Creating an impactful sales process that’s tailored to your unique team is a crucial part of consistent success. But getting it right can be challenging, and simply developing a standardized process doesn’t automatically make for a stronger, more effective team. Reps sometimes feel confined by a rigid sales process, which can negatively impact engagement and, ultimately, lead to higher employee turnover.
Yet, reps who follow a sophisticated, structured sales process outperform those who don’t: In fact, companies with a well-defined process generate 18% more revenue than their competitors. And it’s no wonder why, as a formal process boosts rep efficiency, makes it easier to track and measure performance, and enables more accurate forecasting.
Here, we’ll take a look at the most important aspects of a sales process and explore why investing the time to build a strong, customized process is essential for boosting performance and revenue.
What is a sales process?
A sales process is a framework that reps use to move each prospect from a first-stage lead to a closed buyer. It’s the practice of following a repeatable, consistent set of steps that help reps perform at their best. A well-established sales process enables measurable success and simplifies otherwise complex purchasing experiences.
Since 77% of B2B customers say their latest purchase experience was extremely complex or difficult, a smooth, consistent sales process that eliminates arduous steps can become a team’s competitive advantage. The right process ensures that your reps are following best practices, working as efficiently as possible, and optimizing their time. Because most reps spend only a third of their time actually selling, defining and leveraging a strong sales process is crucial for maximizing their productivity and performance.
Before we dive into the steps of a sales process, let’s first take a look at how it differs from both your sales cycle and your sales funnel:
- A sales process refers to how reps follow a set of steps to execute a deal.
- A sales cycle is the list of specific, predetermined steps or stages that reps follow.
- A sales funnel acts as a visual representation of the entire sales process and shows each stage that prospects go through to become customers.
The 7 Sales Process Steps
It’s important to note that your organization’s sales process may vary depending on several factors, including team size, industry, target buyers, and more. But there are some common steps that teams often include in their process, including:
- Prospecting: To get your business in front of potential buyers and demonstrate your team’s proactive attitude, reps generally kick off the sales process with prospecting. This includes identifying and reaching out to leads who fit into the profile of an ideal buyer. 71% of buyers say they want to hear from sellers early on in the purchasing process, so smart, thorough prospecting is critical for getting started on the right foot.
- Preparation: Before your reps can actually sell anything, they must first have in-depth knowledge about your product or service and your target customer base. In this step, reps study competitors, learn about your organization’s own offerings, and conduct deep research into customer pain points.
- Approach: Once your reps know what they’re selling and whom they should be targeting, it’s time to make some meaningful connections. Since 31% of sellers say that sending one-to-one, customized messages is the most effective approach, reps should focus on personalizing these interactions. With genuine emails, phone calls, letters, and more, salespeople can make a lasting impression that opens the door for a full pitch at a later date.
- Presentation: While 58% of sales meetings are not valuable to buyers, reps can differentiate their pitch by tailoring a standardized presentation to suit each individual client. In this step, sellers should focus on clearly communicating the value of the product, demonstrating their willingness to collaborate, and educating the customer with robust resources and industry expertise.
- Objections Handling: It’s no secret that potential clients usually don’t say “yes” right off the bat. More often than not, they’ll have a list of questions and objections about your product, organization, pricing, and more. If your reps aren’t properly equipped to handle these objections, they risk losing the sale and falling short of their quotas. They need powerful tools (e.g. virtual assistants) and best practices for mitigating customer concerns and powering through this challenging stage in the process.
- Closing: It may take several weeks or months before a deal actually closes, depending on the client’s company size, industry, budget, number of decision makers, and more. In this stage of the sales process, reps must keep buyers engaged so they don’t fall through the cracks or run to a competitor. They must also know how to confidently negotiate the proposed terms of a contract (like price, scope of work, expectations, delivery timeline, etc.) so they don’t turn customers off or spend an exorbitant amount of time negotiating a deal that will never actually close.
