Let’s make a deal.
The methods, language, and tools that sales representatives use to close deals can differ from person to person and business to business. Improvising, finding creative solutions and adjusting techniques to appeal to a potential customer can be a fun part of sales. While the nitty gritty details can be vastly different depending on your industry, company size, and offered solution, the sales process tends to look similar.
6 steps in the sales process
- Connecting and qualifying
- Demonstrating value
- Handling objections
While some sales reps thrive off the spontaneity associated with selling, establishing a sales process at your business will make the entire department more organized, efficient, and successful.
Dissecting the sales process involves a lot of information. If you are looking for something more specific, use these links to jump ahead:Sales process vs sales methodology
Sales process steps
How to build a sales process
Qualities of an effective sales process
Why do I need a sales process?
What is a sales process?
A sales process is a set of steps that a salesperson takes to move a potential buyer from being a prospect to a loyal customer. Essentially, it’s the work that a salesperson puts in to make a potential lead realize they have a problem and take action to solve it.
Of course, the purpose of having a sales process is to, well, drive sales. Some natural born salespeople might think of following a sales process and roll their eyes. However, leaving a team of salespeople in the wild without an outline of the sales process is a big mistake.
|Key takeaways in this article:|
|- A sales methodology is the philosophy behind your selling strategy, while a sales process includes the concrete steps sales reps will take to close deals.|
|- The steps in the sales process are prospecting, connecting and qualifying, demonstrating value, handling objections, closing, and nurturing.|
|- To build a sales process, you must understand current methods, master the buyer journey, define criteria for advancing, format the process, and measure success.|
|- A good sales process needs to be customer centric, clearly defined, repeatable, predictable, goal-oriented, measurable, and adaptable.|
Sales process vs sales methodology
While closely related, a sales process and sales methodology are two different ideas, and understanding the distinction is important before we move forward.
A sales process is a concrete set of steps that a sales rep takes to find a solution for a customer and make a sale.
A sales methodology is the philosophy behind your sales process that provides a framework of how you want the process to be carried out.
Think of your sales process as a roadmap, and the sales methodology as the different ways it can be approached. Having a sales methodology isn't necessary to be successful when selling, but it helps ensure that interactions are professional, impactful, and beneficial for the customer. Here are a few common sales methodologies:
|Challenger: the seller focuses on teaching the prospect.|
|Solution: the seller focuses on the prospect's pain points.|
|Consultative: the seller acts as an advisor to the prospect.|
|Inbound: the seller focuses on creating content that will result in customers contacting them first, as opposed to the other way around.|
Your sales methodology might not be directly included in your sales process, but it’s there in spirit.
Sales process steps
While the process might take different twists and turns depending on the customer at hand, following these six steps when interacting with a potential customer is a great way to keep your eyes on the prize and close the deal.
Because of the complexity of the sales process, each step includes multiple tasks within it that need to be completed in order to move on to the next one. These stages should have specific goals and objectives. Once those are met, the prospect can move to the next stage.
Prospecting is the act of identifying potential buyers to put through the sales funnel, which is a model that illustrates a customer’s journey to finding a solution to their problem. These potential buyers can be qualified as someone who has expressed interest in your business or someone who, based on demographics and buying habits, can reasonably be noted as someone who would like the solution.
An important part of prospecting is making sure you have an ideal customer persona in mind when selling. This way, you can target people who match that persona, resulting in a higher chance of those prospects moving all the way down the sales funnel and becoming a customer.
Finding that customer persona is important, but so is taking that prospect a step further.
“Identifying the right prospects doesn’t mean just matching their role to your target customer persona, but going deeper into understanding how your product or solution fits with their specific industry and need,” says Matt Shealy, President of ChamberofCommerce.com.
To best identify who qualifies as a prospect, there are some tasks that a sales representative can complete, including:
|Conducting online research|
|Buying lead lists|
|Collecting referrals from recent customers|
2. Connecting and qualifying
Once you have a solid prospect in mind, the next step is to make contact with them and determine whether or not they’re worth pursuing in a process called qualifying. Certain people and businesses are best suited for your solution (meaning they are more likely to buy), and for the sake of efficiency and moving prospects down the funnel, it’s a good idea to weed all others out.
When qualifying, sales reps use a framework called BANT, which stands for budget, authority, need, and timeline. The purpose of BANT is to help sales reps determine whether or not a lead is likely to buy. When speaking with the prospect and getting to know their business better, ask yourself (not the prospect) some questions.
Connecting and qualifying tasks
To properly connect and qualify leads, sales reps can complete the following activities:
|Identifying the needs and pain pints of the lead|
|Determining their available budget for the tool|
|Understanding who the key decision makers are|
Keep track of any information gathered about a prospect in your CRM software. When it comes to the sales pitch, you’ll have easy access to updated information that will help you craft a customized and worthwhile experience for the customer.
