The sales process is a repeatable system that salespeople use when moving a buyer through the sales funnel from being a prospect, to a qualified lead and then on to a paying customer. The first thing to note is that a sales process represents the salespersons activities mapped against where the buyer is in their journey. The primary benefit of a business having a sales process is that it outlines the plan to follow when engaging a prospect or customer for a sale.
A sales process template (there is no one size fits all) could be divided into segments such as Knowledge Acquisition, Researching and Selling Activity.
Knowledge acquisition is about all the salespeople understanding the companies product features and benefits. Via sales training they learn the sales process, what sales tools and assets are available to them. They also learn who are the main competitors etc.
To ensure the sales force understands the sales process, they must be able to conduct research on areas such as defining the target market, Ideal Customer Profiles, Sales intelligence on prospects, the ability to use social media to gather data and background information.
This is the action segment in the sales process, where the salesperson combines their knowledge and research with selling skills to engage prospects or customers. The activity they spend time on will include;
Prospecting for new clients
Social Selling to build valuable connections
Sales lead activity whether inbound or outbound
Engaging with buyers to have sales conversations
Getting commitments to progress the sale to the next step
Presenting solutions and proposals
Closing the sale
Continuing the relationship
So the "Selling Activity” segment is the actual implementation of the sales process, and by incorporating Knowledge and Research into the whole process will ensure a more holistic approach to customer acquisition. The below is an outline of the steps in a sales process might look.
TYPICAL STEPS IN THE SALES PROCESS
This is usually the 1st step in a sales process and involves finding new customers or “lead generation” activity. Sales prospecting is based on the research salespeople have completed into potential buyers. Now using this information they can use social selling, content sharing, social networking, referrals and any data to get closer to the prospect prior to engaging in a sales conversation. Sales prospecting is not a smash and grab event, it could take weeks or months to build up enough influence with a buyer before engaging in a serious sales conversation.
Engaging is the sales activity of initiating a contact with a set of prospects a salesperson has teed up as to understand their business, uncover needs and gather more information. The goal is to see if a real opportunity exists and then gauge their potential to move out of their current position and undertake a change management process. Engaging with a prospect could be played out over several sales conversations over months and may include site visits, free trials, free samples, product demonstrations and proof of concepts prior to moving down the pipeline to the presenting step.
Presenting is the sales activity of formally presenting the proposal or solution to the buyer. It can include some sort of buyer urgency lever in certain situations. In value based or consultative selling this step can be time consuming, so it should positioned deep into the sales process for well qualified prospects. This step also covers off any objections, hurdles or customer policy adherence. Again, this step may take time and repeated interactions to conclude.
Closing the Sale
This step is involves the prospect or customer opting for the salespersons offering, concluding any final negotiations or pricing and buy-in of all decision makers. In most companies it concludes with a purchase order or signed contract.
The Sales Process is Different from the Sales Methodology
Moving on from the “sales process”, we need to look at a companies “sales methodology”. The sales process is different from the sales methodology and here is why.
The sales process is "what a salesperson does", this refers to mapping out specific steps, criteria and list of actions that the salesperson must follow including updating the sales pipeline, in acquiring a paying customer.
The sales methodology is the "how they do it", the approach or framework given to the sales team via sales training on how each step in the sales process is expected to be completed.
Every strong sales organisation will have both, a strong sales process and a sales team trained on the sales methodology which has been proven to deliver success.
Examples of Sales Methodologies;
Solution selling has been around for over 30 years, this method involves needs discovery which then focuses on the customer’s pain points ahead of promoting the company’s products. Products are instead framed as solutions, and emphasis is placed on achieving agreement on what a resolution of the customers’ pain would look like.
This method grew out of solution selling, it differs in that consultative selling is centered on the sales person positioning themselves as a “trusted adviser” to the buyer, the premise being that they will gain authority and trust as time goes by in the buyers journey towards a purchase.
