking with sales teams who had met their quota in previous years, CSO Insights found that 56% of these teams had something in common:
They all have a solid sales process in place to guide their efforts and lead them to success.
In the following post, you'll learn:
- What a sale process is
- The six main stages in the sales process
- The benefits in creating a sales process
- Strategies to help with developing & optimizing your sales process
- How to map your sales process
What is a Sales Process?
A sales process is a clearly-defined workflow through which your sales team (and various others) work to convert potential customers into actual buyers.
An organization’s sales process should be unique—taking into consideration the customer’s needs and expectations, as well as the organization’s capacity to provide for them.
The goal is to continually provide value to prospective customers at every touchpoint leading up to the sale. In doing so, you make it all the more likely that your prospects will take the leap and become paying customers.
As a quick note, a sales process is not the same as a sales methodology. A sales process refers to the “stages” your buyer goes through along their path to purchase. A sales methodology is the strategic and tactical approach your team takes when engaging with individuals throughout each of these stages.
While not synonymous, there’s a clear connection between the two: If you don’t have a solid sales process in place, it will be nearly impossible to determine the best strategies and tactics to use when nurturing prospects through the sales funnel.
That said, let’s take a look at the stages of the sales process.
What are the Stages of the Sales Process?
Though every sales process should be unique in various ways, they’re all generally made up of the following stages:
- Lead Generation and Sales Prospecting
- Lead Qualification
- Needs Analysis
- Solution Presentation
Here’s what each of these stages looks like:
Sales Process Stage #1: Lead Generation and Sales Prospecting
The initial stage of the sales process can actually take one of two forms, depending on your team’s goals and overall situation.
Though often used interchangeably, lead generation and sales prospecting are not the same thing. The main overall difference: Lead generation involves casting a wide net and bringing in bulk numbers of leads, while sales prospecting involves reaching out directly to individuals with the hope of bringing them aboard.
Lead generation is typically accomplished via mass-advertising and inbound marketing methods.
Here, your intent is to reach a wide, yet targeted audience, and pave the way for individual consumers to make the first contact.
Those that take this first step—such as signing up for your mailing list—will then officially be considered leads.
Sales prospecting, on the other hand, is accomplished via more individualized methods, such as cold-calling and cold-emailing.
Here, you’re aiming to generate awareness and interest amongst specific individuals who fit the mold of your target persona.
As we’ll discuss, this involves uncovering cold leads who appear similar in some way to your current high-value customers.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to choose between these methods based on your current needs and circumstances.
Lead generation is best used when your company can afford to play the long game—as it may take a while for you to accumulate the mass quantity of leads you intend to.
Sales prospecting, on the other hand, is best fit for companies looking to quickly uncover potential buyers and put them on the fast-track to conversion.
(As your company grows, though, you’ll eventually want to utilize both in tandem.)
In both cases, however, the goal at this stage is to generate awareness and interest amongst those who have a major need for your product or service—and who have a high probability of actually purchasing it.
Moreover, both lead generation and sales prospecting needs to be ongoing within your organization. The fact is, failure to consistently bring in leads is the number one reason businesses fail.
That said, any time you aren’t working on bringing in leads, you’re essentially contributing to the downfall of your company.
(If that sounds overly dramatic, it’s not. We repeat: An empty sales pipeline will cause your revenues to dry up, and will cause your business to fail.)
Sales Process Stage #2: Lead Qualification
To be sure, not every lead you generate during the initial stage of the sales process will end up converting.
(Really, the vast majority of them won’t.)
It’s crucial that you identify which leads show the highest likelihood of moving forward in their buyer’s journey—and filter out those who aren’t exactly the greatest fit for your company.
Focusing on poor-quality leads, of course, will only cause you to waste valuable time and money that you simply can’t get back.
In qualifying leads, you’ll want to ask and answer questions that shed light on how they and your organization “fit” together. Essentially, you want to know that they have a need for your services, and that your services can truly provide for these needs.
Of course, you’ll need to dig deep to determine whether or not that’s the case.
This is where lead qualification frameworks come in. Here, the goal is to get a fuller picture of your customer’s circumstances by asking them questions touching on a number of different issues.