- Follow-up: There’s a significant amount of time, energy, and resources that go into finally closing any deal — but the buck shouldn’t stop there. Reps should also continuously follow up with their clients to establish strong relationships, increase the likelihood of referrals, and retain more customers. Remember: Boosting retention rates by just 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%, so proactive followup is an absolutely essential part of a great sales process.
Sales Process vs. Sales Methodology
While the two terms are sometimes conflated, it’s important to remember that an organization's sales process differs from its sales methodology. Your reps closely follow your sales process, which acts as a roadmap for their selling success. A sales methodology, on the other hand, is the philosophy or ideology that supports your team’s sales process.
For example, your team might implement the Solution Selling methodology for their process, which focuses on meeting prospects where they are and tailoring unique solutions that address their particular challenges or objectives. Another popular methodology is the Challenger Sale, wherein sellers educate prospects about the industry, specific business impacts, and market opportunities.
There are countless sales methodologies that your team can leverage to support their sales process, so be sure to research each to determine which approach will best suit your business.
Strategies for Creating a Winning Sales Process
Building a successful sales process requires an effective strategy for execution. As you create your process, consider these high-impact strategies:
Put Your Data to Work
The foundation of a mature sales process is data. Not just any data, but actionable data and insights that shed light on your current process, including what’s working and what's not. If you’re currently relying on engagement metrics alone to evaluate the success of your team’s performance, you’re likely missing out on myriad insights that could boost employee and customer satisfaction, shorten your sales cycle, and increase revenue. Yet, only 30% of organizations say they’re properly equipped to use their data to improve their strategies.
For a strong, competitive sales process, go beyond your traditional metrics and use your data to uncover the meaning or intent behind every prospect interaction. Technology like Buyer Sentiment Analysis helps your team do just that; with tools that let them analyze prospect responses quickly and at scale.
With the right technology, you can use your data to:
- Prioritize sequences based on positive reply rate
- Investigate sequences that generate a high volume of unsubscribes or rejections
- Evaluate sequences that generate higher volumes of positive replies or referrals
- Leverage your data to double-down on top-converting sequences across the entire team
- Relay information back to marketing teams to further enhance the quality of MQLs
- Determine which sequences to phase out or eliminate
- Fine-tune messaging
- Determine individual reps’ strengths and weaknesses
These smaller actions based on in-depth, real-time insights help leaders and managers create a sales process that drives productivity, engagement, and revenue.
Clearly Define Your Buyer Personas
Before you can create a sales process that’s truly effective — for your organization and customers alike — you must first understand to whom you’re selling and how they’ll perceive your buying journey. Take the time to refine your ideal customer profile (ICP) and buyer personas and determine how your reps can best engage them throughout the sales process.
Organizations often struggle to identify the right type of customers for their products or services, and improper market-solution fit can negatively impact their bottom line. An effective sales process requires a deep understanding of buyer characteristics that yield the best (and most sustainable) value and that reflect the right pain points, priorities, demographics, and domain expertise; so be sure to establish these details and build them into your process from the start.
Use the Right Tools
As the selling landscape shifts to a more digitally-minded environment, sales leaders have invested in a whole slew of tools to support their sales force. And while SalesTech can certainly improve the sales process by boosting communication, productivity, and lead conversion, it’s crucial to implement the right tools for success.
As you build your sales process, be sure to eliminate the superfluous tools in your stack that slow your team down or don’t integrate with your other technologies. Leverage solutions that centralize your sales operations so reps don’t need to waste time toggling between different apps to execute their daily activities.
Outreach’s sales execution platform acts as a single pane of glass for sales leaders and reps by automating workflows, surfacing insights that lead to better deal outcomes, and removing the guesswork from sales forecasts. The result is a more streamlined, efficient sales process that allows reps to focus more of their time on actually selling.
Common Sales Process Mistakes
Oftentimes, well-intentioned sales leaders create and implement a sales process that doesn’t yield the right results. A structured sales process can be one of your team’s greatest assets, but, when leveraged incorrectly, can instead become a giant headache. To avoid wasting time and resources on a lackluster sales process, steer clear of these common mistakes:
Missing or Weak Proof in Your Sales Pitch
Too often, sales teams develop and use pitches that make false claims, whether intentionally or not. Reps spin a story of a particular pain point, then create an ‘enemy’ responsible for that pain, without providing proper proof. But this diminishes reps’ credibility and appeals only to buyers’ emotions.
