How to create a sales process that accelerates growth

All top business to business (b2b) sales organizations have a proven sales process they follow religiously and execute daily.  They use the process to find the right customers at the right time with the right message.  They use this process to qualify opportunities and forecast business they can count on in the future.  They use this process to help with time management and skill set improvement.  Without a sales process in place, they would be leaving their success to chance.  

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What is a sales process?

A sales process is a set of repeatable steps that a sales organization does to find the right buyer, get them interested in their product or service and close them in a predictable timeframe. Although the buying process has evolved over the years with the internet being a source of endless information, the 7 stages of the sales process still follow the same structure as it has for centuries. 

Why is it important to have a sales process?

Imagine you’re baking a cake.  The directions say you need to add one teaspoon of baking powder.  What happens if you miss adding baking powder altogether?  You’ll end up with a pancake and not a fluffy delicious cake.  What happens if you add too much baking powder? The batter could rise so high and spill over the pan, catch on fire from the oven and ultimately ruin the cake.   

Recipes exist so you can have a proven outcome. If you follow the cake recipe from start to finish religiously, you will end up with the same cake at the end.  It will look, smell, and taste exactly the same.  You could make one cake or 100.  The end result is the same in cooking as it is in sales.  Follow the sales process steps exactly and you’ll end up with predictable sales results.

What are the steps to the sales process?

Before you can design a sales plan for your organization, you will need to clearly understand the 7 steps of the sales process and how they relate to what your sales team will experience along their path to finding and closing business.

The 7 steps of the sales process are:

  1. Preparation
  2. Prospecting
  3. Discovery
  4. Share Value
  5. Proposal
  6. Closing
  7. Customer Success

These steps could vary slightly depending on the type of industry and offering but, generally speaking, they all follow the same sales cycle.

1. Preparation

The first step in the selling process is preparation.  In fact, every step starts with this.  Salespeople need to learn how to best represent themselves in front of prospective customers.  They need to learn about their own products and services and how they help their customers achieve their objectives.  Preparation is also the foundation of all successful sales activities and the difference between a top sales performer and a mediocre one.  Having an effective day is a result of preparation and having a prospecting list before the start each day.

Part of preparation is researching customers they call upon and meet with.  The likelihood of success increases the more they know about their prospect’s business.  Researching their clients will help them communicate with them as well as deliver the right message that positions themselves as a part of the solution to the challenges they are facing in the world today.  

Great preparation includes role play.  Roleplay is how any salesperson practices for a client-facing interaction.  The sales activity, whether it’s prospecting or moving a sales cycle forward, is won long before it actually happens with the customer.  It all comes down to the preparation.  Even with just 5 minutes of preparing, the results can be dramatic. 

Finally, in this first step of the sales process, the salesperson must prepare a list for prospecting.  The better prepared their list is, the better the results their next step will be.

2. Prospecting

Once the salesperson has adequately prepared their list of ideal customers, it’s time to start applying a sequence of outreach activities to set appointments with those potential prospects. The better qualified the prospects are in the list, the better the results will be from prospecting.  CRMs are used to help better qualify customers for prospecting activities to help contact the right customer at the right time. 

Prospecting activities may include all or a handful of the following:

  • Cold calling on foot
  • Cold calling over the phone
  • Leaving an attention-catching voicemail
  • Cold emailing
  • Social selling on LinkedIn
  • Attending networking events
  • Asking current customers for referrals
  • Dropping off collateral

It’s widely accepted that it may take 8 touches or more with a customer before they will be open to meeting with you and moving on to step three.  For these reasons top salespeople have learned how to work on having a winning mindset so they can deal with rejection and get past gatekeepers.

Modern day sales tools like Outreach will help you build out sequences with your prospecting efforts.  Sequences are connected activities that when combined have a greater effect.  For example, one sequence could be to first direct the salesperson to cold call the prospect over the phone, then leave a voicemail, and finally to send them a message (social selling) on LinkedIn to close out one activity and the sequence.

3. Discovery

The first meeting with the customer is where the salesperson has the investigatory job of finding out if they need what you are selling.  This part of the sales process involves asking thoughtful questions that dive into learning more about the customers’ current challenges and discussing to see if you could help them through those particular challenges.  

Many believe that this step is the most important part of the sales process and that it’s where a deal is won or lost.  Because of that belief, there is no minimum amount of research or preparation one could do to get ready for this meeting.  The case could be made that this is the most difficult part of the sales process for the salesperson as they need to spend most of the time active listening, educating, and diagnosing a problem that might not even be known to the customer.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the goal is for both the salesperson and the customer to mutually agree on the next step.  That next step is based on exploring and validating if the salesperson could help them improve upon the challenges they are currently facing.