Perhaps the most well-known of these frameworks is BANT, which stands for:
- Budget: Questions regarding the lead’s capacity to afford your solution
- Authority: Questions regarding your contact’s buying and decision-making power
- Need: Questions revolving around the lead’s current problems or issues that they’re looking to overcome
- Timeline: Questions about their expected time to resolution, value, etc.
In determining the answers to these questions from the earlier stages of your relationship, you’ll know whether or not a given lead is worth chasing before you’ve invested all that much into them in the first place.
Sales Process Stage #3: Needs Analysis
Once you’ve determined the more basic needs of a given lead—and confirmed that these needs do, in fact, line up with your services—you’ll want to get much more specific.
For example, you’ll want to know:
- The quantifiable and tangible growth your prospect is aiming to achieve
- Whether they’ve tried other solutions—and the extent to which these solutions worked or didn’t
- How they intend to use your solution within their organization
This, of course, will require engaging with the lead through a variety of methods. While you can use more formalized surveys and questionnaires to do so, it’s also important to understand the impact conversational marketing can have here.
With conversational marketing, you’ll be engaging with your leads in a more relaxed, personable manner—opening the door for them to provide much more info than they may have previously given you.
For one thing, they’ll be able to give more in-depth answers to your questions (as opposed to simply selecting the most appropriate of a set of responses).
What’s more, you’ll have the opportunity to go “off script” and dig deeper into certain areas whenever the conversation dictates.
Now, the point of conducting needs analysis isn’t to further qualify the lead; that’s already been done.
Rather, the goal is to collect as much information from them as you can, so that you’re able to come back to them with a sales pitch that addresses their specific needs—and gets them to take the final step toward conversion.
Sales Process Stage #4: Solution Presentation
This next stage of the sales process is where you get to show your product or service in action to a potential buyer.
As mentioned, you’ll want to have tailored this presentation to each individual prospect you work with.
This way, you can be confident that you hit the points they need to hear to spur them to action—and also that you don’t waste time talking about features or functions they don’t care about.
Such presentations typically take the form of guided demonstrations and/or tours of the solution in question. They can be done in-person when possible, but are often given digitally (via video chat, screen sharing, etc.). In either case, solution presentations must be given live.
Repeat after me: A recorded demo is not a solution presentation.
Your presentations should follow an overall blueprint to ensure you’ve covered everything you aimed to.
- Set the stage for your presentation by reviewing your engagements thus far, reviewing their needs, and explaining the process to come.
- Provide a walkthrough of your product or service, focusing specifically on the features that are integral to your target’s use cases.
- Allow for questions and comments, and address them accordingly. If you need to circle back, give them a timeline for doing so.
- Detail the next steps of the process, and prompt the prospect to take action (by either starting closing processes or scheduling a follow-up conversation)
No matter what the prospect decides to do, there’s still one more step before you actually start closing.
Sales Process Stage #5: Negotiations
Unless your presentation completely floors your prospect, chances are they aren’t going to jump right to making a purchase just yet.
Instead, they’ll likely come back to you with a number of hesitations and reservations regarding your offer—be it on price, value, or anything in between.
Once you enter this negotiation stage, there are a number of things you’ll need to do.
First, you need to define the framework for the negotiations to take place. This means defining:
- What is and is not on the table for discussion
- The logistics of how and when this discussion will take place
- What the next steps will be, given either a positive or negative outcome
During negotiations, both parties should be aiming to better understand the other’s situation and perspective. This means you’ll need to provide information that clarifies and supports your position, while also asking your counterpart to do the same.
From there, you’ll work to come to a consensus—that is, a point of agreement in which both parties receive the most value possible (while only conceding that which they are comfortable with).
From the seller’s perspective, this means identifying the prospect’s “sweet spot”—that is, the maximum amount they’re happily willing to spend to receive the services you provide.
Sales Process Stage #6: Closing
At this point of the sales process, it may seem like sealing the deal is a sure thing.
Unfortunately, that's not always the case....Your prospect may back out at the last minute; a technical or logistical glitch might interrupt the process (and make your prospect think twice); or, your once red-hot lead may cool off, and no longer be all that keen on your solution.
While there are a number of effective ways to close a sale, they all revolve around keeping the prospect interested and taking active steps toward a purchase.
This means providing clear instruction as to what they need to do next—and delivering specific prompts to keep them focused on moving forward.