The Challenger Sale method
The Challenger Sale method is taken from a book of the same name. The book outlines some five types of sales peoples profiles, the hard worker, the relationship builder, the problem solver, the lone wolf, and the challenger. The challenger profile was the one matched to high performance in sales. The challenger sale method is defined by a willingness to invest in learning about a buyers business, then to challenge the customer on their preconceptions (technology adaption, product match, ideal solution) during the sales process.
Social selling can be seen both as a sales model and methodology. It continues to rise in popularity alongside the rapid change in the buyers journey from “being educated” to “self educated”. While not strictly selling, this method is weighted to driving up prospect engagement (with content, white papers, social conversations) by first creating great awareness and then getting buyers to consider the company. This acts as a prelude to direct customer connection.
Sales is a Process, Not an Event.
Implementing a sales process with clear steps should result in:
Improved Outcomes. When carried out via a series of set actions, outcomes will improve leading to sales and higher margins.
Repeatable Activity. All sales activities should be repeated and repeatable to obtain the same desired outcome by any sales person time and time again.
Measurable Results. All outcomes that can be measured and compared
Relevant to All. A well mapped out sales process can be duplicated for other units or divisions.
Just having a documented sales process in place will not guarantee anything. Just like looking at someone’s LinkedIn doesn't lead to a hot lead. Proper and repeated use is what makes the difference.
Not withstanding which sales process template or the sales methodology a business deploys, success to sustainable sales growth in the modern era depend on two core elements, (1) the ability of the salespeople to establishing real credibility with buyers/customers so they want to listen and (2) the ability to build trust with the buyers via conversations so they open up about their challenges. Once a sales model is set up to achieve these two things then sales revenue will follow. As B2B buyers are now more social in nature (displaying consumer behaviour and become digital natives), it is important to understand their purchasing journey. Sales 3.0 is all about the buyer as they are in control of the buyer to supplier relationship. They know how to research, how to filter, what they want from a vendor and when to decide to engage with a salesperson. The key for sales trainers and management is to make sure that the sales training plans match today's buyers preference and engagement methods.
A digital sales strategy involving digital selling and social selling is now a key consideration for any business looking to drive sales via online channels including social media. But what is a digital sales strategy what can it do for a business is less understood. How can my company benefit from having a digital sales strategy? is a question being asked by many business leaders.
In theory, most sales leaders can tell you who they sell to and what profile of buyers they target. However the change in the buyers journey well means the B2B buyer is very aware that they can get a similar (or in the case of products, perhaps identical) offer elsewhere. So it is often the sales experience which will differentiate a business from their competitors and get the sales, all of which is shaped by the way a business goes about selling. The sales process and the sales profession is going through a major transformation.
The web, social media channels, video, and digital information means buyers are now better educated and rely less on sales people in their buying journey.
A Digital Sales Strategy Should Make Buying Easier.
The goal of a digital sales strategy is to achieve is a more seamless buying experience that reflects how buyers want to interact with a business. The modern B2B buyer doesn’t care whether their engagement or questions is with marketing, sales or service; they just want insightful answers or information.
Think of it as a digital sales strategy which has a mantra of “Let’s simplify the customer’s buying journey”, to make it easier to engage and get information they need to pursue a purchase. For the salespeople to be able to provide insights, guidance and collaborate with the buyers along an increasingly noisy purchasing journey.
Sales leaders need to replace the “I think I know what you need” or the “Tell us what you need and we’ll sell it to you” with “Let me help you, I’ll work with you in whatever way you require to show you what needs to be completed in order to make a purchase happen.”
Salespeople must be able to map the buyer’s journey online, understand “Ideal Customer Profiles”, use content to deliver compelling insights, how to use social media to differentiate the companies offerings and communicate this value to attract more buyers into their social reach. Ultimately a digital sales strategy is about empowering the sales teams to use the social networks to help them have sales conversations and influence buyer perceptions of value.
A digital sales strategy may have many connected goals, but in the end striving towards optimisation in the sales processes, extending the social reach of the business within the social ecosystem and building the right connections with the right people at the right time during the buyers journey is the key to success. The positive news for sales leaders and sales training experts is that with re-tuning the sales teams for the digital era, they will acquire the capabilities to impact the buyer’s journey to become a valuable influencer, a source of information and a provider of insights to the buyers’ of self education on the social networks.