4. Share Value

This fourth step of the sales process is where value is demonstrated to the customer.  The information that is shared inside of the discovery meeting is used to tailor the salesperson’s solution and comes across as something made to improve the customer’s situation.

This step could happen in many different ways.  The most common activity done in this step is a live demonstration or even providing a no cost trial offer to the client.  Other things could be shared like testimonials, case studies, or even more meetings with other people in both organizations to further evaluate and explore the opportunity.

In this step, the customer is doing their due diligence to see if the salesperson’s offering could actually help their business.  With that in mind, this step is where they learn more about the solution.   It’s possible that they could learn that the solution isn’t a fit and doesn’t align with the direction of their company.  If they do see the solution helping, then the next step would be for them to see the numbers and details behind the contract.

5. Proposal

The proposal step is where the salesperson presents a custom proposal for the prospect that includes all the necessary details needed to move forward with the solution.   During this time, the salesperson highlights all of the reasons why the customer should choose their solution instead of the other alternatives in the market.  

At the end of the proposal presentation, it’s expected for the salesperson to ask for the order and close the deal.  However, because the proposal usually isn’t presented to the ultimate decision maker, the customer can’t decide without sharing the information up the chain of command.  Inside of this step, the proposals that have the best results are the ones that sell for themselves after the salesperson has left the pitch.  

There are many different types of modern day proposal software solutions exist, like Proposify, that will allow you to track the amount of time spent on each page and provide insights into what the decision makers thought was valuable and where further questions could be needing to be expanded upon.

6. Closing

During this step of the sales process the customer chooses the vendor that best fits their needs. These needs are evaluated based upon company reputation, solution fit, and then overall cost to implement.  At this point they have narrowed down their choices and they attempt to negotiate, while airing their objections to the salespeople.  

The best salespeople are the ones who have differentiated themselves, the company they work for and their offering from the beginning of the discovery part of the sales process.  When that is done well, the closing phase becomes nothing more than a quick step in the process.  

In modern selling situations, the close is so subtle and barely even a step in the sales process.  The most challenging part of the close tends to be around creating urgency with clients and getting the deal closed within a predictable timeline.

7. Customer Success

In modern day business to business sales cycles, the engagement never ends.  The last thing a salesperson needs is for their reputation to be that they disappear after a deal has been done.  Customers expect another dimension of support after the sale.  

The most successful organizations have some sort of regular check in process where they bring current usage information, in the form of account reviews, to stay ahead of any challenges the client may be facing with their solution.  It also allows the relationship to build, collect referrals,  provide more value and insight into new potential offerings that could benefit the customer.

Where are the biggest challenges in a sales process?

Regardless of what year we are in, salespeople always end up having the same 3 challenges. They need help with prospecting, finding opportunity on appointments by asking the right questions, and closing deals.  Let’s break each one down.

1. Salespeople have trouble prospecting.

Cold calling isn’t a fun activity.  The salesperson is literally interrupting their customer.  Whether it’s in person, over the phone, or via email, it feels like playing the lottery.  Who knows what could happen on the next dial. These feelings cause many salespeople to question if they are cut out for the role and consider going into another career.

The best salespeople learn how to overcome call avoidance, find the little wins and become a fearless prospector.  Everyone has to learn these skills.  No one is born with it.

2. Salespeople have trouble asking great questions.

One of the most common stereotypes of salespeople is that they don’t listen.  In many cases this is true.  That’s the reason asking great questions during a discovery session is so difficult for them.  The only way one could ask really good questions is by drilling into the responses they hear from their customer.  The opportunity is hidden underneath the customer responses.  

Because asking great questions is an advanced skill, you need an organization that has an advanced method of teaching how to do this.  Gap Selling has a widely used process of uncovering what really matters to a prospect in a discovery meeting through calculated questioning and leading that conversation into a new opportunity.

3. Salespeople have trouble closing deals.

This is one of the most tragic challenges salespeople face.  Not because they can’t close for a sale.  Not because they aren’t handling objections or understanding how to negotiate.  The reason this is tragic is because the real issue here is the salesperson doesn’t have enough prospects.  

The problem is almost always how many deals are coming into the pipeline and not how to improve the closing ratio of the ones that are inside of the sales process.  Too often there isn’t much prospecting going on, for reasons mentioned above, so the salesperson becomes overprotective and desperate with the small number of opportunities they are working on.  They think they can close all of them.  That’s just not statistically accurate.  

This is sad because they are focusing their energy on improving a closing skill set that doesn’t have much opportunity for improvement.  Even the best sales strategies can only improve the needle a tiny bit.