To create trust and belief, sales teams need a pitch that’s grounded in facts. This means finding third-party conversations or reports (from Forrester, Gartner, Forbes, etc.), clearly illustrating the claim (through quotes, examples, or short stories), and including hard data. By building strong proof into your sales pitch, you appeal to buyers’ logic and establish trust — not only in your solution, but in your company as a whole, too.
Missing or Unclear Next Steps
“Next steps” are often dreaded words, both for reps and customers alike. Sales leaders require their reps to provide meaningless status updates to satisfy a particular field in their CRM, but that information is usually useless. Reps hound customers for next steps in an effort to move deals forward, but typically do so with a lack of solid direction; a frustrating, confusing request for already-busy decision makers.
Next steps can be incredibly valuable when used correctly, though. Leaders can turn next steps into powerful teaching moments by redefining their purpose. Instead of framing next steps as simple, pointless status updates, leaders should encourage reps to communicate them in terms of what they’re trying to accomplish in a deal and how.
Sales leaders can then use that information to gain insights into how their reps think about moving deals through the pipeline and how they guide buyers to their decisions. Depending on rep responses, leaders can either confirm their thinking or help them course correct for better results. Next step fields should include a clearly defined purpose and format, fully align with the broader sales process, and ensure rep accountability.
Real-time intelligence tools can help your team maximize the value of next steps, as they automatically capture followup tasks and action items for reps during sales calls, even when managers aren’t around. They ensure nothing falls through the cracks and that reps always know what to do next.
Reps can more effectively and efficiently move deals forward by tweaking their approach to customer next steps, too. Instead of offering weak or unclear next steps, they should gain (and rely on) a deep understanding of the sales process, which will help them guide the customer through a buying decision. They should also clearly establish the single, most important goal of each sales meeting and have the confidence to reach that goal before the meeting ends.
Mutual action plans (MAP) or success plans can be especially helpful here, as they create a shared, collaborative experience between buyers and sellers to expedite the final sale. They outline all the crucial steps, milestones, and deadlines required to get the deal across the finish line and eliminate the uncertainty that can otherwise slow down the buying process.
Lack of Adaptability
Your sales process is a living breathing entity; one that should evolve as your objectives, resources, industry, products, and total addressable market (TAM) change. Many organizations fail to recognize the importance of flexibility and opt for a stagnant, permanently fixed process. But this approach doesn’t leave room for uncovering and resolving potential issues that might be hindering the team’s success.
There will never be a magic elixir that you can dump into your sale process for perfect outcomes. That’s why it’s vital to measure performance and progress, and spend time checking in with reps. By consistently making small adjustments, you can greatly impact your process and the results that it garners.
One key to successful adaptation is focusing on a strong sales management process, as it’s the backbone of any competitive organization. By fostering a transparent team culture, encouraging regular feedback, and committing to ongoing training, leaders and managers can better understand and polish the sales process their reps follow. Effective sales management enables managers to more quickly identify and eliminate the parts of the process that aren't working and scale the parts that are.
In addition to implementing a solid management strategy, sales leaders should also track and monitor the key performance indicators (KPIs) that offer transparency into how the team is doing and the health of the pipeline. Robust sales engagement platforms can make tracking your most essential metrics (e.g. number of new leads, conversion rate, customer engagement, retention rate, pipeline velocity, etc.) an easier feat. Using those insights, you can dive in and see which reps need more support, how efficiently your team is operating, and where your sales process might need more work.
How to Improve Your Sales Process
If you’ve already implemented a sales process that’s just not cutting it, there are some tried-and-true best practices you can use to make meaningful improvements. Here are three ways you can maximize the profitability and efficiency of your process:
1. Leverage a Single Platform
Revenue teams often suffer from a Sales Execution Gap, which is the disparity between their potential revenue and the actual revenue it achieves. While they develop strong strategies, they find difficulties in actually executing those strategies for three main reasons: inefficient prospecting, inconsistent deal management, and inaccurate revenue forecasting. These issues are further exacerbated by outdated or legacy SalesTech that simply doesn’t properly support reps.
