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.