What is the difference between a sales process and sales strategy?

Many organizations may say they have a sales process, however, they just have a collection of sales strategies.   There is a clear difference between the two.  

A sales process, like it was described in this post, is a set of repeatable steps that a sales organization does to find the right buyer, get them interested in their product or service, and close them in a predictable timeframe.  These steps are a process and a sequence of events.  These steps never change.  

Sales strategy, on the other hand, are tactics that a sales organization may use to move a prospect through the steps of the sales cycle.  For example, there could be creative social selling strategies on LinkedIn, like using video messaging from companies like Vidyard, to set up an initial discovery meeting with a prospect.  There could also be strategies to create urgency with a client to get them to move faster during the closing stage.

In order to have a successful sales process, you may need to add in a sales strategy here and there to gain more control of the sales cycle.   The top sales organizations have their sales strategies outlined inside of their company’s sales playbook.

How to create a winning sales process?

Your company’s sales process needs to be the backbone of your organization.  Once that’s done, it will become the recipe your salespeople follow to reach predictable success.  There are five components needed to create a winning sales process.  

  1. Map the buyer’s journey into the sales process
  2. Create a sales playbook
  3. Put a management process in place
  4. Create a culture of learning

1. Map the buyer's journey into the sales process

The 7 steps of the sales process are preparation, prospecting, discovery, share value, proposal, closing, and customer success.  How does your ideal customer fit into that process?  You need to understand this intimately.  

What happens inside of the prospecting and research phase?  Typically, from the buyer’s perspective, there’s a decision made in any industry at that moment that they are in the market for a new solution.  The prospecting part of the process for the buyer is searching for companies that could potentially provide the solution they are looking for.  Once the potential vendors are chosen they are contacted to gather further qualifying information, during the discovery step, to see if they could meet their needs. Then the buyer needs more proof (share value stage) to see which solutions are the best fit.  The vendors that have the best offering then get the opportunity to present a proposal to the buyer.  The buyer then thinks about it, comes back with any hesitations, and then closes and moves forward with the offering. After that, the buyer doesn’t want to have buyer’s remorse so they look for guarantees to make sure they are protected in case they aren’t happy with the solution (customer success).

2. Create a sales playbook

Every product you purchase online or in the store comes with directions.  The directions of how to use it and what to do if things go wrong.  That’s where a sales playbook comes in handy.

The goal of the sales playbook is to provide the salesperson with everything they need to know in order to be successful in their job.  What to do when any type of situation arises.  It’s packed with key people to contact in the organization for different reasons, talk tracks and messaging to use in certain situations, objection handling scripts, sales strategies, and more.  The sales playbook is the sales success handbook.

3. Create a management process

As you’re building out the sales engine around your sales process, there needs to be structured check-ins on the sales team to ensure they are getting the support they need to perform at a high level. This is why companies put together a management process.  

A management process is a system of support for the sales team to help them with skill set development, coaching to improve their effectiveness, strategies to increase their sales, and a champion to keep them focused on hitting their goals.  The best organizations do this with regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings, strategy team meetings, field ride days, and ongoing sales training.

4. Create a culture of learning

The modern selling world is innovating incredibly fast.  Now it’s possible to learn what words and key phrases translate in the best outcome with your clients.  This information, or revenue intelligence, is accelerating the growth of skills and sales performance.  This sort of information can only exist within a company that creates a culture of learning.  That’s a culture where everyone from the executive level, down to the person starting their first day on the job, all care equally about skill set improvement.  

One of the organizations piloting the revenue intelligence revolution is Gong. Match that type of technology with an organization that values getting better every day and you’ll be on your way to rapid sales growth.

What is the next step with your sales process?

Remember, the sales process is the backbone of your organization.  Before you do anything, you should evaluate how strong your sales process is and make adjustments to get it on track.  

Here are ten questions that could help you find out if you have a rock-solid sales process:

  1. What happens on each step of your sales process?
  2. How long does an ideal prospect take to get through your sales process?
  3. What challenges do you salespeople have within your sales process?
  4. How are you teaching your salespeople to get better in those areas?
  5. What does your sales playbook consist of?
  6. How regularly do you update the sales playbook and how do your salespeople access it?
  7. What strategies do you have to lead a prospect through your sales process?
  8. What does your management process look like?
  9. How often are your salespeople being coached on the job?
  10. How are you leveraging next-generation tools to improve your results during the sales process?

The best sales organizations understand that they could always get better.  After all, one small tweak from cutting edge information could make a tremendous difference in your sales results.  Let us know if we can help be a resource in any way.

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