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. A good sales process helps your reps consistently close deals by giving them a framework to follow.
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? Right here. We’ve pulled together an introduction to all things “sales process” to help you get started down the road toward defining what your company’s ideal sales process should look like.
What are the steps of a sales process?
The common stages of the sales process include:
Prospecting is the process of sourcing new, early stage leads to begin a sales process with. Prospecting might involve online research on sites like LinkedIn or Quora. It also might take place at conferences or industry events. And you can prospect by asking current clients or colleagues for referrals of individuals who might be interested in your product/service.
Prospecting is a vital part of the sales process -- and part of most reps' daily or weekly workflow.
Initiating contact with those early stage leads to gather information and judge their worthiness for moving forward. This commonly happens during a "connect" or "discovery" call.
The salesperson will schedule a time to learn about the prospects pain points, challenges, and business or career goals. The salesperson might ask questions like, "Tell me about your role. What do you do day-to-day?" "What problem are you trying to solve?" and "Why is this a priority today?"
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.
This might require the salesperson to speak with other people at the company in different departments to get a holistic view of the business and their objectives over the coming year. Many longtime reps say a good salesperson should understand the company better than their prospect who works there.
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.
The presentation should be tailored to meet the prospect's unique use case and pain points. The salesperson might bring a engineer or executive to the meeting with them, to demonstrate the level of service the customer will receive and to answer more technical questions.
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.
The close is what every salesperson works toward. It should result in a mutually beneficial contractual agreement between the prospect and the seller. Once a deal closes, the salesperson will recieve commission on price they negotiated with their client, and the account usually passes to an account manager or customer success representative.
Sales Process vs. Sales Methodology
If you’ve heard the phrase “sales process,” you’ve probably also heard the phrase “sales methodology.” There's a difference -- and it’s important to understand.
- “Sales process” refers to the specific, concrete set of actions 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 next natural question -- do you need both? The answer is probably, "Yes." While your sales process is the high-level map of steps your team takes, within each step, you should be aware of the different methodologies that can guide how members of your team actually approach the sales process.
Popular Sales Methodologies
It’s worth considering the finer points of how your team should carry out their day-to-day selling activities. Choosing a sales methodology sets the foundation for your sales team as they approach their work.
Challenger Sales Methodology
“The Challenger Sale” is a sales methodology that rose to popularity afterMatthew Dixon and Brent Adamson published a book by the same name. “Challengers” are characterized by their willingness to learn about a customers’ business, and to push the customer or challenge their preconceptions during the sales process.
First popularized in the late 1970s and early 1980s, solution selling focuses on the customer's pain instead of his or her own company's products. Products are framed as solutions, and emphasis is placed on achieving agreement on what a resolution of the customer's pain would look like.
Sandler Sales Methodology
The Sandler Sales Methodology treats the buyer and seller as equally invested in the sales process. Sandler reps are trained to address objections early, so valuable time is saved for both parties. Instead of the seller convincing the buyer to make a purchase, in the Sandler methodology, the buyer is almost convincing the seller to sell to them.
An outgrowth of solution selling, consultative selling also became popular during the 1980s. Consultative selling places the emphasis on the salesperson becoming a “trusted advisor” to the customer, gaining authority and trust over time.
The inbound sales approach is characterized by “attracting” buyers with tailored, relevant content, instead of throwing irrelevant messages and advertising at them and hoping they'll buy.
The Inbound Sales Methodology
With so many choices in today's marketplace, it's important for sales teams to put the needs of their buyers ahead of their own needs. This approach was born from the believe that:
- 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. With these changes in mind, it's important for sales teams to adopt a more helpful, human approach to selling. We think of this as inbound selling.
How to Build a Sales Process
1. Observe your reps
Look back at the last five or 10 deals you closed. What were the major steps in the process? What were the touchpoints with the customer?
Consider roughly how long the entire process took, and how much time elapsed between each step. The more examples you have (and the more people on your team those examples come from), the better.
Once you've identified that timeline, work backward to understand the timeline each rep should expect. For examples
If six of those 10 deals closed in approximately six weeks, take a look at what the average steps were to get there. Working backward might look something like this:
- One week of deliberation before a signed contract
- three-to-five follow-up emails and phone calls
- One demo
- One phone call and between two-to-three emails
- One discovery call
- Two warm emails and three phone calls to prospect
Once you understand your sales process, you can dig deeper to understand the subtle motivations and pain points that drove each deal to close.
2. Map your observations to a generic example
While every sales process is different, chances are, the steps you observed align at least somewhat with the common steps outlined above. Your list of steps might be shorter or include stages not listed above, but a generic example is often a good starting point.
3. 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. Ask questions like:
- "While conducting warm outreach, did a rep hit on a specific pain point(s) that motivated the prospect to schedule a discovery call?"
- "During the demo, were there objections that stalled the deal or featured that moved it forward?"
- "When you made your pitch, was the answer an immediate "yes?" If so, consider carefully how you got there. How did you build up to the pitch?
4. 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 based on feedback from your team.
It’s likely your sales process will evolve as your team finds ways to work more efficiently and move prospects through your pipeline faster.
Measuring Your Sales Process
As you define and evolve your sales process map over time, you’ll want to think about which key metrics you should be measuring at each stage.
For example, how many prospects transitioned into and out of each stage in a given time period? You’ll want to be able to easily draw out conclusions like, “In July, we started with 75 prospects in the ‘awaiting demo’ stage ... at the end of the month, we had moved through 28 prospects, and added 19, leaving us with 66 prospects in the ‘awaiting demo’ stage.” Here are some other examples of sales metrics for the different stages:
- The average time prospects are staying in each stage
- Is there a stage that is, on average, taking too long for prospects to move out of?
- Percentage of prospects closing after a demo
- Percentage of prospects requesting a demo after a discovery call
- Churn rate (i.e., if certain customers are churning quickly, how can you vet for this mismatched prospect early in the sales process?"
These are the very basics most teams find value in measuring. Give some thought to metrics specific to your business that will help you define success or the need for imovement in a particular stage.
Common Mistakes and Tips for Success
Don’t leave your sales process steps open to interpretation
It’s important to define specific, concrete actions that move your prospects from one stage to the next. If you don't formalize these triggers, your sales team might come away with a less accurate understanding of where things are and aren’t working, leading to misshandling of the sales process steps.
Once you've defined your sales process, document it, share it, and practice it with your team. Try role-play exercises to drive home the valuable steps they should be taking at each stage.
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 stay abreast of what's 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
Your sales process is never "done." It should always be a work in progress, and it’s wise to get in the habit of stepping back to review how you think about your sales process every four-to-six months with the folks who are in the trenches selling every day -- in addition to watching performance metrics on a daily basis.