What if your sales manager leaves your business tomorrow?
Would you know how many sales are about to close?
Would you know how much revenue to expect next month?
Would you know how much it costs you to acquire a customer?
If you answered NO to any of these questions, then it’s probably time to create or improve your sales process.
10 ways to improve your sales process
- Have a clear strategy
- Define your stages
- Align with the buyer’s journey
- Assign a responsible person
- Define and monitor your KPIs
- Use technology to automate your sales
- Align marketing and sales
- Measure sales rep performance
- Collect customer data
- Update your process as you grow
A sales process is a series of predictable, repeatable steps that a salesperson takes with a prospect to move them down the sales funnel to become a customer.
Rather than a set-in-stone list of activities, it is a high-level map of expected interactions and a helpful guide for sales reps to follow with each new prospect.
A simple sales process typically goes through these stages: Prospecting, initiating contact, identifying needs, presenting offers, managing objections, and closing the deal.
This process is repeated in a cycle, meaning once you close a deal, with repeat sales and referrals, you start the next cycle.
Sales process vs. sales cycle
Since the sales process is a cyclical process, many times, the term sales cycle is used interchangeably with it.
However, the sales cycle is the amount of time it takes for your sales team to take a customer through your sales process (i.e. finish one cycle).
In other words, it's the name of the period of time that your prospects spend throughout the sales process.
For instance, when we talk about shortening a sales cycle, it’s not about changing your sales process (e.g. removing some steps from the process and making it a shorter process). It’s about how to move the prospects faster through that process (i.e. finishing your cycles faster).
Sales process vs. sales funnel
The sales funnel is a high-level visual representation of your sales process, from initial contact to final sale. It is often V-shaped because it assumes that a significant percentage of prospects will be lost at each step of the sales process.
The stages of a sales funnel refer to a potential customer’s degree of readiness to commit to a deal from the seller’s perspective. As a deal moves down the funnel, time to closing decreases, and the probability of the sale occurring increases.
The relationship between the two is that by taking the steps described in your sales process, you basically move the prospects down the funnel.
Sales process vs. sales pipeline
The sales pipeline is a concept that visualizes in real time where your deals are in your sales process.
The term 'pipeline' comes from the concept of deals traveling along your sales process, from initial contact to final sale. It can be seen as the sales funnel that contains a set of opportunities your sales team is currently working on and expect to close within a reasonable amount of time.
Your sales pipeline is a systematic approach to selling your product or service, and it allows your sales team to track the progress of your deals and forecast revenue by looking at the stages the deals are in and predicting how many will close during a given time frame.
How you design and structure your sales process typically depends on your market and deal size.
In B2B sales, selling to SMB, mid-market, and enterprise customers have a number of differences. Understanding these differences will help your business determine and leverage the right sales process.
Generally speaking, for larger deal sizes (e.g., enterprise sales), you need a high-touch, field sales model.
On the other hand, for smaller deal sizes, a no-touch, inbound sales model will be more suitable.
The 7-step outbound sales process
This is the traditional, old-school outbound sales process, where your salespeople (not prospects) initiate the process. It’s still in use today, typically for enterprise sales, and it has seven steps:
- Prospecting: In this stage, you find potential customers and determine whether they have a need for your product or service—and whether they can afford what you offer. There are various ways for your company to prospect, such as networking at live events or trade shows as well as on social media, purchased lists, cold calling, and referrals.
- Connect: This is the step where you begin to build a relationship, and the intelligence gathering continues (it started with prospecting). Your sales reps will need to make initial contact with your leads. This may be face-to-face, via a phone call, email, or through social media.
- Qualify: Evaluating whether the customers need your product or service and can afford it is known as qualifying. You have to think about how to solve their problem. And you can only do that by asking lots of questions. For that reason, you have to prepare a series of qualifying questions to ask prospects.
- Presentation: In the presentation phase, you actively communicate the value of your solution and demonstrate how your product or service meets the needs of your potential customer. You can do that by connecting your prospect’s needs and wants with the corresponding features and benefits of your product offering.
- Handling Objections: This is where you listen to your prospect’s concerns and address them. Objections are opportunities to learn more about your prospect’s needs. Let them fully explain their objections and ask lots of follow-up questions so you can understand the root of the issue.
- Closing: Closing is about advancing the sales process to ultimately get an order. It 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 sending a proposal or quote, negotiation or achieving the buy-in of decision-makers.
- Follow-up: Happy customers make excellent candidates for your other services. The follow-up stage keeps you in contact with customers you have closed, not only for potential repeat business but referrals as well. And since retaining current customers is six to seven times less costly than acquiring new ones, maintaining relationships is key.