A Sales Execution Gap impacts the business as a whole, and can be identified across several areas:
- Sales reps still rely on manual, time-consuming prospecting workflows that make it difficult (if not impossible) for them to reach their pipeline generation targets.
- Account executives and sales managers use insufficient tools, and therefore don’t know how (or when) to execute the right selling steps — so deals putter out or die.
- Revenue leaders lack the deal intelligence needed to accurately predict their numbers.
- Executives can’t invest in business growth with any real confidence because they lack an accurate, holistic view of sales performance.
Traditional, disjointed tools just aren’t enough to close the Sales Execution Gap. To overcome the challenges associated with ever-changing buyer and seller preferences and implement a sales process that actually works, organizations need a single, powerful platform. By investing in a centralized system, sales teams can operate at their full potential, win more deals with less effort, and ensure a better customer experience.
An intelligent sales engagement platform, for example, guides both reps and managers in real time to prospect more efficiently, improve their sales execution, and proactively fix deal risks before they’re lost for good. They help sales organizations engage more of the right kinds of prospects to develop new revenue opportunities and commit to their forecast with confidence; all in a single platform.
2. Analyze Your Current Process and Adapt
If your current sales process isn’t yielding the results you want, it’s important to take a close look at what’s working and what’s not. Managers should take a magnifying glass to the sales pipeline, employee and customer feedback, and KPIs to uncover what is currently contributing to their team’s successes and failures.
Modern technology can help managers turn the data captured throughout the sales process into actionable insights. Buyer sentiment analysis, for example, offers full visibility into a prospect’s emotional response to each sales engagement, giving managers a bird’s eye view of data that can help them quickly repeat the process or correct wrongdoings at scale.
Powerful sales dashboards can help your team assess and improve the process, too. They standardized, centralize, and visually display all of your sales data in a single place, so managers can more easily measure team performance and progress against their goals in real time — and more accurately forecast and set sales plans moving forward. Some tools allow managers to build dashboards based on completely up-to-date data for fully informed coaching that improves the sales process.
3. Build a Customer-Centric Culture
Your sales process should always reflect your customers’ needs, priorities, and objectives. For any sales organization, a customer-centric approach makes for a more effective sales process. By shifting to a customer-minded perspective, sales teams can land better leads, achieve higher levels of customer engagement, and improve their bottom line.
As you adjust your sales process, consider how you can better focus on the human element of selling. Here’s how to get started:
- Research and understand customer pain points - Utilize active listening and empathize with buyers to more effectively communicate how your product or service provides value.
- Ask (the right) questions - Sales reps should be curious about what their customers want and need. Encourage them to consistently ask relevant questions about customer concerns, objectives, and requirements.
- Align your process with customer values - 71% of customers want to buy from a provider whose values align with their own. Take the time to research your customers’ company culture, vision, values, social efforts, and more, and make a genuine effort to build a bond based on those details.
92% of people trust word of mouth recommendations over any other type of referral, so failing to provide an excellent customer experience at every stage of the sales process means risking your company’s reputation and, in turn, potential revenue opportunities. Today’s powerful sales technologies help sellers meaningfully engage with customers based on buyer signals. They offer insights — backed by AI-driven tools — that shed light into buyer emotions, so sales teams can create a process that better supports their customers at scale.
A Powerful Platform for a More Effective Sales Process
Without the proper tools for support, creating and implementing a strong sales process can be a complex, time-consuming challenge. To understand where your team is falling short (and where they’re knocking it out of the park), you need complete visibility into each part of the sales process.
Outreach helps teams maximize their productivity, efficiency, and performance. With tools that streamline workflows, equip sellers with actionable insights, and offer real-time intelligence for each customer engagement, Outreach can enable your team to enhance every part of their sales process.
Read more about how the right platform can increase predictability, efficiency, and growth within your sales process, or request a demo today.