Archita Sharma from Automate stresses the importance of using automation systems and integrating them with your CRM to leave them more time to focus on closing deals.
“A salesperson can’t do without automating their daily tasks to save them from hours of manual and mundane work,” she says.
3. Demonstrating value
With those qualified prospects in mind, your next job is to present your solution in a way that helps the prospect see how it will resolve their problem. Whether you are meeting in person, chatting on the phone, or talking over video conferencing tools, the value demonstration is where you create a customized case that takes the customer’s specific needs and matches them with a feature your solution offers.
During this stage of the sales process, do not under any circumstance wing it. Your qualified lead’s time is valuable, and if you enter a value proposition meeting without anything prepared, you can kiss that sale goodbye.
To be successful when demonstrating value, preparing isn’t enough. Make sure your presentation aligns with their needs. Based on the information you have gathered on the prospect, tell them what they want to hear (while remaining truthful) about your business. Anticipate and address their questions and concerns.
|RELATED: Learn how to give a killer sales pitch by checking out some examples that will inspire you.|
It’s important to come off as a trusted source of information and provider of a solution, rather than a salesperson trying to meet a quota. Chances are, the person you are selling to has been in this position before, whether it be in a professional setting or not. Make it all about them and what they want.
According to Maria Dinca from Planable, for sellers in the SaaS sphere, the value demonstration is the most important part of the sales process.
Value demonstration tasks
Demonstrating the value of your business to the lead is the most important part of getting them to convert to a sale. For this stage, make sure you:
|Research, research, research|
|Schedule a presentation|
|Recommend specific solutions|
4. Handling objections
Even after you’ve demonstrated the value of your business to the best of your ability, the prospect might still have some hesitations before making the commitment to buy. Whether they be due to budget, timing, or fear of implementing another tool at their business, it’s the job of the sales rep to address these issues by re-demonstrating the value of the business or talking about the risks associated with not resolving this problem.
During this phase of the sales process, it’s important to remember that the reason you are there is to help the prospect solve a problem, not make a sale. If you lose sight of that, they will notice and be less likely to buy. The best way to do this is to show empathy when addressing their concerns. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and show them you believe their hesitations are valid.
Handling objection tasks
Handling objections from the prospect can happen immediately after demonstrating value or at a later date. Here are some tasks that it might include for the sales rep:
|Anticipating customer questions and concerns|
|Proving the value of your business over other options|
After all objections are handled, your prospect will make the decision to either buy or walk away. What you do during the closing stage can ultimately alter their decision. Mark Fershteyn from Recapped notes the importance of closing, even if it seems like a done deal.
Fershteyn focuses on the “last mile of sales,” which comes after a verbal agreement. “It’s the most important part,” he notes, “yet it’s the part of the sales process that’s the most neglected.”
If you’ve completed the stages before closing successfully, making the sale might seem simple enough. However, don’t sleep on this phase. There are some crucial tasks a sales rep needs to complete to close the deal. These steps include:
|Negotiating final prices|
|Acquiring a signed contract|
|Delivering the solution|
If the closing isn’t successful, don’t give up. Here are some alternate tasks to complete if the closing doesn’t result in a sale:
|Execute and deliver a follow-up plan|
|Schedule the prospect for a future engagement|
Depending on your experience or the willingness of the customer, the first five stages of the sales process can be completed rather quickly. But it doesn’t end there. Once the customer makes a purchase, you can consider this the beginning of your relationship. And what does any relationship need to thrive and be mutually beneficial for both parties? Nourishment.
The nurturing phase includes any activity that adds value to the relationship you’ve just started with the customer. What's the key to building a solid relationship with a customer, you ask? Why don't you take it from G2's Danny Read, recipient of the 2019 Account Executive Of The Year award.
Things like offering support after the sale, helping with implementation, and providing information on updates are good ways to prove to them that this relationship is worth holding on to. Your company’s CRM software can be used to nurture and improve the relationship you have with your customers.
If you play your cards right, that first purchase can result in a long-term relationship with a customer. To get there, here are some tasks:
|Provide post sales support|
|Discover ways to up-sell and cross-sell|
|Ask for reviews|
Those are the typical stages of a sales process, and understanding them and their associated tasks is crucial when building one for your business.
How to build a sales process
Offering a process to any and all salespeople is a key responsibility of any sales manager to make sure their team stays on track. With the steps in mind, let’s go over how to build that process.
1. Understand current sales methods
Unless you are creating a sales process on the first day of your company’s existence, it’s likely your current salespeople already follow a general process when selling. Before establishing a process, it’s important to understand your sales team’s current approach to selling.