The major themes of Digital Sales Strategy
More and more buyers are discarding their participation in the traditional sales models. They seek self-determined, more seamless, and rewarding buying experiences. They want more of really useful information at the right time, more value from the sales interactions and they want them on channels of their choosing. For many sales leaders getting their heads around this is hard, especially if it involves transforming the sales activity in mature or emerging markets. But future looking sales organisations are finding ways to improve digital interactions, the availability of quality content plus maximising connections with customers. Using social insights and digital selling they are cracking the code of how to integrate digital into the sales process. No business can win today using the old sales methodologies, so the forward looking ones are using digital as a plank into a multi-channel approach, to ensure consistency with messaging, in maintaining close contact with customers and extending their influence on the market. The best sales leaders are integrating online with inbound and digital sales, orchestrating more lead generation activity via social media and using data to drive activity.
Using Technology in Digital Selling
The use of data, technology and digital sales tools must evolve to keep pace with customer preferences. Part of the planning in a digital sales strategy is to ensure the investment enables success instead being viewed as just more tools that are time consuming to use.
Embed Digital Sales into the DNA of the Business
Digital sales transformation is not about achieving some short term wins but embedding it in to the genes of the business for long term sales growth. The companies who will win out in digital to connect with the digital savvy buyer will create a culture that embraces social channels. They will prioritise digital selling or social selling training and throw the spotlight onto people who are playing a starring role as agents of change. They will facilitate social collaboration between sales, marketing and customer support that goes way beyond any individuals skills. It's about a mission to create digital sales capabilities embedded into the DNA of the entire business.
Implementing a digital sales strategy could be deemed as nice to have, but be warned, the insights into future buyer preferences remove it as an optional choice. The continued rise of social media influence and social data brings enormous opportunities for sales growth. Yes, there will be challenges along the way. For any business planning to acquire customers and drive more revenue, they should already be preparing for a major overhaul of how they sell. No business and no industry will be immune.
A sales strategy template will speed up the creation of a full sales strategy plan. Sales leaders who are most successful at driving sales growth are deliberate, persistent and disciplined in their sales plans.
So when planning a sales strategy they ask themselves three important questions:
1. Where is my growth going to come from?
2. How do I get sales growth now and tomorrow
3. How do I set up my growth sales engine
The core considerations of any sales strategy include understanding what is the appeal of your products plus where or who is the target market (including ideal customer profiles). The sales strategy also maps out how the sales engine activities will be directed to ensure it captures profitable growth selling to customers. The sales strategy template will outline market and customer coverage alongside detailed plans to ensure the best possible outcomes for the business to gain profitable growth. Then, in greater detail, the sales strategy defines the customer segments to be targeted which will be accompanied with clear value propositions for each segment. A sales strategy template will also outline how the sales team(s) will be structured along with a documented sales processes.
A six point sales strategy template outline;
Identify the Key Aims of the Sales Strategy.
Identifying the key aims of the sales strategy will bring clarity on questions such as; Is the strategy to sell more to the same customer base? or Is it more about market penetration or market development?. It also answers questions such as - which target markets the business is aiming for and the time, money and resources required to execute. These questions can be answered by researching when, where, how and why the existing customer base buys.
et A Clear Go-To- Market Sales Strategy.
The sales strategy template needs to account for questions such as;
Growth in existing accounts?
Revenue from existing products?
Revenue from new products?
New revenue streams with existing products?
Plans for up and cross-selling?
Customer retention plans?
Prospect acquisition plans?
Planned customer mix?
Ideal product mix?
Seasonal sales cycles adjustments?
Sales growth depends on acquiring new, profitable business with different customers. The sales strategy will plan out how to approach every new customer. The detail should include tactics, for example, to win the business of a key customer, sales people could be authorized to offer acquisition pricing or maybe give the product on a trial basis. The plan then needs to outline how to move prices and margins back up to a profitable level, or else live with reduced margins from these customers.
Reaching the Customer and Target Market.
Sales Plans, Forecasting and the Annual Sales Budget.
