If you ask most executives if they have a sales process, they’ll immediately say yes. But when you ask them to describe their sales process, their descriptions vary wildly. To some, a sales process means milestones in their sales pipeline. To others, it means weekly call patterns. To others still, it means a key account plan.
We observed this troubling phenomenon while conducting research for our book Cracking the Sales Management Code. Without a common understanding of the term "sales process," sales managers can’t coach or communicate with their sellers as effectively. They also find it extremely challenging to automate, measure, and improve their sales process quite challenging.
Our research revealed basic sales processes that encompass the most important activities of every salesperson’s daily effort. Incorporating defined processes can make it easier to measure, manage, and coach salespeople. Having clear definitions for your sales process matters a lot.
Sales Processes You Need
1. Call Management
A call management process improves individual interactions between a seller and a buyer because it creates much-needed structure and intentionality for sales reps as they carry out their calls.
In this process, there are typically three stages: planning, execution, and debriefing. During the planning stage, salespeople should have clarity around the following questions:
What is the objective of the sales call?
Which questions should you ask?
What objections do you expect to encounter?
During the execution of the sales process, the rep should rely on their planning and preparation to guide the call, while still being attentive and allowing room for flexibility if the conversation doesn’t go as planned.
When it’s time to debrief, it’s helpful to bring on a peer or manager who can provide feedback on what went well and what could be improved for the rep’s next call. It is also a great time to reflect on any questions the rep didn’t get a chance to ask, or to consider solutions to objections they were not able to resolve during the call.
2. Lead Qualification
Sales teams should take a systematic approach to qualify leads early in the sales process. Having a process for qualifying leads provides a valuable gut-check for reps so they know what to look for when engaging with leads.
By having a specific set of criteria reps should look for when qualifying leads, along with a consistent set of questions they can ask in initial sales calls, reps will be more prepared walking into their initial conversations with prospects, and can feel more confident when pursuing the right leads for their offer.
As reps are qualifying leads in their pipeline, here is some criteria they can consider:
Does this potential customer fit your ideal customer profile?
Is this individual the appropriate decision-maker for this purchase?
Does this potential customer have the budget to pay for your products or services?
The answers to questions such as these can be helpful for qualifying and disqualifying leads as needed. Ultimately, when your reps are selling to the right people, their job and sales process as a whole will be much smoother.
3. Opportunity Management
In sales, an opportunity is a highly qualified lead that is likely to buy. The opportunity management process helps sales teams source and track sales opportunities throughout their pipelines.
Many sellers engage in opportunity planning when they pose questions such as:
What business problem are you trying to solve for the customer?
Who are the stakeholders you need to engage with?
How will you position yourself against the competition?
Once they’ve entered the pipeline, reps should closely track and document how opportunities move through the sales process, noting what methods of communication and sales tactics work best when converting opportunities into customers.
4. Account Management
The account management process maximizes the long-term value of select customer relationships by continually aligning your company’s capabilities with the needs of your customer. This process often ramps up after the initial deal has closed to ensure the success and satisfaction of the customer.
Account plans help guide your account management strategy by answering questions such as:
What are your company’s goals for the relationship?
What are the customer’s business needs?
What plan of action will keep the relationship healthy and profitable?
Though the role of account management often falls to account managers, not sales reps, both the account managers and sales reps need to maintain alignment on how best to transition customer accounts. This usually entails a debriefing period where sales reps prepare account managers to take over the account, providing the insight they gained while making the sale.
5. Territory Management
This process helps salespeople allocate their effort most efficiently among different types of prospects and customers by prioritizing buyers according to their potential value and then mapping call patterns to maximize the seller’s expected return.
Territory plans are common for field-based salespeople who must answer the questions:
Who are the top customers and prospects in my territory?
What level of attention does each deserve?
How will I ensure the right level of service to each?
6. Deal Management
For sales teams, deal management involves having an aligned approach to revenue-generating initiatives. This sales process tracks the workflow of a sales deal from beginning to end, providing valuable data and insight into ways the process can be optimized for more sales.
HubSpot sales rep Sarina Kowaguchi shares why her team prioritizes deal management:
“My sales team recently celebrated hitting quota every month for a year, far exceeding our attainment to ring in our 12th month. While many factors contributed to our success, I believe much can be attributed to our obsession (let’s call it what it is) with deal management.
By having a deep understanding of where our deals stand at each week of the month, and knowing what inputs we need to put in to feel comfortable about hitting or exceeding our goals, we’ve been able to ensure we stay ahead of the game.
This means consistently nurturing our open deals, staying on top of existing client relationships for cross-selling and up-selling opportunities, as well as having a good grip on which accounts we own that could turn into an opportunity.
With all of this, organization is key. It certainly helps to have a world-class CRM help us map out our month and surface up leads that are most likely to convert.”
7. Sales Automation
Sales teams can use AI-powered tools to automate mundane tasks, cutting back on the time spent performing admin and driving efficiency in their sales processes.
Begin automating sales processes for your team by performing a time audit. Have each rep and manager track what tasks they perform in a week, and how long each task takes them. With this data, your team can identify opportunities to streamline your efforts. Some common processes sales teams choose to automate include:
Sales reporting— Reduce the number of systems your team pulls reporting information from. Use tools that provide all the reporting you need from within one platform.
Creating CRM records— Setup workflows to automatically create new contacts and deals in your CRM so reps don’t have to.
Email templates— For common emails create a set of templates reps can easily replicate and customers without recreating the wheel.
Wondering if you need to implement all seven of these processes?
Not exactly. The efficacy of a sales process will vary depending on the individual who is using it.
For instance, an entire salesforce might not need an account management process, but sellers who manage key customer relationships will. Furthermore, inside sales reps won’t need a territory management process, but salespeople with dozens or hundreds of assigned customers in a specific geographic location will.
There are discrete sales processes, and each process has a particular application to specific sales roles. If your sales processes aren’t aligned to the role (say, requiring territory managers to do account planning), they’ll quickly be abandoned. There’s no such thing as a bad sales process – just the wrong sales processes.
If you have no formal sales processes in place, now is a good time to implement them. If you have the wrong sales processes in place, you’re likely frustrated.
However, if you have the right formal sales processes in place, you’re in a position to become a sales management rock star. You can confidently measure, manage, and coach your salespeople to higher performance through more consistent execution of their most important activities.
Originally published Sep 16, 2020 1:15:00 PM, updated June 15 2021