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A sales process is a structured routine of actions or steps that sales teams follow to move prospects down the sales funnel and convert them from leads to paying customers.
Irrespective of the industry, company size, or product type, there is always a need for a sales team within an organization. And, within every sales team, the style of selling may vary from person to person.
But, it is not about talent. It is about what the organization provides to make its salespeople successful. One of the solutions to that is having a robust sales process that acts as a roadmap, so your salespeople always know what to do next without hesitation and stay on track.
But what is the sales process? More importantly, how do you create one and make sure it works effectively? Find the answers to these questions on this page.
Simply put, a sales process is defined as a repeatable set of steps that a salesperson performs over a sales cycle to convert a prospect into a customer. Usually a tried-and-tested process, it acts as a guide for salespeople to move a deal through the sales pipeline and close it.
If you’re a sales manager handling a team with no process, then let me paint a picture for you. Your team is performing various sales activities each day, across different accounts and deals. But the only metric tracked is the number of deals closed and their value. There is no visibility into the sales activities performed, and when the revenue produced by the sales team fluctuates, no one has a clue why.
If this sounds familiar, then yes, your team needs a sales process. Here are five more ways you benefit by having a structured sales process:
A defined sales process clearly outlines the buyer persona (BP) and the ideal customer profile (ICP) for prospective buyers. This helps salespeople understand whom they should be talking to, rather than waste time in all the leads they come across.
When your salespeople can weed out the leads who are less likely to buy, they will be able to engage with and qualify the right prospects. Focusing efforts on prospects who are likely to close not only reduces the sales cycle but also justifies your salespeople's time and efforts. CRM software with AI lead scoring further helps them by ranking the leads based on their engagement with the product and the salesperson.
Prospects need to hear from you an average of seven times before they decide to make a purchase. But in reality, most salespeople don’t have a follow–up plan. Sometimes, they follow-up once, probably twice, and when they don’t get a response, they move on to the next prospect—this inconsistency results in opportunities slipping through the cracks.
A sales process with a winning sales cadence strategy reminds your salespeople when and how to follow-up with the prospect. This keeps alive the prospect’s desire to make a purchase.
With the sales team following a standard sales process, you will gain insight into your salespeople's performance along every step of the sales process. For example, you'll know the number of emails sent out by a salesperson, the metrics associated with it (open rate, click rate, and bounce rate), number of dials, the calls to conversation rate, and so on. This not just tells you who is sending out the best emails and having engaging phone conversations, but also who needs help in those areas.
If you are using a CRM software that allows you to save email templates, you could repurpose the best emails and share it with salespeople who need help with their outreach.
Each salesperson should be accountable for sticking to the process and guiding the customer through a sale. With a process in place, you gain insights into stalled deals. A sales process not only tells you what but also the how and when. So, you can analyze bottlenecks and figure out how each bottleneck can be tackled.
Having a clear picture of where each salesperson is in the sales process allows you to forecast revenue more accurately. With a highly functional sales process, your salespeople can keep your sales funnel full, ultimately boosting your revenue.
The steps in a sales process typically include 7 stages: lead generation or prospecting, lead qualification, demo meeting, evaluation, negotiation, closing, and nurturing. Let’s discuss each of these.
The sales process begins with a search for new customers, better known as prospecting. To find prospects who will most likely buy your product, and help your salespeople identify them, you need to create Buyer Persona (BP) and Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) documents. The best place to find knowledge about this is your company’s sales history. It is easier to construct them when you understand who bought from you and exactly why they did it.
Using the BP and ICP documents, identify an internal champion of the company—not necessarily the decision-maker. Create an outreach strategy or sales cadence by employing various prospecting methods. Here are a few prospecting techniques you can deploy:
Once you catch your prospect’s attention, get the conversations flowing, and establish a relationship with them. Then, schedule a call to further understand how you can cater to their needs.
When the relationship with the prospect becomes warmer, they are ready for a call. The salesperson should initiate a discovery call with the prospect to further understand if the product can solve the prospect’s challenges.
There are several methodologies used to quantify prospects. The most commonly used is the BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timescale). To identify if the prospect is sales-ready, the salesperson asks questions such as
You could also employ other qualification methodologies such as CHAMP (CHallenges. Authority, Money, Prioritization), or MEDDIC (Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion)
If the prospect fits the above criteria, you’ve got a good lead. Otherwise, you might have to rethink the prospect as they won’t be a good fit for the moment and will clog your sales pipeline. The ideal action here is to concentrate on other good quality leads.