Inbound sales process
In B2B sales, especially if you are targeting SMB or mid-market companies, where deal sizes are typically small, you wouldn’t follow the traditional outbound sales process for two reasons:
1. The revenue you get from a customer is too small to afford a full-fledged sales effort.
2. Your buyers don’t want to be cold-called or prospected anymore.
Today, B2B buyers are taking the lead in the sales process. They do their own research online before considering which solution might be the best fit. In fact, many of the buying decisions have been made before the salesperson ever talks to the business.
After buyers conduct their own research, they’ll identify the companies they wish to reach out to, visit those websites and control the process.
So how can B2B sales reps still have an impact on this changing buyer journey?
So instead of your sales team doing the prospecting, you have to generate leads through inbound marketing. Instead of the initial contact, you do lead nurturing. Instead of qualifying, your marketing automation solution does lead scoring.
Your salespeople should enter the sales process much later, at the presentation stage, where your buyer reaches out to you for a consultation, demo, etc.
Sales process maturity
When it comes to maturity, there are three types of sales organizations:
- No sales process: These are the companies that are aware of it and open about the fact they have no formal process.
- Very basic sales process: Some of these companies only have a series of tasks. Some others only have some time-based activities (e.g. number of calls, meetings). But not a proper process.
- Not optimized sales process: In this case, the sequence isn’t in the right order, or there are missing steps.
In recent years, executives and sales leaders have understood the role a process plays in achieving sales goals. According to Prima Resource, today, 20-25% of B2B companies have some form of a structured sales process, up from less than 10% a few years ago.
Companies that follow a formal sales process see a 28% higher revenue flow than companies that have no process in place. Why? Because when you have a process in place, your sales team has a better idea of how to guide leads across the buying journey to become a customer.
Be honest with yourself. What is your maturity level?
10 ways to improve your sales process
1. Have a clear strategy
Having a vision, strategy and plan is key to success.
Without a clear sales strategy, you can’t manage all the parts of the sales process.
Sit down with all the other decision-makers in your company and formulate your sales strategy, which will be the backbone of your sales process.
A simple strategy combined with a well-developed sales process makes selling more straightforward.
2. Define your stages
Most companies have an informal sales process, where everyone sort of knows what is supposed to happen and who does what.
The first thing you’ll want to do is map out these informal processes to get a formal understanding of all the steps to making a sale. How many emails do you need to send? How many phone calls are you making? Who are you talking to?
Whatever the building blocks of the sale are, you have to define those, and that becomes your process.
3. Align with the buyer’s journey
Analyze your buyer’s journey and identify their main decision points.
Use your experience as a salesperson for this insight, but also schedule a time to talk to some of your best customers for firsthand insight.
After collecting all that information, sit down and align your sales process with the buyer’s journey.
Read our article on how to achieve that alignment.
4. Assign a responsible person
There are so many sales organizations where the management has created a sales process, but no one uses or actually understands it.
You can assign a person that loves processes to constantly educate the sales team and improve the process.
Make sure you regularly work with your salesforce and help them understand and use the process.
5. Define and monitor your KPIs
Defining your sales process allows you to define KPIs and measure every aspect of your sales efforts.
Common KPIs include sales to date, sales cycle time, close rate, average sales price, customer lifetime value (LTV), customer acquisition cost (CAC), churn rate, etc.
By measuring your KPIs, you can identify the problematic areas in your sales process.
6. Use technology to automate your sales
Managing a complex sales process is not that easy. It has many moving parts. And you shouldn’t lose sight of what’s important.
However, your salespeople are always extremely busy. That’s why sales automation technology can help you save time and make your life easier.
7. Align marketing and sales
Especially if you have an inbound-heavy sales process, where the early stages of your sales process are handled by your marketing team, marketing & sales alignment becomes even more crucial.
If both departments can work together and go through the data, you can easily identify the points where you can optimize your sales process.
Listen to Bill Macaitis, former CMO of Slack, Salesforce and Zendesk, discuss sales & marketing alignment:
8. Measure sales rep performance
You can use your KPIs to measure individual sales rep performance too.
This can be a great way to foster friendly competition within your team.
And to compete better with their colleagues, your sales reps will certainly come up with innovative ideas to improve your sales process. During your regular sales meetings, you can collect these ideas.
9. Collect customer data
Don’t rely on hunches or what “feels” like the best way to sell.
You should start collecting data on prospects and customers. By comparing customer types to their buying activities, you’ll get a more precise view of what products and communication methods work best with different customers.
With that information, you can generate ideas on how to improve your process.
10. Update your process as you grow
As you grow your business, you expand selling into different segments, industries, and geographies.
Whenever you have a change, your sales process will have to adapt accordingly. For instance, the sales process followed by an SMB will be different from the one followed by an enterprise company.
This means you may have to create the sales process all over again.