A sales process is a set of steps or stages that sales teams follow when selling a product or service.
Sales processes can vary greatly in complexity and length – especially for B2B sales teams, which can entail multiple buyers and commitments.
Sales processes can range from simple processes to more complex models that include dozens of steps and branching logic.
Sales processes usually follow these stages: prospecting, qualifying, presenting, negotiating/closing, and following up.
A sales process shouldn't be confused with a sales methodology.
Sales methodologies, such as SPIN selling and challenger selling, are frameworks or approaches that guide all sales efforts. They fit within a sales process.
Lead generation and prospecting is the first step of any sales process. Leads can come either inbound (i.e. they contact your business) or outbound (i.e. your business contacts them).
There are many methods for lead generation and prospecting, such as cold calling, email marketing, sales automation, content marketing or other methods.
Usually, marketers are tasked with driving marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and then passing them to sales if they are sales qualified leads (SQLs). It's at this point that sales teams qualify the lead for further engagement..
Qualifying a lead involves researching their needs and decision-making authority and determining if they’re a good fit for your product or service.
During the qualification process, sales reps ask questions related to the customer's needs, budget, timeline, etc., to determine whether they're likely to purchase.
Sales outreach is the process of reaching out to a lead and engaging in a conversation. This can be done through phone calls, emails, in-person events, social media, and more.
The first conversation in a sales process generally involves a needs analysis. This step involves understanding more deeply a prospect's pain points, budget, timeline, motivations, and expected outcomes. This helps the account executive build a proposal best suited to the individual prospect.
The next stage is designing a custom presentation or proposal for the prospect. Sometimes this is a product demo, slide deck, or a one-pager outlining the details of the engagement.
After presenting the offer and price, there's almost always a series of negotiations that occur between the sales rep and the prospect, as well as anyone else involved in the buying process such as legal, finance, and stakeholders on both sides.
Hopefully, this is the stage at which the prospect signs a contact and the sales team celebrates a deal won.
Once a sales deal has been closed, sales reps need to make sure that the customer is onboarded properly and that they continue to be satisfied with your product or service.
This includes providing customer support, answering any questions they may have, and ensuring their needs are met on an ongoing basis.
The deal doesn't end once the customer is onboarded. Customer success is often not looked at as sales, but it is. Good customer success management leads to retention, upsells, and referrals, which all lead to increased revenue.
1. Understand Your Target Market and Value Proposition
Before scripting sales playbooks, sales leaders should have a solid understanding of their target market, including their ideal customer profile. They should also understand and define the company and product’s value proposition and establish any existing sales baselines to guide expectations.
Understanding the types of people or businesses who will be best suited for the product or service will help sales leaders map out qualification criteria, methods of prospecting and generating leads, and messaging guardrails for subsequent discovery meetings and negotiations.
It's helpful to create an ideal customer profile document along with messaging guidelines for each buyer persona. Anyone engaging with the business's audience should have access to this document.
2. Establish Goals and Milestones
Sales leaders need to establish goals that align with the company’s revenue goals as well as milestones for each leg of the sales process.
At this stage, it’s helpful to create a sales growth model and forecast. This helps sales leaders know how many leads to expect from marketing and how many sales reps and team members they'll need to accomplish these goals.
It will also help sales leaders understand which steps of the process need to be added, removed, or optimized to maximize efficiency and revenue.
3. Design Sales Processes
After establishing a target market and goals, sales leaders can begin designing a sales process.
- First, map out the customer journey and each discrete step the sales team needs to complete to take a lead to the subsequent stage. The above steps should provide a good outline, though each company will have its own steps.
- For each step, create the required scripts, materials, sales collateral, and training materials needed to execute the step.
- At the sales prospecting stage, create an ideal customer profile document, identify marketing and sales channels by which leads are generated, and procure a tool, usually a CRM, to store these leads.
- At the qualification stage, determine a lead scoring model that will define a lead as a good fit or bad fit lead, and if necessary, distinguish between marketing-qualified leads and sales-qualified leads. Also outline a process for handing off good fits leads to sales development reps for outreach.
- At the outreach, needs analysis, negotiation, and meeting stages, it’s helpful to include a script as well as sales enablement materials like slide deck templates or interactive product demos.
4. Communicate the Sales Process
Visualizing the sales process helps everyone on the team plus other departments need to understand the workflow.
Many tools exist to help visualize processes, such as Miro and Lucid Charts.
Here’s an example of a basic sales process including steps from lead generation through to won deals:
Sales leaders should also create centralized documentation for all support materials, such as slide deck templates and scripts.
5. Measure & Analyze Results
Finally, a sales process should evolve over time.
To effectively optimize a sales process, measurement needs to be in place. Most of this can be accomplished with a CRM to track data points like leads acquired, deals closed, customer lifetime value (CLV), average sale price (ASP), etc.
Over time, sales leaders can pinpoint steps in the process that could be optimized with additional scripting or support or changing the steps altogether.
Companies are evolving entities that expand to new products and verticals as well as new customer segments. Customer behavior changes as well, so it’s important to be agile with how sales teams sell.