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.