Building a repeatable, scalable sales process is tough. There’s no shortage of diagrams, methodologies, or experts with opinions on exactly how you should be doing things. So where should you start? At the beginning, of course!
What is a sales process?
“Sales process” most often refers to a repeatable set of steps your sales team takes with a prospect to move them from early stage to a closed customer. The common sales process stages include:
- Prospect – The process of sourcing new early stage leads to begin a sales process with. Prospecting may involve online research to find net new prospects or researching into an existing database of contacts.
- Connect – Initiating contact with those early stage leads to gather information and judge their worthiness for moving forward.
- Research – Learning more about a prospect and their company as they progress through the sales process can help sales reps offer a more tailored experience, and improve the likelihood a deal will close.
- Present – A typical stage of many sales processes is to run a formal presentation or demonstration of what is being sold. This stage is time-consuming, so it typically comes deeper in the sales process and only for well-qualified prospects.
- Close – This stage refers to any late stage activities that happen as a deal approaches closing. It varies widely from company to company and may include things like delivering a quote or proposal, negotiation, achieving the buy-in of decision makers, and other actions.
If you’ve heard the phrase “sales process,” you’ve probably also heard the phrase “sales methodology.” There is a difference, and the difference is important to understand.
“Sales process” refers to the specific, concrete set of actions that your team follows to close a new customer.
“Sales methodology” refers to the framework for how different parts of your sales process are actually carried out.
The inbound sales methodology
Consultative selling, an outgrowth of “solution selling,” came into popularity during the 1980s. Consultative selling places the emphasis on the salesperson becoming a “trusted advisor” to the customer, gaining authority and trust over time. This approach to selling has led to the creation of an inbound sales methodology.
The inbound sales methodology matches how people buy to how they shop.
Now it’s important for sales teams to put the needs of their buyers ahead of their own needs. Think about some of the changes to how we all approach buying goods and services today:
- Buyers can now find most of the information they need about a company’s products or services before they ever engage a salesperson.
- Buyers have gotten better and better at blocking out cold and interruptive sales techniques (cold calls and irrelevant sales emails, for example).
- Buyers have heightened expectations around the experience of buying. They will control the experience, and they will move through the process largely on their own timeline.
These shifts are all examples of how buyers have seized control of the sales process from the sales reps who once held all the power and control in the sales process. With these changes in mind, it’s important for sales teams to adopt a new, more helpful, human approach to selling.
This new approach is more personalized, buyer-centric, and consultative. For sales professionals to be a part of a buyers’ process, they need to demonstrate how they can add value by acting as a partner and trusted advisor.
How to create an effective sales process
An effective sales process will help you craft, manage, and measure your sales. To create this sales process, you’ll need to do some research, build a list of common steps, define prospect actions, and iterate over time.
- Start by observing and researching.
Look back at the last 5 or 10 deals that closed. What were the major steps in the process? Touchpoints with the customer? Roughly how long did the entire process take, and how much time elapsed between each step? The more examples you have to form your average off of (and the more people on your team those examples are coming from), the better. You can get this information from your salespeople, or even better, review the data in whatever sales pipeline tool or CRM your sales team uses.
- Map your observations to a generic example or model.
While every sales process is different, it’s likely that the steps you observed align at least somewhat with the common steps outlined above. Your list of steps may be shorter or may include stages not listed above, but a generic example is often a good starting point.
- Define the prospect action that moves them to the next stage.
For each of the stages you define, you’ll want to have a crisp explanation of what causes a prospect to move from one stage to the next. Ideally, that reason or cause will be based on the actions of the prospect, not the perception of the sales rep. Yes or no questions or questions with quantifiable answers are best.
- Iterate over time.
Devising your teams’ sales process is a job that never ends. Especially in the weeks and months after your initial research, you’ll want to continue to iterate on your work based on feedback from your team. Over the long run, it’s likely your sales process will evolve as your team finds ways to work more efficiently and move prospects through your pipeline faster.
You will further refine and evolve your sales process over time. But if your sales reps understand and buy-in to a process approach (rather that a “shotgun approach” or just whatever they feel like), they’ll begin to find ways to work for efficiently and move prospects through your pipeline faster.
Some caveats in creating a sales process
Don’t leave your sales process steps open to interpretation. It’s important to define specific, concrete actions on the part of the prospect that cause them to be moved from one stage to the next. Leaving it up to your sales team to interpret based on their perception of the situation will leave you with a less accurate understanding of where things are and aren’t working in your sales process.
Don’t expect any one sales methodology to be the “silver bullet”. While some teams choose to stick with and follow one methodology closely, others choose to study several popular methodologies and pick bits and pieces they find useful from each. Regardless of which approach you take, it’s a good idea to at least keep abreast of what is new and changing over time. As the needs and desires of buyers change, different approaches, methodologies, and ways of doing things will fall into and out of favor.
Your sales process map will always be a work in progress. Remember, this won’t be a one and done project – your sales process will always be a work in progress. It’s good to get in the habit of stepping back to review how you think about your sales process every 4-6 months with the folks who are in the trenches selling every day. This should be in addition to watching performance metrics on a daily basis.