A sales strategy template should include a detailed breakdown of the sales to be achieved by month, by customer and by product. Sales forecasts should be based on previous sales levels, or if a new business then the sales targets should be based on the business plan. The template also takes into account information about customers’ buying habits, the sales cycle and other factors such as pricing and marketing activities.
The Sales Resources Required to Meet the Plan.
A sales strategy is not just about sales, it also covers the resources and assets that are required to meet the plan. So it should document topics including;
What is the sales training plan
Plan plan to improve the customer experience for retention,
What (if any) specialist support is needed,
What resources or assets needed to make the sales force more productive, and,
What will the cost be of providing support so sales people spend more time on selling.
Then the plan needs to document all the marketing and sales assets in play and what needs to be created prior to launching the sales strategy.
Sales Strategy Template – Measuring Sales Performance.
Finally, the sales strategy template will provide clarity on how the sales performance will be measured against the plan. Areas to be included are;
Sales forecasting accuracy.
Cost of sale analysis.
Time and money spent on different customers.
Analysis of customer segments.
Insights into the win/loss ratio.
Lead to conversion ratio.
Cost per customer sale.
The return on sales costs.
In sales there can be many factors that determine success which are outside of managements control. Even more of a reason for a business and sales leadership to define their goals and tactics for meeting (and exceeding) the sales targets. The reality is that documenting a sales strategy template will help everyone in the sales engine to take a more control in the fast paced world of sales.
A point worth remembering is that the success of the sales strategy is the engine for growth for the whole company. It may sound obvious but without acquiring and developing profitable customers, a business will fail. To wrap up, it is critical to ensure the sales strategy template is clear, purposeful, goal driven on what to achieve, and how the business will serve all their customers - both new and existing.
Sales performance improvement is a program of sales training and self development courses to accelerate revenue growth within a company. Sales performance improvement initiatives deliver the best results when sales management and leadership take a partnership approach where ideas and inputs are solicited from the salespeople, and then used in the various courses or programs.
This support approach gives the sales teams the confidence and ownership to improve the sales performance goals. Before setting any sales performance improvement goals, sales leadership has to acknowledge that it is a process not an event, it is a continuous improvement process NOT a single sales training event.
With longer sales cycles, smaller budgets, multiple decision makers and more educated buyers, every business who is striving to achieve sales growth will want to improve sales effectiveness and efficiency through process,tools and technology.
The first step is to understand that sustainable sales performance improvement is a change management project which can lead to resistance and uncertainty, especially if seen as interfering with the current sales model. So it needs to be resourced and planned properly.
The next step is to review existing sales performance improvement assets such as sales training materials, courses, videos, sales playbooks, tools and competency guidelines, as they all play a key role in driving improvement. A business may not have any or all of this content and some or all of the content may not be available in digital formats.
The first real decision in creating a sales performance improvement plan may be to choose between (1) content that is ready (but doesn’t meet the current needs) and use it anyway OR (2) invest in refreshing, upgrading and transforming the content and templates etc for digital access. A point to note is that research shows that salespeople's learning habits and preferences are changing. They they want shorter, more engaging learning content, for example sales training videos or sales training courses that can be accessed online as needed or accessed in their down time.
Document Areas for Sales Performance Improvement
Sales leadership in tandem with the sales teams views need to create a baseline improvement expectation across ALL steps in the sales process for every sales team member. Then the sales managers or sales trainers needs to document what areas have been identified that require improvement for (a) the steps in the sales process and (b) for each salesperson. These in turn would be discussed with each individual as part of the overall sales training and development plan.
It is important to remember that when documenting and creating a paper trail for each sales performance improvement area is to ensure that all the information gathered is entirely objective, fact based, and specific. The trainer, coach or manager should avoid generalities and provide detailed examples to support each area that is to be addressed. Once the sales performance improvement areas have been communicated to all stakeholders, a number of templates will now need to be created. These typically include what was expected in the agreed sales performance plan and what was actually delivered. Other templates or documents, maybe as part of the companies sales playbook could include action plans, reviews and consequences of veering outside the agreed process's in the plan.