After the prospect is sales qualified, the salesperson or the account executive schedules a demo call with the prospect. In this call, they explain the features of the product that are relevant to the prospect’s use case, focusing on how it could help them overcome their challenges.
It is a good practice to plan your demo beforehand. Research your prospect, prepare use cases specific to their industry, and personalize the presentation. Building a good rapport is crucial at this stage, and sounding friendly and approachable is the key. Listen and empathize with the prospects’ challenges, and address their concerns.
While you advocate for your product’s benefits, don’t force it down at them. Give them time and space to decide. That takes us to the next stage.
Product evaluation allows the potential customer to experiment with the product, using a free trial account for a limited period. The product's premium features may be offered to the customer to help them evaluate the product as a whole.
During this period, it is ideal for the salesperson or the account executive to stay in touch with the prospect to ensure that their desire to buy is firm.
Tackling objections is an invariant part of the sales cycle. Buyers are hesitant to agree to a product without much protest and need convincing. Based on their product usage, prospects can come back with various objections, ranging from concerns over privacy to product pricing. Though objections are a challenge, it can be an indicator of the prospect’s interest in the product. By successfully negotiating objections, the prospect is convinced of the product's value and is willing to invest in it.
Closer to the finish line, this stage includes activities like negotiations, the signing of final contracts, Service Level Agreements (SLAs), implementation, customer success, support, and pricing. The two businesses discuss the terms of the partnership, and in some cases, the legal teams from both sides have a chat. Cue a happy dance from the sales team because the prospect is now a customer, and the onboarding process follows.
Customer success is the underrated part of a sales process as it is rarely done. However, nurturing a customer post-sale could ensure a decrease in churn. With exceptional customer support, the client may return to purchase a higher plan or even refer the product to a few businesses.
When all does not go well, and the customer does not buy the product, sales can still benefit from nurturing. Understanding why the deal fell through would be an indicator of how to nurture the prospect. In some cases, the timing may not be the best—the budget was already drafted, an important project is underway, or the decision-maker is away on vacation. These are factors that are clearly beyond control. In others, they would have been looking for a feature that the product does not have. This, once again, is a difficult position to be in. It leads to an inevitable “Closed Lost.” But all hope is not lost, yet. Using email marketing, nurturing the lead could help revive them.
Sales processes vary according to the industry and product. Some may focus on customer acquisition, while others focus on retention. That said, the following steps are unchanging across sectors.
Before you begin creating your sales process, have a clear understanding of your goals and the KPIs to track in order to achieve them.
Next, your salespeople need to understand their role in your organization, and how they contribute towards achieving the bigger picture. So, set micro-goals for your salespeople to work towards and track on a regular basis. By attaining these micro-goals, you move towards your main target.
Siddharth Hosangadi, Founder at GoPush Consulting, adds to this by saying every goal should be time-bound, so we should clearly define the timeline for the final goal and the milestones along the way.
Finally, rather than setting activity goals such as “200 emails per day", provide results-oriented goals such as “25% increase in email reply rate compared to last month.”
Picture a funnel with water trickling through it. The wide brim can hold a handful of water droplets, but as it goes through the funnel, the drops drip individually. Similarly, the sales funnel starts off with a large number of leads, but only qualified leads move down further.
For the funnel to make sense, each part of the funnel must be assigned a number. The top of the funnel must have, say, “X” number of leads. The middle of the funnel must have qualified leads, ideally “X/2.” The bottom of the funnel should have deals moving to close, “X/4.”
Each stage of the sales process should also have numbers associated with it. If a salesperson sends out 100 emails in a day, the expected open rate is 25, and the reply rate would be 1. Keeping this in mind, the salesperson has to send out 500 emails in a day to receive five leads each day
Each stage of the sales process must have different qualifying criteria. This criterion is defined by the number of interactions a prospect has with a salesperson and the outcome of it.
For example, in the first step of the process, a lead is converted into an opportunity when they respond positively to an email or a call from the salesperson. During the discovery call, the prospect is qualified if they satisfy the requirements based on your qualification methodology. They slide across stages as they engage with the salesperson in negotiations.
The prospect is converted into a customer when they agree to the deal and purchase the product.
