Now is the time to modernize your sales process or risk becoming irrelevant. Why now?
There are two big reasons: technology and buyer behaviors.
Both salespeople and buyers now have access to an incredible array of new tech. It makes salespeople more competitive, and it has made buyers more empowered than ever before. It offers the chance to make improvements at every stage of your sales cycle.
So while efficient sales stacks amplify revenue, sales teams also need to be even more empathetic.
As best practices shift, can you really afford to stay on the sidelines?
The top professionals at hyper-growth companies are busy hacking their sales process. Are you?
What Is a Sales Process?
A sales process is a template for achieving sales objectives and replicating a desired level of performance by sales reps. It lays out a repeatable cycle of steps a salesperson takes to turn an early stage lead into a new customer. Each step in a sales process may consist of several separate selling activities.
Why Have a Sales Process?
Having a sales process makes you more money, according to research by Harvard Business Review. This is partly because it acts as a roadmap and guide for salespeople, to make sure they don’t miss a crucial step in handling a client, and partly because it helps everyone else understand quickly and easily how likely it is that you’re eventually going to close a deal. Managers can see where and why a sale has stalled, and they can see if a particular rep is having problems at one particular stage, and put a coaching program in place.
Sales Process vs Sales Methodology: What’s The Difference?
There has been confusion (especially among non-sales professionals) over these two terms. While they might sound synonymous, they refer to two different things in the sales universe.
Sales methodology is the framework or philosophy that guides how a salesperson approaches each step within the sales process.
You may adopt a single methodology to govern your entire sales process or apply different methodologies in each step of the sales process.
The 8 Stages of the Sales Cycle
The eight most important sales cycle stages are:
- Preparation – know your product; spend time in your customer’s shoes; study your competitors
- Prospecting – do outreach to find companies that match your ideal customer profile
- Research – is your product the best fit for the prospect? Do they need what you’re selling?
- Approach – Now you know your customer, find a way to get their attention
- Pitch/Presentation – article the unique value of your product
- Objection Handling – answer questions and manage their objections
- Closing – send a proposal, get signatures, and finalize the deal
- Follow-up – nurture customers, offer up-sells, and ask for referrals
Sometimes, these stages may be arranged slightly differently. Different industries and even similar businesses may use five or nine steps instead.
But to keep it simple, you can start with this eight-stage sales process:
1. Preparation & Research
Salespeople need to know about their product, target customers, industry, and the unique value their brand provides. Good preparation is the foundation on which the rest of the sales process is built.
Research your competitors. What can you offer that is different?
Spend some time in your customer’s shoes too. What are the core problems your buyer personas usually experience? And what are the benefits of your product that can address those problems?
Skim through your company’s knowledge base to learn how your colleagues solve pain points, handle objections, close deals, and generate repeat business. If you don’t have a knowledge base, talk to the top performers, and ask to shadow their sales calls.
Finding customers is one thing. Engaging the right ones is another.
Your sales and marketing teams should agree on an ideal customer profile and screen potential clients based on this benchmark. This enables your team to allocate limited resources to high-value leads.
This is the stage at which you’ll need to qualify your prospects, and see whether they fit your profile.
Don’t skimp on this. Most salespeople say this is the hardest part of the whole process, so this is where you need the most effort.
Now you’ve identified a potential customer. Great! But you still need to do some discovery to determine if they actually need what you’re selling. If they do, you need to decide if your company is the best fit for them.
This stage of the sales cycle enables sales professionals to create tailored solutions that increase the likelihood of closing a deal.
This is the point where you get their attention. This is about identifying the correct point of contact, and finding a way to speak to them which makes them think you have something worth buying. Whether it’s offering a free sample, or posing questions that demonstrate your expertise, it’s about getting in front of someone.
This stage isn’t just about getting attention, though. This is when you need to understand what makes them tick, so you know which product to actually put in front of them. Active listening, empathy, note-taking, trust-building, and following up are great skills to deploy in this stage.
This is the step in the sales cycle where you articulate the unique value your customers will experience if they purchase your product or service.
You can do this by connecting their needs and wants to the corresponding features and benefits your product provides.
While preparation and product knowledge play important roles in this stage, you still need to continue to put your customer first. It is a common mistake to focus too much on what you’re selling, and not enough on your buyer.
You can act as a trusted advisor during this step by referring back to what you learned during Research and Approach, and listening closely to your prospect.
