Sales process fundamentals: A guide to consistently closing deals in a changing world
Get your sales team on the right track by building a clear, easy-to-adopt sales process.
Published October 15, 2020
Last updated October 15, 2020
If you have a clearly defined sales process in place, your company can earn 28% percent more revenue than competitors who don’t have one.
The key phrase here is clearly defined sales process: a Gartner survey reported that 20% of deals were lost or stalled due to complex internal policies and procedures. With 63% of sales reps’ time spent on tasks other than selling, it’s no wonder productive sales processes fall by the wayside.
Plus, in a year of social and economic upheaval like 2020, even more is at stake. Uncertain times call for guideposts your reps can look to for a sense of stability and purpose. Your sales process can be that guidepost.
A recent McKinsey report on how sales have changed during COVID-19 states:
“Re-orchestrating the customer experience and the accompanying sales processes across channels should be at the top of the list for sales leaders trying to manage effectively through this crisis and plan for recovery.”
Creating and implementing a streamlined sales process strengthens your sales department. It helps sales reps better understand their customers’ journeys and keeps the whole team focused and aligned with common goals.
Get your sales team on the right track by building a clear, easy-to-adopt sales process. This framework will empower your team to reliably deliver results— no matter what’s happening in the world.
What is a sales process?
A sales process is a series of steps a salesperson takes to build a business relationship that ends in a sale. Every time a rep takes replicable, consistent action toward making a sale, they’re following a sales process.
High-performing sales teams often follow an established process. Managers enforce it through sales-rep training and coaching. They use digital tools to power lead generation, opportunity-tracking, pipeline management, and customer communication.
What does a successful sales process look like?
A successful sales process framework has five main phases:
Sourcing new leads and potential buyers. During the prospecting phase, sales and marketing teams collaborate to connect with prospective customers, or leads. Prospecting requires thorough research on target customers to understand their pain points and their decision-making process.
Learning about specific customer needs and matching them with potential offerings. In this stage, sales reps often consult directly with prospective customers to better understand their buying process and requirements. Reps also identify key decision-makers.
Introducing the offering to the prospect. The presenting phase typically involves direct communications and interactions between sales teams and prospective customers. Sales and marketing teams must work together to craft the right messaging in order to earn the trust of potential buyers. Customer communications should address any concerns that leads have about the offering.
Finalizing the deal. Closing a sale involves addressing any final concerns and confirming the details that will ultimately cause the customer to buy. This can often mean adjusting pricing, proposing a plan, or negotiating the terms of a contract.
Staying in touch with the customer. The follow-up phase is key to maintaining long-term relationships that translate into more revenue. Once a sale is finalized, it’s important for sales teams to continue the conversation even beyond handoff to customer support.
The B2B sales process
The fundamental stages of the sales process don’t change, but the way they’re put into practice can change based on several factors, including your industry.
B2B sales methodologies focus on identifying and reaching qualified decision-makers within companies and building long-term business relationships that grow over time. The success of the B2B sales process hinges on the depth of research reps perform to uncover opportunities. Many B2B sales depend on more than one team working together across companies to make deals happen:
Prospecting: Finding the right decision-makers
B2B sales reps interact with as many as 10 people in a buying group—all of whom inform on decision-making—to make a sale. B2B sales methodologies offer a way to quickly identify and qualify the best prospects and turn them into leads and opportunities.
Qualifying: Asking the right questions
It’s imperative that B2B reps understand the buying process and requirements of each of their target accounts. B2B sales teams use aforementioned sales methodologies to help them ask the right questions to gather data. It also helps sales teams to determine if a prospective customer is a good fit for their offerings— if they discover that the company isn’t a good match, it’s best to pursue other, better qualified opportunities. After a prospect is fully qualified, a rep can make smart recommendations and anticipate any roadblocks to purchasing.
Presenting: Keeping the conversation going
Once they reach the right contacts, B2B teams need to come up with the right messaging to gain buy-in from other decision-makers and sell the product. These communications can happen over multiple conversations, meetings, and follow-ups at every stage of the process. Keeping track of customer communications is essential.
