Sales process: How to map your sales process steps
A clear, repeatable sales process enables your reps to understand exactly what they need to do in order to succeed. It also helps sales managers plan out well-defined sales cycles that can generate more revenue with less effort.
Why? Because with a standardization your reps have a map that tells them exactly which activities they need to be doing, and when they need to do them.
When your reps follow the steps of the sales process you laid out, everyone is doing the same activities to get results’ no one deviates from the process, which is both clear and repeatable.
A sales process can also help you track your team’s process. When you know the steps everyone on your team is taking to close deals, you’ll know how everyone is spending their time and be able to identify where a rep is struggling—or the process itself is falling short.
In this article, we’ll explain what a sales process is, talk through some of the steps in sales processes, and describe how to create a sales process based on the metrics that are most important to your organization.
What is a sales process?
A sales process is a structured, step-by-step formula that tells your team exactly what activities they need to do to close a deal. Its steps should cover the stages of your pipeline and result in a smoother workflow.
A typical sales process generally includes:
Giving a presentation
Closing the deal
Retaining the customer
A quick search will reveal several variations in the above process. Some sales processes have three steps, some have eight. Despite the many variations, every sales process will take your deal through these sales process steps:
Here’s the thing, though: no matter what you read online, there is no one perfect sales process that will work for every sales organization, sales managers should tailor the process to their sales team’s goals.
When you’re building a sales process for your team, you’ll need to take the following items into consideration:
Your organization’s most important KPIs
Clearly defined stages in your pipeline
Structured lead qualification criteria matched to your pipeline stages
The activities your salespeople should take at each stage of your pipeline
The challenge lies in knowing which steps to include and which to discard when you’re designing your sales process. Is it worth breaking down each step into its component parts, (breaking down Making Contact into Cold Emails and Cold Calling, for example), or is it more important for your team to have a quick, streamlined process with only five steps?
The answers to this question have a lot to do with your sales team, your sales cycle, and your organizational goals.
Sales process steps
The best way to know which steps to include and which to discard is to examine them in detail. Below is a sales process map showing the most common, universal sales process steps.
Check out this clearly outlined sales process flowchart below as an example of one you might present to your sales team during strategy meetings or training.
Depending on the structure of your organization, leads may be generated in different ways. In many cases, warm leads are generated by an inbound marketing team and handed off to your sales team.
Leads could also be generated:
Through downloadable content, such as a lead entering their email to receive a download
Through a conversation with a chatbot on a webpage
When someone expresses interest in your product or service
This step (combined with lead generation) can also be called prospecting since you’re actively seeking out sales prospects.
During the research step, your sales team will examine the leads they’ve been given. This step often includes a lot of time spent online, trying to understand who is the best initial contact for a rep, what problem they’re trying to solve, and what their contact information is.
Your reps may spend a significant amount of time on social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, finding common ground with prospects, or looking into recent achievements—anything to find a conversational opening for the next step. They may also speak to contacts at an organization, looking for the best person to talk to.
There are CRM tools that can help you to track down leads and their information at companies. For example, GetCRM Software’s Smart Contact Data feature retrieves information about your GetCRM contacts that is available on the web with just one click.
This is the sales process step people tend to associate with salespeople: that first phone call from a rep, asking for a moment of your time. In fact, initial contact can happen in a variety of ways, including —phone, email, text, and social media are all options.
Cold Calls: Cold calls, though routinely proclaimed dead by blog posts across the internet, are still alive and well and part of many teams’ sales processes. The Rain Group found that 69% of buyers accepted cold calls from sales reps in the last year.
With the right training, experience, and script any sales rep can control the conversation on a sales call, without much risk or time wasted. Cold calls are also preferred by high-level buyers and decision-makers: the Rain Group found that more than half of senior-level buyers would rather get a phone call than an email.
Cold Emails: Cold emails are scalable: if your sales team hasn’t got the resources to make a high volume of calls, cold emails can help you get in front of the same number of prospects quickly—more quickly, in fact than making calls to the same number of people. Interestingly, overall, The Rain Group found that prospects tend to prefer cold emails to calls, especially gatekeepers (who are more likely who you’ll be interacting with at the beginning.
Initial contact, no matter how you do it, isn’t about giving as many people as possible the hard sell. Instead, it’s about starting a discussion with the right prospect.
Your script or email template may vary; they may start with a personal connection, gleaned during the Research phase. Your reps should also have a list of questions that will help them understand the prospect’s specific business problems
The personal touch is also important: this initial contact is when your sales reps need to make a solid connection with the right prospects; to really think about which ones are likely to be a good fit for your product.
The job of a salesperson isn’t just to sell a product or a service (although yes, that’s why you hired your reps), their job is also to illustrate that your product or service can help your prospects solve a problem.
“I like to say that salespeople are the research and development department for our customers,” says sales trainer Mark Hunter, of The Sales Hunter. “What we’re here to do is to help you find ideas, help find solutions to challenges that you’re facing, that you don’t know what to do with.”