6. Objection Handling
Rejection and objections are common in sales. Any salesperson who lacks grit and the ability to roll with the punches will soon be out of the game.
This is one of the most underestimated stages of the whole sales cycle. The ability to handle objections and pushback is one of the key things that allows a salesperson to reach the close of a deal.
To manage objections effectively, practice empathy and regularly process the situation from the customer’s point of view.
This is usually where you finalize the sale, and all your work is reflected in your company’s top-line revenue.
This step commonly involves sending a proposal or a quote covering the tailored solution you are offering.
You may also need to negotiate the contract or get signatures from multiple key decision-makers in your prospect’s organization.You will need to make sure you get through the approvals process.Attempts at closing aren’t always successful. In that case, you can execute a follow-up plan, request a referral, or schedule the lead for future re-engagement.
The sales cycle does not end after the first sale. Paying customers are great candidates to be prospects for your other services.
By maintaining excellent customer relationships, you can up-sell and generate repeat business more easily.
Nurture customers by keeping them updated about new services, and regularly asking for feedback on how you can serve them better.
Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals either. You’ve earned them at this point!
There may be other sales process steps you follow, but you must include these seven. They’re critical to your success.
Key Elements of a Strong Sales Process
An effective sales process is:
- Customer-centric. Buyers are more empowered, better informed and have wider options than in the past. Smart businesses align their sales processes with this new reality.
- Clearly defined. To be effective, each stage and element in your sales process must be well understood by all stakeholders.
- Replicable. Every rep should be able to replicate all the steps in the sales process without confusion.
- Predictable. The flow and expected outcomes in your sales process should follow a predictable pattern.
- Goal-oriented. A sales process focuses on improving your ability to meet specific objectives (e.g., drive revenue growth, achieve process efficiencies, etc).
- Measurable. All the activities in your sales process should be quantifiable, so you can measure success and improve.
- Adaptable. A sales process must be flexible enough to accommodate changing business climates, tech integrations, or changes in your sales operations.
A good sales process also aligns with your ideal buyer’s purchasing journey, instead of focusing on what the seller needs.
Optimize Your Sales Process: Best Practices, Tips & Tricks
Over time, some sales processes become bloated and inefficient. Research has shown that salespeople only spend 34% of their time actually selling to potential customers:
As a result, improving your sales process is about finding tasks that can be automated or made easier for salespeople so that they can focus on what they do best: selling.
To identify the parts of your sales process that can be improved, focus on improving sales productivity.
To do so, you measure the effectiveness and efficiency of each stage of your sales process. Once you identify areas that are ineffective or inefficient, focus on changing one thing at a time.
The most common areas for quick improvements to a sales process are:
- Data entry into your CRM
- Email outreach to prospects
- Creating and sending proposals
- Chasing prospects for signatures
- Handoffs between departments or teams
Creating Your Sales Process Map
To organize your sales process and the sales methodology, you need a well-designed map. Here’s how to create one:
- Grab a notebook and a pen, or open a spreadsheet.
- In one column, list the stages and customer touchpoints in the workflow you use today. For example, two such stages might be lead generation and qualification.
- In another column, take note of relevant metrics. For example, you can note:
- The duration of each step
- The number of transactions
- The conversion rate to the next step
- In a third column, add the selling activities that go into each step (cold calling, follow-up emails, etc.).
- Continue until each stage is complete.
Remember, you should continue to evolve your sales process to keep it in step with current trends.
Metrics: Weighing in on Sales Process Success
For example, you can choose one activity in your sales process and change it, then see if the results improved. Remember, metrics are your friends.
Tweak Your Sales Cycle Stages
The sales cycle stages that worked for you in the past may not generate the same response right now. And what’s working today may not work tomorrow.
You get the point. The sales game is fluid, so you must take this approach, too. Sometimes, a few minor tweaks here and there can do wonders. Leave the bones in place, but don’t be shy about making small changes to your sales cycle. And of course, track the impact of these changes, both positive and negative.
Hack Your Sales Process Now
With consumer behavior and market realities shifting at lightning speed, the need to adapt becomes imperative. Sales professionals can no longer depend on outmoded approaches. There is no other choice but to embrace customer-centric thinking and new technologies.
Your sales process is not exempt. You must follow the right steps to achieve the desired outcome.
Without a reliable template to follow, along with knowledge of cycle stages, your sales team will underperform. The only route to success is to re-imagine your sales process with the right knowledge, tools, and strategies.
Also published on Medium.