There’s been a lot of talk in the last decade about the importance of the sales process—that series of steps a sale travels through from lead to close and beyond. For sales velocity and many other factors, a sales process is certainly vital. But how is a workable sales process evolved?
A sales process should not be created just by the general steps that “everybody knows” a sale goes through. The result of such an effort is a partial sales process that doesn’t wholly back up sales or the company.
First Step: Stop, Think, Analyze
- Interview each of your experienced, proven sales reps
- Isolate the series of steps each takes with a sale.
- Identify common actions that successful salespeople always take
- Use the research to begin to outline your basic sales process.
Understand How Leads Are Generated
Ensure that the sales process includes lead creation. In some cases sales reps do this themselves and will include it in the description of their actions. In other cases marketing creates the leads through campaigns and lead generation programs; if so, those basic actions should be part of your sales process so that they can be monitored.
Subsequent to the close come some important steps, including:
- product implementation and/or delivery
- customer service, and support
- customer feedback about their buying experience
- relationship building activities to cement advocacy, evangelism, and referrals
Your expert salespeople will agree that without these additional actions being included and monitored the sales job will be made more difficult down the road; it comes right back on sales when product or company repute is damaged through bad delivery or service. These postsales stages or actions round out your sales process.
How One Company Might Set Their Course
Here is an example of an actual sales process from a company selling high-end fuel systems:
1. Lead. With this particular company, leads are obtained by salespeople. When a lead looks promising, it is put into the CRM system.
2. Qualify. This is the stage at which a lead is qualified. Questions are answered such as: Does the prospect company have the financial wherewithal to purchase? Will they be a good fit for our product and service?
3. Activity. It is under this step that the company pulls together all the specifics needed to make an offer. It includes full research into costs, and pricing of the system to be competitive yet profitable as a sale.
4. Offer. The formal quote for the company’s product and support is provided to the prospect.
5. Negotiation. In this industry, quotes are rarely accepted at face value—there is always negotiation for the final deal.
6. Confirmation. The company and the prospect agree on a price, and the deal is agreed upon. In other words, the sale is closed.
7. Order. The order is received by the company.
8. Invoice. The new client is invoiced for full or (if agreed upon) partial payment.
This company would do well to add at least two more steps to their sales process—and in fact these steps most likely exist even if not stated:
9. Delivery. This step would include installation of equipment, and onboarding of services.
10. Tech Support. Under this stage would come any support that the client requires, so that a record of it is kept.
11. Postsales Relationship Activities. Follow up stage for feedback, relationship nurturing toward advocacy, evangelism, and referrals. These are socially-driven steps that may be handled by Sales, Marketing, or a combination of the two. They might include scheduled communications (drip campaigns) to solicit feedback, ask for third-party reviews, and offer assistance.
Note that adding the suggested steps 9, 10 and 11 into a sales process—and expressing them in CRM—could be vital to a sales rep looking to sell further products, or to upsell to an existing client. The rep will want to know how satisfied the customer is and if there have been any issues that could come up.
Trial and Continuing Flexibility of Sales Process
Once a sales process is developed and before it is finalized, it should be put through a trial period with the reps. Consider this like a shakedown cruise for a sailing vessel—any bugs can be worked out and any needed adjustments made.
Even after a sales process is finalized, though, remember that a company is a dynamic operation. Markets change, new products come online, sales methods improve. Therefore a company should always keep a flexible attitude toward its sales process; if changes are needed to the sales process or any of its stages, they should be made. A sales process is only as good as it is useful, and sales reps will avoid it to the degree that it doesn’t actually assist them in selling.
Editor’s Postscript: Setting up a sales process is one of the most important steps toward a healthy pipeline. Making it a priority to create, monitor, and maintain the process will make many parts of the sales workflow easier. New hires, pipeline accuracy, and smooth migration from one step to another in your pipeline will mean more closes, higher revenues, and more productivity among team members. Read more in our Learn Center.