Closing: Partnering across teams
Depending on the product or service, the closing stage may involve bringing in an implementation team to discuss rollout. If it’s a major deal that could impact the entire company, the sales team may need to get executive leadership involved to iron out the details. The more directly involved other customer teams are in the sales process, the less confusion there will be once the sale is finalized. Plus, collaboration across teams means rapid decisions that help speed up the sales cycle.
Following up: Building long-term relationships
Closing a deal is just the beginning of a business relationship. B2B sales reps often work with customers beyond the initial sale to help prove the return on the customer’s investment. Successful B2B customer relationships result in more revenue from upselling. That’s why following up and requesting referrals is an important (and often overlooked) stage of the B2B sales process.
All of these moving parts can lead to a convoluted sales process, in which reps spend more time reporting than actually selling. The tools you use to keep track of your sales process should make your reps’ jobs easier, not more complicated.
Why creating a clear sales process is more important than ever
A formal sales process anchors reps in best practices, so they stay on track toward their goals.
When supported by a sales management platform, your sales process helps leadership track progress toward overall company goals.
The entire company wins as a result.
More revenue. In a Harvard Business Review study, companies with effective sales processes had an average year-over-year growth rate of 5.3%. That’s 1.5% more than companies that didn’t use a formal sales process or found their sales process to be ineffective.
Faster growth. The same study revealed that companies that trained managers on pipeline management processes grew 9% faster than those that didn’t provide training.
Better productivity. Another HBR report shows that 50% of high-performing sales organizations closely monitor, strictly enforce or automate their sales process. Compare that to just 28% of underperforming sales organizations.
A clearly defined sales process is even more crucial during turbulent times
In 2020, sales teams who are used to selling in-person are facing a new reality: remote selling. Masterful live sales presenters suddenly have to work their magic via Zoom. Field reps who thrived on face-to-face encounters with customers now struggle with isolation as the reps work from home.
Besides the massive shifts in logistics and operations, sales organizations have realigned their product positioning and focus on customer needs. In the space of a few months, reps have dramatically shifted their strategies and messaging to keep customer conversations going.
All this sudden change can be disorienting for seasoned outside sales reps. A clear sales process gives your team a consistent routine to stick to during uncertain times.
A Zoom presentation may feel different from pitching in a conference room, but it’s still part of the presentation phase of the sales process. Hashing out the details of a contract may now happen via Slack instead of in an office, but it’s still part of the closing stage. Your sales process is like a tool kit that you equip your reps with that they can use in times of emergency.
4 tactics for creating a sales process that’s easy to adopt
There’s no one right sales process. What matters is how you communicate the process to your team and how easy your process is to adopt.
Create a sales process that makes sense for your team by using the following tactics:
Examine what’s working and what isn’t
Before you establish a new sales process or improve your existing process efficiency, take an honest look at what your team is already doing:
Talk with your reps. Review the last few months of deals with your team. Discuss how long it took to close the deals and what factors led to the customers’ decisions to buy (or what got in the way of lost/stalled deals).
Learn more about leading sales meetings: The 3 pillars of effective sales leadership
Talk with your customers. Likewise, have conversations with your customers about what impressed them or left them wanting more from your sales team.
Learn more about conducting customer surveys: Are customer surveys still effective?
Map your current process. Based on your conversations with reps and customers, find the points where your team excels or loses momentum. Note the touchpoints that result in the biggest wins and losses.
Learn more about mapping the sales process: Why you need sales process mapping to solve big-picture problems
This evaluation will help you to see strengths and areas for improvement in your current methods, so you can adapt your sales processes accordingly.
Align your sales process with your target customer’s needs
For results-driven sales reps, there’s nothing more frustrating than when internal bureaucracies get in the way of a deal moving forward. If your company treats your sales process like a one-size-fits-all model for meeting business operations goals (i.e. paperwork and data entry), you risk having complicated procedures.
To avoid stalled-out deals, keep your sales process focused on delivering positive outcomes to customers:
Build buyer personas. Create an avatar for the types of buyers your sales team interacts with. Each buyer has a different pain point, expectation, and buying motivation. Your team can refer to buyer personas when creating strategies for prospecting and driving the creation of relevant messaging.