It is good to revisit your sales process every year to understand variations in your prospect’s buying process, the flaws in the current sales process, and how you can make it more effective. “Create Milestones for each sales process with a definite time period and evaluate whether you and your team are meeting it. If yes, create other milestones and proceed again. If not, then check out for optimum solutions/necessary action and again repeat the procedure with new solution/action and evaluate,” says Shekhar Kamble, Sales & Marketing Specialist at Al Mutawaa Trading Company.
To an extent, tweaking your sales process is a never-ending process. There will always be new methods and ideas to implement and challenges that come along with it. We discuss in detail about measuring and tweaking your sales process in later sections of this page
You know your business inside out, and have a sense of how sales should function. And whether you are creating the sales process from scratch or building on it, your salespeople are the ones who follow the system at the end of the day. So, it is always a good idea to talk to your team and get their inputs.
If you are creating a sales process for the first time, have individual conversations with each of your salespeople and understand how they are performing their sales activities.
For starters, you could ask them questions such as
If you are building on your sales process, talk to them about the roadblocks and challenges they face with the current process.
But it’s not completely about the team either. You need to set ground rules and figure out what would work best.
Siddharth Hosangadi, Founder at GoPush Consulting says “It is the team/process/system which serves the goal, not vice versa. Hence, if a set of salespeople following the processes we have designed is taking us to our goals as per the timelines and milestones we have decided, then those people/processes are right for us. Else, we may need to modify the team/process as appropriate.”
A considerable part of the sales process is repetitive and monotonous. The activities done by a salesperson is the same across all leads, irrespective of deal size. Each stage of the sales process has a task that can be automated: prospecting leads, sending cold emails, and tracking email metrics are a consistent part of the salesperson’s routine. And that is just top of the funnel activities.
Once a prospect is converted into a lead, the activities are again clockwork. Emails regarding meeting confirmation, follow-ups, and those explaining the trial account processes do not require much change.
The ideal way to automate these tasks would be from within a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software—given that all the necessary information is already within it. Here are some ways you can map your sales process with the CRM.
Whether you are a growing business or you have leads pouring in every day, you need to collect all the leads in one place. And that’s just half the job. The next step is to assign the leads the right salesperson without any conflict.
Keeping that aside, did you know that 30-50% of the sales go to salespeople who contact the prospects first? But sadly, only 7% of them respond within 5 minutes, while more than half of the surveyed salespeople take almost five days to respond to the prospect.
Putting two and two together, you would surmise that time is of the essence in sales, and your salespeople need to contact prospects as soon as possible. They cannot sit around waiting for the sales manager to assign leads to them. This is where automating lead assignments comes into play.
Set predefined conditions in your CRM tool and watch leads being assigned to your salespeople in a fair and round-robin fashion. So, for example, prospects signing up for a particular product from say, Arizona, are assigned to salespeople who take care of that region and product.
Fact: A salesperson spends 21% of their time sending emails to prospective customers. That is a crucial time that could be spent interacting with customers. Eliminate typing the same email multiple times by creating a template that could be personalized for each contact.
Consider an example. If a customer signs up for a product trial account, an automated welcome email could be the first touchpoint. As the customer traverses through the product trial, follow up emails could be sent containing information on how to set up the product, explaining modules of the product, and how best to integrate with other apps.
As your salespeople move prospects down the sales funnel and along your defined sales process, they might not always remember to change the status of a deal in their pipeline.
This could get complicated even further if you’re selling different products, or targeting different markets, as your unique sales process becomes unique sales processes.
Automate your sales process to move deals across the sales pipeline based on parameters such as prospects’ engagement or salespeople’s activities. In other instances where you may have multiple pipelines for different sales processes, you can configure deals to move from one pipeline to another automatically.
For example, Peter Kral, CEO of FundraisingBox, says they have set up sales process automation to copy all the key details from the “prospect” module to the “customer“ module when a deal is marked ‘Won’.
Creating a performance report manually could be painstaking. Instead, you could set up a reports dashboard that gives a visual representation of key metrics on a weekly or monthly basis.
For example, track regular metrics such as emails sent, phone calls completed, and pipeline movements; keep track of deals won or customers in a higher price plan, etc. And the best part is, you can have them delivered to your inbox as well.
The sales cycle is a repetitive one, with multiple errands that are repeated on a timely basis. Tasks like follow up emails, invoice generation, or report generation are done regularly.
Doing this manually on a never-ending loop could feel mundane to the sales executive. Automating sales processes for each step of the sales cycle will make their lives easier.