It's important to remember that just because you're at the closing stage, you aren't guaranteed to actually close the sale. Failing this late in the game means months of time-consuming and costly work being thrown away as well as losing revenue for your company which is why you want to do everything you can to streamline a customer's path to purchase.
Why Should You Create a Sales Process?
Given two choices—to have, or not to have, a sales process in place—it’s pretty obvious that the latter trumps the former every time.
(After all, a standardized and strategic approach to anything always beats a haphazard approach, right?)
Still, let’s take a closer look at exactly how creating a sales process can benefit your company.
1. Improved Sales Effectiveness and Efficiency
Standardizing any process within your organization is going to lead to increased productivity and efficiency in that area. With a clearer, frictionless path mapped out, it just becomes easier for teams to get the job done.
Standardizing (and optimizing) your sales process, then, will make it easier for your sales team to:
- Collect and qualify more—and more high-value—leads
- Deliver laser-focused value to individual prospects throughout their buyer’s journey
- Close deals for maximum value with little to no delay
Moreover, if your business decides to turn to sales BPO and outsource part of its sales efforts to an outside vendor, you'll find that a sales process is critical to ensuring success. By having a process that your third party vendor can turn to, they'll be much more effective and efficient in how they approach prospects that may be interested in your product or service.
While this in itself is enough evidence of why you should create a sales process, there’s much more to consider...
2. Organizational Alignment and Collaboration
Creating a comprehensive sales process also goes a long way in terms of creating cross-team collaboration throughout your organization.
Though your sales team is, of course, most directly involved in the sales process, your various other teams play a role here, too.
For example, your marketing team can help you deliver the right content to your individual prospects at just the right time to keep them engaged.
Your service and support staff can help by communicating common questions and comments they receive from your current customer base.
When none of this is standardized, there’s very little chance of it actually happening which typically results in information silos. But, when the sales process is defined clearly, your various teams will always know what they can do to enable your sales team to get the job done.
3. Attract High-Quality Leads and Convert High-Value Customers
By nature, high-quality leads are:
- Easier to convert
- More likely to have a positive experience with your product/service, and with your brand
- More likely to stay onboard and become high-value customers
Needless to say, these are the leads you want to be focusing on.
(And, like we said earlier, you always want to keep your pipeline filled with potential customers.)
With a proper sales process in place, this all becomes second nature.
For one thing, it becomes easier to identify who these individuals are in the first place. When you know who these individuals are, and how you can engage with them, you’ll be able to create an ever-filling funnel of potential clients.
Secondly, you’ll have a clear guide as to how to approach these individuals once you’ve identified them—and to immediately get them moving toward conversion in some way or another.
Looking past the conversion, your customer-facing teams will likely have a much easier time keeping these clients around for well into the future.
4. Improve Your Initial Customer Experience
Your customer’s experience with your brand doesn’t begin once they purchase your product.
It starts the moment they engage with your company for the very first time. Whether this initial engagement leads to a sale depends entirely on the experience the prospect has up until the point of purchase.
As we’ve discussed, optimizing your sales process involves continually delivering value to your prospects as they move toward conversion. In ensuring this value aligns with their needs and expectations, you’ll inherently get their customer experience started on the right foot.
(Note: We’ll come back to this later when we talk about aligning your sales process with your buyer’s journey.)
5. Improve Forecasting and Goal Setting
With a systematized process in place that essentially runs like clockwork, it becomes much easier to make predictions with regard to future sales.
(In contrast, taking a haphazard approach will essentially leave you guessing as to how your team will perform in the months to come.)
This, in turn, allows you to set more attainable—yet still optimistic—goals for your sales team. Moreover, it enables you to take into account factors that aren’t under your control (e.g., seasonal demand), and make necessary adjustments to your predictions as necessary.
Improved sales forecasting can lead to better inventory management, marketing campaign scheduling, and various other speculative processes throughout your organization.
6. Assess Your Performance and Make Improvements
Along with more accurate sales forecasting comes the ability to assess your sales team’s performance—and to make laser-focused improvements moving forward.
(Once more, a haphazard approach to sales makes this impossible: Since you had no real goal to strive for from the start, you’ll have no way of gauging your team’s performance. Moreover, you’ll have no way of knowing whether any changes you make end up having an impact on sales performance.)