Learn more about creating buyer personas: How to Build a Buyer Persona for Better Marketing
Map the buyer journey. Use customer interviews and surveys to understand the steps that lead them to purchasing your products or services. Compare your sales-process map and buyer’s journey map: Are there gaps between your sales reps tasks and your customers’ needs? When you identify those gaps, start brainstorming ways to bridge them for your customers.
Learn more about customer-journey mapping: Why mapping your customer journey is well worth the effort
Recognize buying signals during customer interactions. Understand and document how customers indicate that they’re ready to move from one stage of the decision-making process to the next. Coach your team on recognizing those signals in discovery calls so they can move deals along more effectively. Additionally, set up automated marketing systems to send communications that push the sale forward when these signals occur.
Learn more about recognizing buying signals: The ultimate guide to a successful discovery call
Develop buyer enablement materials. Sales enablement materials are great, but it’s hard to sell something if your customer finds the buying process intimidating or overwhelming. In addition to product-focused marketing materials, equip your sales team with buyer-enablement content, such as purchasing guides, product comparisons, and information about financing.
Learn more about buyer enablement: Create lead generation content for today’s buyer’s journey
Communicate your sales process across your organization
It’s important that your team know the steps they need to take to consistently close deals. It’s just as important that your entire company know the processes you have in place to ensure that your sales team is delivering on revenue goals:
Invite other teams to collaborate. Nearly three-quarters of sales teams report that interdepartmental collaboration is absolutely critical to their overall sales process. It helps give your team complete visibility into all the phases of their customers’ journeys. Customer-facing teams such as support and marketing will know when to pass a customer to sales, and internal teams will be ready to help out with potential deals.
Learn more about cross-team collaboration: The sales, marketing, & support alignment handbook
Document your process. Make it easy for people to find answers to questions about selling in your organization by creating a knowledge base. This will act as a central library that new hires and existing team members can turn to when they’re unsure about how to follow processes. It also helps leadership and teams other than sales understand how your team works so they can come in at crucial stages of the sales process.
Learn more about building a knowledge base: 10 basic strategies for creating & designing a knowledge base
Keep everyone updated. Break communication silos by celebrating wins and sharing new knowledge in company-wide channels. Send a monthly sales newsletter to brief other teams on important goings-on. If you’re working remotely, use a virtual sales gong to alert the team about new deals. These updates give your reps the recognition they need to stay motivated. It also helps other teams keep their fingers on the pulse of your team’s hard work. The more connected teams are across your org, the more investment they’ll have in each other’s success.
Learn more about cross-team communications: Take a customer-facing approach to your internal communications
Optimize your sales process tools
Consider how your current tech stack is helping your team move through each stage of the sales process. If it feels more like your team is serving the needs of your tech stack, it’s time to find a better system:
- Collaborate with your IT group. Before you go shopping for major technology, talk through your sales process with your IT team. Discuss what goals you have and what your current infrastructure can support. You may discover that your tech people can solve problems/streamline processes with tools you already have.
- Communicate with your vendors. If you already have a platform in place, your vendor’s customer success team may be able to help you discover more efficient ways to use your current tech. You may uncover products specifically designed to help automate stages where your team is struggling.
- Look for tools designed with the end user in mind. Find a tool that can integrate easily with your existing systems and with an interface that your reps intuitively know how to use.
Ultimately, your approach to delivering customer outcomes and team communications will be the driving factor behind your sales process. If you listen to customers and share knowledge with your team, you’ll be able to create a clear process that your sales team can rally around.
You can also benefit by choosing the right sales suite for today’s sales processes:
Develop your sales process for clarity, not complexity
As you’re building your sales process, always keep in mind who you’re building it for: your customers.
High-performing sales teams look to customer expectations to inform their processes. The best sales processes are equally focused on delivering on customer needs.
If your customer is positioned at the center of your process, it will make reps’ jobs easier, so they can deliver the most revenue.
The more certainty and clarity your sales process can provide, the happier your sales reps and your customers will be.