For example, if a prospect responds to an email sent by a salesperson, the status of the prospect can be automated to change to “Responded,” without a manual type-in by the salesperson.
The top of your sales funnel could be overflowing with an excess of leads. By definition, these leads are people who have interacted with the product and website. But not all leads are the same. A lead who replied to an email should be ranked higher than a lead who clicked on it. This ranking of leads on the basis of priority is known as lead scoring.
By assigning scores to leads, the funnel can be structured by priority. Reassigning these leads to salespeople based on score and territory could get mundane and tasking. Set defined rules for distribution and reach out to the most interested leads first.
Take a deeper dive into automating your sales process and learn its benefits
You’ve created your sales process. Your salespeople have incorporated it into their everyday sales activities. And you are able to see prospects flowing from mere leads to paying customers. Now what? Well, you need to know if your sales process is working by monitoring the metrics and goals that are important to you.
Raem Cambero, Sales Manager at La Antillana Comercial, agrees to this and adds: “Everything you plan should have objectives to achieve, that can be measured on time and quantity. Start putting some milestones on each one. But milestones that could be achievable. Also, split it into short, medium, and long terms.”
These goals and metrics may vary with companies and industries. However, some goals remain common across all businesses. Here’s how you can measure the success of your sales process:
Having an automated sales cadence helps reduce outreach efforts while boosting its effectiveness at the same time. Revisit your outreach strategy, and tweak your messaging until you see the increase in conversion you desire.
When you have enough opportunities in your sales pipeline, your salespeople should be able to move them down the funnel into paying customers. This metric tells you the effectiveness of the product demos, the objection handling skills of your salespeople, and more.
For example, if you see a bottleneck in the demo or negotiation stage, concentrate on finding the challenges your salespeople face in those steps and work on a solution.
This metric refers to the number of days it takes to convert a lead into a paying customer. It is typically used to measure the effectiveness of your sales process as a whole, since the primary goal is to keep your sales funnel flowing by easing the selling activities and buying process, thus reducing the time it should take.
This metric tracks every salesperson's performance and helps you understand which part of the sales process they excel in and parts of the process they need help with.
This is one of the most important factors to keep an eye on. After you create the sales process, find out if your salespeople can quickly adapt to it. Talk to them regularly and understand how you can make it better for them. You need to know if they are happy following the process. At the end of the day, happy employees are the greatest asset for any business.
The accuracy of your sales and revenue forecast is an essential factor as it tells you how confident you are with your sales process versus its performance. If the forecast and the results are close enough, you are on the right track. Else, you will have to rethink your sales process and try to find out where you are going wrong.
Learn about the important sales metrics every business should monitor and how to track them
The effectiveness or the success of your sales process depends on finding the right set of sales activities that lead to the desired sales outcome. Here are some ways to boost the effectiveness of your sales process.
Have individual conversations with your top performers to find out what they are doing right. But, this isn’t just about your top performers. Understanding their sales activities helps you extend their excellence to the rest of the sales function.
For example, if 40% of your salespeople drive most of your revenue, imagine the impact it would have if their best practices are shared with the larger portion of your salesforce.
Challenges are more than common in the sales industry. And if your salespeople do not come forward with their challenges, you need to go to them. Understanding their roadblocks will give you an in-depth insight into any bottleneck in the sales pipeline, and help you arrive at a more accurate solution. So, ask, listen, and take action.
We cannot stress this enough. You need to equip your salespeople with the right resources and upskill them to perform better, ultimately bringing in more revenue.
Provide them with various materials such as email and social messaging templates that have worked in the past. Repeated training and coaching in different areas such as cold calling and objection handling can boost their skill set and enable them to engage with prospects better.
A sales process is never fully complete. There will always be new challenges, new goals, and adjustments you have to make based on your forecast and data analysis.
Maybe you thought incorporating a particular action into your sales process would work, and it did for some period before derailing. On the other hand, what you thought might not work could have given you tremendous results.
While you tweak your sales process according to your learnings, it is important to document your experiments and outcomes so that you can always go back to it in case of any second thoughts.
Mark E, Regional Sales Director at Staples, regularly reviews his sales process based on close rates, market conditions/volatility, etc. He says it helps him understand the cost, margins, and sales rep capacity to aid in developing the sales process, and which types of methodologies to adopt.
As we stressed earlier, these micro-goals have to be achieved for you to boost the revenue. Not being specific about your micro-goals, in other words, your salespeople’s metrics can lead to chaos and derail you from achieving your target.
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