Sales Performance Should Match Salespeople's Goals
Sales performance improvement needs to be aligned to each individual salesperson and their goals from their action plan should be personalized. Within the overall plan, align goals that focus on areas of self-development and personal improvement, individual to each salesperson. To ensure ownership by the sales team for the plan, within the sales training section of the sales performance improvement plan, give each salesperson the opportunity to enhance areas where they are already competent and improve areas where they agree they have a skills deficit.
To migrate any perceived disruption or risk, a company can start by introducing a smaller sales performance improvement plan with lower goals. An example would be a goal to improve a salespersons sales habit loop such as doing 10 minutes research work ( the research work output should be documented) prior to making a sales call. Another goal example is for a salesperson during quiet time to engage in social/digital selling to connect with existing customers or prospects in the pipeline (again, goals need to be set). Take note that rolling out a new sales improvement plan with goals is not enough, the salespeople have to understand that there be also be consequences such as reviews and evaluations.
Time stops for no one and in a rapidly changing sales environment if there ever was a time to take action to improve sales performance, it's now. Sales leadership, management and trainers need to plan for the future, the future sales model, the future sales strategy, the customers buying journey, the role salespeople will be expected to execute against and how the business plans to develop their salespeople so everyone has a mandate to doing things better.
Future looking leaders never let the pursuit of profit get in their way of progress. Much like any change management process, the sales performance improvement plan will face obstacles and encounter issues. Sales leaders need to focus on how they envision their sales engine performance and sales growth in one to three years time. This includes working with the sales training and development resources to put some well thought out initiatives into play ASAP, as they can often just comply with current objectives. However, they also need to know that management supports them and communicate that it’s not just OK but VITAL that the business adopts new ways of getting salespeople to learn, develop and grow, so sales performance improvement will be a constant not just an event.
Sales training is about giving salespeople the skills and tools to be successful. Effective sales training and coaching will cover topics such as: Core selling skills, communication, mindset, motivation, reinforcement, retention and implementation.
These sales training tips have been formulated to deliver actual, real-life results to help salespeople acquire the the selling skills without the jargon that often surrounds sales training.
Sales Training Insights
Research has shown it can take 10 months or more for a new salesperson to be fully productive. It may surprise you but 55% of salespeople lack basic sales skills and nearly 60% of buyers say the salespeople are unable to answer their questions effectively. The reality is that lack of sales training hurts companies. When sales people lack training or not briefed properly on the sales playbook, process or how to use the various sales tools effectively, then companies can spend a lot of time, energy and resources with zero impact on sales results. The flipside is that a strong commitment to ongoing sales training whether thats online, in class, seminars, workshops etc. will give any sales team a competitive advantage.
"Companies where salespeople can implement the correct sales methodology and get consistent coaching see over 80% target achievement".
Sales Training Motivation
To start, the best sales training will improve the performance of an individual salesperson on average by 20%. Another sales training statistic is that 65% of salespeople say the quality of training and learning positively influences their engagement with customers or prospects.
So, well planned, content rich sales training courses supported by a culture of learning will cultivate salespeople that are willing, eager and ready to use the knowledge given to them in their daily sales activities.
Sales Training Must Reinforce The Sales Strategy
How often have we heard buzz words like "sales enablement" or "sales transformation" rolled out as a core strategic initiative. There is a sudden surge of energy and activity from sales management around training, product positioning, white papers, sales tools and collateral to help the sales teams. In fact the entire company can be roped into playing their part in supporting the new re-energized sales effort.
Stop. This type of top down directed initiative can quickly end up in costly and wasteful effort around sales training that only confuses the sales people and even customers.
A key role in sales management is to ensure that all sales training and the sales training process reflects the reality of today's markets and the buyer’s journey. Every sales training investment should be about moving the dial on sales performance. This is what salespeople need to ensure they can engage successfully with customers or buyers in today’s social media and internet influenced world.
The goal of any sales training is to help salespeople sell more and sell more often - profitable. To drive up sales results and drive down the sales cycle the sales habits may need to change, which does require effort and constant attention. However when the sales team is successful in increasing the top line revenue or PROFITS, then the rewards are worth the effort.
