Having a well-defined sales process is the key to successfully managing your sales team and pipeline. A sales process is a repeatable and scalable series of steps that maps out and tracks interactions with potential clients. These steps ensure everyone in the company – including salespeople and executive leadership – are on the same page.
There are misconceptions that sales are solely generated from good relationships with customers, relying heavily on personality and soft skills. Although relationships with customers are important, companies need a process to follow in order to drive business forward. A developed sales process will be reflective of how your company does business, and a smooth operation will increase the number of profitable sales and satisfied customers.
Developing a successful sales process can be difficult and time consuming, but there are ways to build a better sales culture and procedure. We reached out to Susan Williamson, sales operations consultant, for advice and guidance to help small business owners create a process that would improve company transparency and growth.
The first step to developing a successful sales process is gathering your team and walking through the current, informal sales activities together. Document what your team does starting with finding a lead and ending with closing the deal. Consider adding and removing steps that you feel would help improve the process. Remember, it doesn’t matter if the initial draft misses the mark, the sales process is yours and it can be edited depending on what steps are working and what aren’t.
“What gets measured, gets done,” said Williamson. “I think that it’s critical to always take a look at what you’re doing as a business and make sure you’re progressing; make sure you’re driving sales and sales aren’t driving you.”
All sales processes are very similar and based around a common set of stages. The real work is defining the stages and determining when to move from one stage to the next, depending on what applies to your company.
A prospect is an accepted lead who has expressed interest in your products or services. This stage includes researching to decide if they are a real prospect. Create a list of set standards – company size, location, and industry – that your lead should have to meet in order to become a prospect. This will vary from company to company.
Determine the high-level qualifying questions your team should ask the prospect. These questions aim to make the process predictable and measurable, and if chosen carefully, will remove many potential surprises later. Some examples are:
Discovery is a much deeper dive into learning the ins and outs about the prospect. This information is then used to put together a proposal aligning your business values, needs and goals with theirs.
After the proposal is drafted and sent to the prospect, there is a period of negotiation. This stage could be short or lengthy, depending on the dollar value, complexity and components of the sale.
Closing is advancing the sales process to ultimately get an order. After you’ve won or lost an order, document the reasons to monitor any commonalities. This will help your team understand what they need to improve or what may need to change about the sales process.
Upon closing a sale, there are post sale tasks that should be completed by the sales team:
Post-sale tasks are a critical part of the process, as you depend on that data to determine what’s driving sales.
“Ideally, we want our sales process to be reflective of our company culture and the way we do business,” said Williamson. “Our actions should be consistent from the time we’re beginning to get acquainted, through the sales process, to the point when we’re working together to implement. We want to make sure that, regardless of what stage in the process a prospect may be in, it should look and feel like they are doing business with the same company.”
Tracking each sales process is an important exercise. Record how many deals each salesperson is working on and what stage they’re in, how long a prospect spent in each stage and the sources of where the prospect is coming from. Look for trends in the data and you will be able to determine in which stage deals are stalling or what the most productive source of leads is.
Developing an effective and successful sales process is based on trial and error. After a business creates a defined sales process, that progression is subject to change.
Some of the more common mistakes when developing a sales process are making the process too complex, putting in too many steps or making it difficult to track. If the process is too complicated, it will deter your sales team from using it. Having their buy-in is the most important factor in the success of the sales process. When your sales force is fully invested in the sales process, your team will feel compelled to work harder and more efficiently on closing deals. When building the stages in your sales process, keep expectations and goals for your sales team realistic.
Once your sales team is comfortable with the new defined sales process, you will start to notice internal conversations becoming more efficient and accurate. With the sales team on the same page using the same language, conversations will become shorter, providing your sales team more time to focus on the prospect. As you tweak the sales process to find what works, watch for increase in the number, size or speed of the sales.
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