By identifying not just where leaks exist within your sales process, but also why these leaks exist, you’ll be much better equipped to make improvements to the process that will actually matter to your bottom line.
How to Develop & Optimize Your Sales Process
To be sure, there’s no “one way” to go about improving your sales process.
Still, you can ensure that your approach to making these improvements is the optimal one to take.
Here’s how to make it happen.
1. Be Data-Centric
The importance of data to the creation of an optimized sales process cannot be understated.
At the bare minimum, you should be using data to justify every decision you make when developing your sales process. You certainly don’t want to make sweeping changes to your sales process based on anything less than hard evidence.
That said, we advise you take a more data-centric approach when developing your sales process. Instead of retroactively finding data to support your decisions, actively collect data to make informed and specific changes to your sales process.
In becoming data-centric, you’ll uncover way more opportunities to improve your processes and sell more.
Conversely, if you’re only looking for certain pieces of data to justify a single decision, you’ll likely be overlooking a ton of other data that could have led to even better improvements.
The goal is to keep your finger on the pulse of your sales-related data at all times, allowing you to make purposeful changes to your sales process.
In turn, these laser-focused, evidence-based improvements will almost certainly have a positive impact on your team’s performance, as well as your future customer’s experience with your brand.
2. Get Everyone Involved
As we said earlier, increased cross-team collaboration is a byproduct of creating a solid sales process.
That said, it’s crucial that you involve other teams throughout your sales process as necessary.
The goal is to determine how your organization as a whole can complement your sales team’s efforts at various stages along the sales process.
- The knowledge and skills your teams bring to the table
- The way in which your other teams engage with leads and customers (or impact CX in general)
- The data your various teams collect on a daily basis
3. Allow Knowledge and Information to Flow Freely
Organizational knowledge underlies every part of the sales process—so it’s vital that your sales team and other stakeholders have open access to it at all times.
- Documents illustrating the sales process, and the methodologies used throughout the process
- Resources and content used to quickly deliver information to your prospects as needed
- Customer engagement data used to further contextualize their path to purchase
With open access to an internal wiki, or better yet, a comprehensive internal knowledge base, your sales team will always have the information they need to bring prospects closer to conversion.
It’s also important to provide your target audience with informative and engaging content, as well. Comprehensive customer-facing knowledge bases and FAQ pages, for example, can effectively answer any questions your prospects may have leading up to a sale.
Additionally, using knowledge base software to organize and share your robust content library will make it easy to showcase your team’s knowledge and abilities—building trust within your prospects before they even make a purchase.
Simply put, you want your prospects to be informed buyers. The better their understanding of your services and the value you bring to the table, the easier it will be for your sales team to get them onboard as a paying customer.
4. Automate, Automate, Automate
It’s pretty clear by now that a lot goes on throughout the many stages of the sales process.
Luckily, modern technology allows you to optimize these various processes via streamlined workflows and automation.
For example, you can automate the process of generating leads by creating mailing list registration offers—followed up with an automated drip campaign:
Similarly, retargeting can be used to re-engage first-time site visitors—and get them on track toward officially becoming leads.
Once you’ve gathered a new lead, you’ll need to start collecting information on them.
Here, you can use chatbot technology to deliver surveys and questionnaires to new leads—and to sync the information they provide with your CRM and other sales tools.
This brings us to lead scoring—which can easily become a monumental task if automation isn’t involved.
But, in using one of the many lead scoring tools available today, it will become easier than ever for you to identify your highest-quality leads (and to recognize which ones aren’t worth chasing after).
Automation can also help you analyze, assess, and improve your sales team’s performance, overall. Many such tools are now using AI and machine learning technology to:
- Record, store, and analyze sales calls using sentiment analysis
- Identify patterns and trends regarding sales performance
- Deliver data-driven insight and suggestions for improvement
By integrating automation into your sales process, you take the more menial tasks off your sales team’s plate—allowing them to focus on the tasks that do require their hands-on attention.
5. Target the Right KPIs
We’ve already talked about the importance of being data-centric when approaching all areas of your sales process.
In being data-centric, it’s also crucial that you focus on the right data when assessing sales performance and making improvements to your sales process. What this “right” data is depends heavily on what your focus is at the present moment.