Ask them what they do from the very beginning to the very end of their interaction with a potential customer, and then fill in the blanks from there. Here is a list of questions you can ask to get a firm grasp on how your sales team works:
|How are leads acquired?|
|How are leads assigned?|
|How do sales reps make first contact with the lead?|
|How many attempts are made to contact the lead?|
|What questions are asked in the initial conversation?|
|How do the sales reps follow up?|
|Are any files sent to the lead?|
|How is the company’s solution presented?|
|Are there any pressing moments when negotiating?|
|Was the lead lost? If yes, why?|
|Was a sale made?|
|What did contact with the customer look like after the sale?|
If the sales team can’t answer all of those questions, don’t sweat it. As long as you have a good understanding of how the sales team currently operates when selling to customers, you should be well on your way to creating a process they can relate to.
2. Master the buyer journey
A sale cannot happen without a customer, so it only makes sense to alter your sales process depending on where the customer is in their journey to solve a problem. Not every customer interaction is going to look the same. In some cases, customers are more ready to buy than others and don’t require starting from square one. Depending on where the buyer is in their decision-making journey will affect the way you approach them.
The awareness stage starts with a person who has a problem, but they don’t know they have one or what it is yet. Once they realize they have a problem, the person will take action to understand and put a name to their problem.
There should be no attempts to sell to buyers in the awareness stage. Simply help them understand the issue at hand and that there are repercussions for not solving it. As a solution provider, marketing is going to play a big role during the awareness phase.
A recent study showed that Google is the first place buyers turn to research a problem. You need to have a solid SEO strategy that will help your website show up on these researchers’ radars. Make sure the content you are producing to market your business focuses on educating the buyers, rather than on your product or service.
Using tools like marketing automation software can help you track who is reading your marketing materials to help identify their problem, giving you a list of prospects.
Now that the buyer understands their problem and that a solution is possible, they are going to continue to do research that will reveal options for resolving it. If you are lucky enough to be one of the contenders that a buyer continuously researches, you can connect and qualify the customers that are worth pursuing.
Demonstrating the value of your business to the buyer also happens in the consideration stage. At this point, they will be comparing all of the available options and looking for specific product offerings and personalized demos so they can see how this particular solution will help relieve their pain points.
The initial value demonstration won’t always guarantee buy-in, and you might have to handle some objections to justify your solution is best.
With the research done in the awareness and consideration phase, the buyer will now be educated enough to understand their options for a solution. And finally, a decision will be made. Of course, potential buyers will have already analyzed the features, benefits, and pricing of their options. Other factors that will determine the outcome of the decision phase include details that will improve the customer experience, including implementation, support, and preparation.
It’s wise to have content that speaks to the decision-making audience, like what makes your product special and the best option for that particular group. Customer reviews and testimonials are going to play a key role here as well.
If they decide to go with your solution (kudos!), don’t kick your feet up just yet. The actions you take while closing, such as negotiating pricing and getting the solution to the buyer, can still affect the way they feel about your solution. Post-sale activities, like providing training and support, implementation guides, and more advanced content will help you nurture your relationship with your new customer. Any way that you can continue to prove the value of your solution to your customer will convince them to remain a loyal customer.
3. Define criteria for moving forward
If a sale is going well, reps can get excited and move the process along too quickly, which is a turn off for the buyer. To avoid this, define exit criteria by identifying what needs to happen with a customer before moving on to the next step in the sales process.
The best way to go about this is matching steps in your sales process with those in the buyer journey. Ask yourself these questions to create exit criteria:
|What does the rep need to know at this point?|
|What information do they need to make a successful sale?|
|What actions does the rep need to take during each phase of the sales cycle?|
|What does the rep need to say?|
|What does the rep need to be relaying to the customer?|
|What content should the rep be showing the customer?|
4. Format your sales process for your team
Now that you have the necessary stages of a sales cycle in mind, it’s time to put it all together in a way that the team will understand and use daily. There are a couple ways to go about this, and the beauty of these structures is you can easily move from one to the other if it doesn’t work well at your business.
Sales process map
For some people, arranging the sales process into vertical columns makes the most sense. In the map, the name of the stage is at the top and the tasks associated with that step are listed below it. Move from left to right as you progress through the sales process.
Sales process checklist
The sales process checklist still separates each step with different tasks, it’s just formatted differently. The real focus here is on completing the objective associated with each stage. This option is typically best for simpler sales processes.
Want a checklist to hold on to? We've created a free sales process checklist that you can use as you move through your sales process.
Sales process flowchart
A checklist or sales map is a good option for businesses with simple sales processes that tend to follow the same path. However, if you have a more complicated sales process that involves a lot of ups, downs, lefts, and rights, the flowchart is a good call.
A sales flowchart anticipates certain scenarios a rep might run into and then gives them the appropriate course of action. The key to the flowchart is the presence of a backup plan that doesn’t result in simply letting the sale go.