That’s partially what lead qualification is about: finding the ideal prospects who really do need your product or service. At this point in the sales process, it’s time for your reps to examine the answers they received during initial contact and use those to determine which prospect is right for your product.
Lead qualification is important in any sales strategy for time-management purposes because you don’t want reps wasting their time on leads who are unlikely to buy, or who might be wrong for your product.
You can use several systems to qualify your leads, but one of the most common is BANT:
Budget: Does your prospect have the budget for your product?
Authority: Can the prospect actually make the purchase, or do they need to convince someone else?
Need: Do they truly need your product?
Timescale: Do they seem ready to buy now?
If the answers to all those questions are yes, great! You’ve got a hot lead, and you can start scheduling presentations.
If the answer to one or more of the questions is no, your rep may want to take a hard look at that lead. They may not be a good fit, or they might end up being a loss. You don’t want your sales pipeline clogged up with bad leads who aren’t ready, don’t have the budget, or who aren’t authorized to buy, for example. Those leads will end up wasting your salespeople’s time and preventing them from having the time to seek out better leads.
Those leads, the cold ones, should be dumped out of your reps’ pipelines to make room for the qualified leads who are ready to buy.
But wait a minute: you shouldn’t just take your lead’s word for it that they’re not a good lead. (If you disqualified every no, you’d never make a sale.) Part of qualifying a lead is hearing and successfully overcoming that lead’s main sales objections.
That brings us to the next step.
Sales objections are a common hurdle for sales teams, even the most successful companies experience them as a regular part of the sales process. These are every “no” you get during lead qualification; the reasons why your prospects can’t or won’t buy your product or service. Maybe they don’t have the funds. Maybe they don’t think they need your product. Maybe it’s something else; they don’t like or trust your organization.
Planning for objections
Your team is likely to hear the same objections over and over. Come up with a list of objections you hear often by consulting your old call transcripts and emails and plan how you want your team to address each. Develop a script for each one that your team can use to overcome that objection and make it part of your sales training.
The surprise objection
There will be, however, some objections you cannot plan for. The worst way to handle these objections is to get flustered.
In a company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze sales conversations, the highest performing reps respond by taking a deep breath and slowing down when they encounter an objection. By contrast, the reps who get flustered and leap into a reply, even one from a script, tend to lose sales.
The best tactic is to teach your reps to pause, and then to start asking the prospect questions about their objections. The answers to those questions will tell them if the objection is truly a barrier to purchase. Also, start with good lead qualifying, and tracking sales objections, and you’ll find yourself dealing with leads who have fewer objections for your team to deal with.
The presentation, meeting, or proposal is the step you’ve been working towards. Your reps have been building goodwill with your prospects by asking them questions in calls and emails, overcoming objections, and building a relationship with those leads (potentially through consultative selling techniques).
The presentation when they finally make their pitch, present your value proposition to your qualified prospects, and focus on the ways your product or service can solve their business problems.
Reps should be careful not to rely too heavily on a canned presentation; they should be ready to ask questions and field objections.
Closing the deal
Once your reps have developed a relationship, built trust, and made their presentation, it’s time to ask for a sale.
Despite the fact that the sales process is always the same, there’s no one way to close a deal. Sales are about creating relationships with leads and every relationship is different. There are, however, some guidelines for closing a deal successfully:
Be flexible, but not too flexible: Your reps may need to make some concessions in order to make some sales. Be clear as a team about what limits are reasonable for those concessions in advance, and tell your reps to come to you if they have questions about how leeway is too much.
Make it easy to say yes: Your prospect has just been through a sales pipeline. When it comes to closing a deal, don’t make them jump through hoops. Instead, make it easy for them to cross over the finish line and finalize the deal.
Don’t beg: Your rep might think the prospect is ready to buy, but then the prospect stops answering phone calls and returning messages. You don’t want a ghost in your pipeline, but you also don’t want reps to keep emailing until they get an answer. Instead, after a few touches, have your reps send an email, explaining that they realize it may not be a good time. Tell them to reach out when they’re ready. That way reps can stop chasing a “no” and focus on getting a “yes.”
The sales process doesn’t end with the sale. Once your rep closes the deal, the customer should be handed off to your Customer Support or Customer Success team. Keeping customers happy is essential—according to Harvard Business Review research, it costs between five and 25 times less to retain a customer than it does to convert a new one, so don’t let your won-over leads get forgotten on the back burner.
Also, happy customers are an excellent source of repeat sales. The number one sales prospecting technique is a phone call to an existing customer, so have your customer support or success team follow up with their customers every once in a while—not necessarily to pitch a new product, but to ask how things are, and if they’re still happy.
Creating your sales process map
Now that you know what a sales process is, how can you build your own? Have a look back at the sales process map above. How many of those steps are in your sales process? Is a sales process flowchart the best way to structure it?
You need to consider what activities and metrics are important to your company, industry, and sales team. Here are the metrics to consider:
The metrics that are important to your organization
The requirements of your industry
The needs of your sales team
Your company’s most important metrics