Say, for example, we’re looking to assess our sales team’s ability to bring in solid leads via cold-calling. While the knee-jerk reaction may be to analyze month-over-month change in leads brought in, it’s even more critical that we consider data such as:
- Lead-to-Conversion Rate
- Customer Acquisition Costs
Here, we’re not just looking at the number of leads brought in, but also at the quality of these leads. In turn, we can reassess the sources we use to generate leads—and potentially look elsewhere for higher-quality leads if deemed necessary.
(In contrast, if we only focus on sheer volume, we may never realize that our current lead source isn’t all that great.)
The goal is to focus only on making improvements that will have a meaningful impact on your bottom line. Whether this means generating higher-quality leads, shortening the sales cycle, or closing more deals, your first step is to nail down the data points that are most indicative of tangible growth for your business.
Mapping the Sales Process
The process of creating a knowledge map for your sales process involves actually creating a visual representation of the process—and then bringing this procedural map to life within your organization.
Here, we’ll discuss what needs to be done as your sales team implements the new process.
1. Set Clear Goals
Before you begin mapping your sales process, you need to define what it is you hope to accomplish.
To get started, picture in your mind what your sales process will look like once it’s fully-optimized.
- What do my incoming leads look like?
- How are they landing on my doorstep?
- How are they engaging with my team along their path to purchase?
As we just discussed, you’ll then want to nail down the KPIs that will tell you when your vision has become a reality. You’ll also want to use your current situation as a frame of reference—specifically looking to your most successful salespeople and the approach they use to perform so well.
This will set the stage for how you approach your sales process in the first place. With clear goals in mind from the get-go, it becomes much easier to develop a process that continuously moves your sales team and business in the right direction.
2. Define Your Sales Process—and Align it With Your Buyer’s Journey
Now, it’s finally time to actually map your sales process out.
Here, you’ll be creating a workflow detailing the actions taken by your sales (or another) team, as well as by your prospective customer, throughout the sales process.
At each step, you’ll want to define:
- The event that occurs
- The parties involved
- Potential outcomes and subsequent steps/options
It’s vital that your sales process aligns tightly with your target customer’s buyer’s journey. In looking at each stage of the buyer’s journey, you’ll want to identify:
- What the prospect does
- What the prospect needs
- What will get the prospect to take further steps toward a purchase
This will not only help you develop valuable content and other offers for your prospective customers, but will also help you deliver this value at just the right moment to keep them engaged.
Similarly, aligning your sales process with your buyer’s journey can make clear when it’s time to stop nurturing a prospect and to start working on a sale.
When developing the sales process that your organization will be using, you need to involve all of your teams in some way or another.
This will allow you to uncover multiple perspectives of the buyer’s journey—which in turn will uncover a number of sales-related opportunities you may have otherwise overlooked.
(Note: Here’s where you’ll dig into the various sales methodologies at your disposal. This will help you ensure that you take the optimal approach to each stage of the process—making the jump to the next stage as easy as possible.)
3. Systematize and Govern Implementation of Your Sales Process
Once you’ve mapped out your sales process, and you’ve gotten your sales and other teams onboard with these new procedures, it’ll be time to start putting the process into action.
Of course, it’s not going to happen just like that.
And, unfortunately, no matter how onboard your team may be at the moment, things can easily go afoul if this implementation doesn’t go swimmingly.
That said, you’ll want to gradually unroll your sales process in a way that allows your teams to get acclimated without getting frustrated.
A few suggestions:
- Provide structured training sessions, as well as self-directed learning opportunities
- Allow for shadowing of senior sales team members (or those whose performance you used as a guide while mapping your process)
- Simulate the processes via role-playing and other low- or no-stakes experiences (with peers or volunteer customers)
Proper governance of your sales process is also necessary to get the process to “stick” within your organization.
This involves keeping your finger on the pulse of your team’s performance—celebrating wins as they occur, revisiting difficulties in structured and unstructured settings, and scheduling quarterly review sessions focused on improving the process altogether.
To make this happen, you may decide to appoint leaders or “ambassadors”—teams typically made up of your strongest salespeople (and any other employees who may be able to help optimize your sales process).
With these guides in place, your sales and other teams will be able to navigate your new and improving sales process with ease.