Buyer journey sales process
The buyer journey is present in all sales cycle stages, but some businesses find it most effective to make it the center of their sales process. In this format, criteria for moving forward focuses on what the buyer has to do, not the sales rep. To move on, both sides (the buyer and sales rep) need to match each other.
5. Measure success
At this point, you have a sales process set up that’s related to what the representatives were originally doing and that takes the buyer’s journey into account. As your sales process progresses and reps find new and creative ways to move through it, measuring what success looks like is crucial. Here are some key metrics that are important to keep in mind:
|How long should a prospect be staying in each step?|
|How often are prospects requesting demos?|
|How often do prospects close after a demo?|
|How often do buyers become loyal customers?|
When you have solid answers to these questions, you can evaluate your sales process and make changes where necessary.
Qualities of an effective sales process
To experience the intended results of establishing a sales process, it must acquire the following qualities:
Customer centric: The customer must always be the focus. Their actions will determine the sales representative’s actions, not the other way around. Make sure the customer is informed and empowered.
Clearly defined: The sales process needs to be laid out in a way that is easy to follow and understand.
Repeatable: Each rep should be able to repeat the process without any confusion.
Predictable: As reps get used to the process and start to better understand their buyers, the outcomes should be expected and predictable.
Goal-oriented: The end goal should always be in mind: finding the customer the solution they need to relieve their pain points. Every objective along the way should support that goal.
Measurable: You should have distinct points where the rep knows to move on with the process. All end results should be quantifiable.
Adaptable: Business climates, the needs of the buyer, and technology can all change. Your process should be able to adapt to any change that might affect your business.
Why have a sales process?
Implementing a repeatable process into your sales strategy is a best practice in keeping reps on track. According to Salesforce, businesses with a well-defined sales process in their strategy are 33 percent more likely to be high performers. It’s probably because of the following benefits.
Establishing a process in any department is the backbone of efficiency. When sales reps have a repeatable process to refer to, they don’t have to guess what action to take next when dealing with a buyer. This allows them to seamlessly move through the process without hesitation, building their confidence and giving the buyer a better experience. A disorganized sales experience can cause even the most promising deals to end in failure.
Providing new hires with a sales process to follow will decrease the amount of time it takes for them to onboard. Even if a rookie seller loses their way, they can always refer back to a sales process map, checklist, or flowchart. This helps new hires learn faster, saves the sales manager time, and gives the customer a better experience— a win, win, win situation.
Ability to improve
A good sales team will always use data and feedback to refine their sales process to be as efficient and result-inducing as possible. Having a defined sales process makes it easy for reps and managers to pick out where problems are arising, making them that much easier to resolve.
A repeatable and effective sales process can result in consistent wins. Gaining an accurate sense of the win rate and a general feel for what direction a sale is going helps the team forecast realistic goals and expectations.
The selling process does not just include the sales team. There are times when customer service, marketing, and account management departments need to step in, and using a bunch of random sales jargon with them can cause miscommunication. Having a sales process in place that other departments can also become familiar with will help interdepartmental communication thrive.
The point of selling is to make money, and when you have a successful process that works for your business, the result is going to be increased revenue. It’s as simple as that. Selling from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. is going to give sales reps a deep understanding of the process, and more importantly of how customers operate. The more experience they get, the more they understand who is likely to buy and who isn’t, allowing sales reps to prioritize their time and energy.
Enriched customer experience
Rushing a buyer to a stage in the buyer process that they aren’t ready for will make them feel pressured and result in them walking away. A standardized sales process that focuses on trust, empathy, and offering value helps reps recognize when a buyer is ready to advance so they can make their move.
3 common sales process mistakes
We all make mistakes, but there are some that are more common for people creating and using a sales process.
1. Letting the sales process be open to interpretation
For your sales process to work for every member on your team, it is important to provide specific actions to complete while they make their way through it. This is especially important when qualifying criteria for moving from one step to another. Once you have decided on a process for your team, document and share it. Make the tactics very clear so they can go through it the way you want them to.
2. Being strict with your sales methodology
There are different sales methodologies that work for different companies, but this is something that can be played around with a little. Pieces of one methodology can be mixed with others to create something unique for your business. As things in your business change, adopting a different methodology might be necessary to stay on the right track.
3. Neglecting that it’s a work in progress
While you don’t want your sales process to be open to interpretation, that does not in any way mean that you cannot change it. It is necessary to be constantly evaluating and modifying your sales process to make sure it is as effective as possible. Even if everything seems to be going well, you should always be asking for feedback from sales reps to be aware of any red flags.
Establishing a sales process is an important step in building a winning sales team and creating mutually beneficial relationships with customers. Start building your process today and remember to stress its importance to the sales team, don’t be afraid to make adjustments, and always focus on the customer.
Sales representatives can’t close deals without the right tools. Check out the 40 best sales tools for representatives to ensure your team is properly equipped.