"65% of buyers "almost always" or "most of the time" chooses a supplier who will work with them to extract value from a vision they have."
"80% of buyers will spend more money with companies whose salespeople understand their business".
Sales Training Has A Vital Role
Sales training is not an add-on or something to turn to get the going gets tough or mainly focused on getting new salespeople up to speed. To focus the mind, consider this "85% of buyers now find meetings with a salesperson from a potential new supplier ineffective!"
However, the benefits of effective sales training can be reflected in this statistic "56% of buyers say that companies, who understand their business and are focused on helping solve identified problems, are more strategic."
The goal is for sales trainers and coaches to help the sales teams change their behaviour to improve sales performance and in so be able to communicate to customers how they can create a path to value. Excellent sales training coupled with sales tools (research, sales playbook, customer insights, big data) can be the cornerstone for companies to hit and exceed the sales targets and fulfilling the buyer's needs.
SALES TRAINING TIP 1 - Constant Reinforcement
Too often the vast majority of sales training is delivered as a one time event. This could be new sales hire on boarding or else maybe at the annual sales kickoff. Then the salespeople go back to their sales roles and focused on generating revenue, meeting or exceeding sales targets.
The impact on sales performance for this type of sales training programs speak for themselves as research shows 84% of sales training content is forgotten within thirty days. The key is to plan out a series of sales training modules and content aligned to every step of the customers buying journey.
Salespeople receive an average of 31.5 hours of training a year, and 63% of sales people say this is not enough. In fact, in employee satisfaction surveys, salespeople state that the biggest need for investment within their company is ongoing sales coaching. Source: Association for Talent Development
Then consider the need for relevant and updated sales training content. Leading business schools suggest that sales training materials and content should be updated every 3-6 months to keep pace with the fast moving sales environment, however only 42% of sales trainers say that their sales training content gets updated only once a year.
Social media, content, news and self-education means that the the buyers journey is changing rapidly and impacting the sales cycle to win deals. Leaving the sales training content the same for a year or more creates a vicious cycle: outdated sales messaging can cause confusion to the sales team causing sales to be out of the loop when trying to engage buyers for the products and services being sold.
The professional sales mindset knows that "practice makes perfect" and ongoing sales training bridges the knowledge gap between the annual sales kick-off and the daily sales role. Due to the influence of the social networks on the buying process, data shows that many salespeople are coming into the buyer’s journey too late and with unsuitable solutions. For a sales person being knowledgeable about a company is just one part of sales training, the other part is communicating the sales messages and having the skills to get the sale by getting in front of the buyer early. This is where new sales tools, like social media lead generation, data insights and social selling are helping sales teams get buyer ready. Growth focused companies are blending ongoing sales training with the latest sales tools.
Any and all sales managers should step up the effort for ongoing and updated sales training. As few as 32% of companies describe their sales training programs as "effective" and 48% of sales trainers state their companies sales training content is not engaging. In fact 25% of sales trainers say the training content does not match the sales teams need for multi-channel selling. The sales training tip is to improve ongoing training, improve content and improve knowledge.
SALES TRAINING TIP 2
Do not substitute sales training time by just providing more sales enablement tools. Sales enablement is all about arming the sales team with tools to improve sales execution and drive revenue. Sales enablement tools and content sharing tools are now valuable resources that help sales move the selling process along. Sales enablement tools are now an essential part of the selling kit but just equipping people with tools is not enough.
Sales enablement tools are designed to give sales people the ability to engage buyers in valuable and relevant conversations based on data gathered. But true sales success is more than a great set of tools. When the sales teams are not properly trained and not skilled in using the sales tools appropriately, companies can invest a lot of time, resources and money to accomplish little return.
So think “cart and horse” or “car and fuel”, it takes one to move the other. Ongoing and regular sales training builds the knowledge and skills that when combined with sales enablement tools will build an effective sales team.
It is the responsibility of the whole company to enable the sales team. So without the resources to an ongoing sales training program, any strategic sales initiative is likely to end up another top down directed activity with limited sales metric improvement.