• Sales process: The comprehensive guide

    No matter what industry you operate in, most businesses follow a similar process when it comes to making sales. Therefore, it’s vital that you have a good grasp of this process.

    This is called the sales process and is essentially a series of steps you must take to make a sale.

    This is important for a number of reasons, not least of all because sales teams need a consistent method that allows them to nurture leads and close deals.

    Keeping this in mind, we’ve put together this comprehensive sales process guide. Below, we’re going to take a look at:

    • The definition of a sales process

    • The six steps that make up the sales process

    • Why it’s so important to have a strong sales process in place

    So let’s get started by taking an in-depth look at what a sales process actually is.

    What is a sales process?

    In a nutshell, a sales process is a set of steps that a salesperson takes in order to turn a prospective buyer into a customer/client. It is formed around the journey the customer takes from discovering the product or service, to making an actual purchase.

    What’s more, because the sales process is based on the journey of the prospective buyer, it is used as a roadmap for the salesperson.

    It is typically made up of between five to seven repeatable steps they must follow. And we are going to look at these steps in more detail in the next section.

    It helps to think of the sales process like starting a new relationship. You wouldn't just jump straight in. Instead, you take your time to get to know them, their likes and dislikes. Eventually, you decide whether you're a good match for one another. If you are, a relationship begins.

    The sales process is very much like this.

    However, it’s worth mentioning at this stage that the term ‘sales process’ is not to be confused with a ‘sales funnel’.

    The sales process is the repeatable steps the sales team take to close a deal. The sales funnel illustrates the theoretical journey a customer takes towards making a purchase.

    So simply put, the sales process is made up of actionable steps for the sales team, whereas the sales funnel is a representation of the stages a customer goes through when buying.

    Sales reps can hugely benefit from a standardised sales process. But again, we’ll look at the reasons for this in more detail later in the guide.

    The six-step sales process

    Now that we’ve got a better understanding of what a sales process is and what it’s used for, we can begin looking at the different stages that are involved. In this case, we’re going to cover the six steps for making a sale.

    This can help you to start developing a foolproof sales process for your team. The six steps are as follows:

    Step one: Prospecting

    The first stage is prospecting. This is the practice of sourcing new, early-stage leads that will hopefully turn into sales.

    Finding prospects is a crucial part of the sales process. Without this, the rest of the process will be near enough impossible. As such, this is often a daily or weekly task for sales reps.

    But how do you go about finding prospective customers? Well, there are several ways sales reps can do this:

    • Online research

    • Through social media and networking sites like LinkedIn

    • Attending conferences or industry events

    • Speaking to existing clients to ask for referrals

    • Creating great video and online content that showcase your skills and goods or services

    Step two: Connect and qualify

    Logically, the next step involves initiating contact with those early-stage leads they have gathered so the sales rep can introduce themselves and get more information.

    Then, they can begin the second part of the process which is qualifying these leads. This is when they decide whether they’d be the right fit or not for your goods or services and whether or not they're likely to want to move forward in the buyer journey.

    Sales professionals can generally determine the quality of a new lead via a phone call or outreach email. They do this by asking qualifying questions like:

    What is your role within your company?

    What are your daily responsibilities?

    What problem are you trying to solve within the company?

    Why is this a priority for your business?

    Are you evaluating any other solutions?

    If so, what are these?

    Step three: Research

    Once the sales rep has determined the qualifying leads, it’s time to learn more about each prospect and their company. This allows them to tailor and personalise the experience for the prospect, increasing their chances of making a sale.

    The key at this stage is to get a firm understanding of the challenges and needs of the prospect, to then establish how your product or service could really help them.

    This might mean the sales rep is speaking to different people throughout the company. This helps them to get a more holistic view of the business.

    Building an understanding of the company as a whole, rather than just the individual prospect they started talking to, could be the difference between closing or losing a sale.

    Step four: Present

    The time has come for the sales rep to run some sort of presentation or demonstration for the prospect.

    This can be one of the more time-consuming stages of the sales process but it is so important. That being said, it should only be reserved for the more serious prospects so as not to waste time or resources on leads that will never convert.

    It’s also important that each presentation is tailored to the specific needs of the prospect and the company they work for.

    This presentation can be done on a solo basis. But it can also be helpful for a member of the customer service or technical team to go along to answer questions that the sales rep might not be able to.

    These could be more technical questions about the product or about the type of support that will be on offer.

    Step five: Handle objections and queries

    After the presentation, it’s likely the prospect will want to go away and have a think about what they’ve seen. At this point, they might come up with some objections or questions about the goods or services.

    This is to be expected and is not a bad thing or a reflection on the presentation.

    The sales rep must be prepared to handle these objections and questions. To do this, it pays to identify and anticipate what these might be during the research and preparation stages.

    The sales rep must listen carefully to the prospect’s queries and tailor their responses to give coherent and helpful answers.

    Step six: Close the deal

    The final step in the sales process is closing the deal. This refers to the late-stage activities that take place to make the sale final.

    • Delivering quotes or proposals

    • Negotiating the terms of the contract

    • Securing the approval of the key decision-maker

    • Signing a mutually beneficial contract or agreement

    Once the deal is closed, the sales rep usually receives a commission on the price they negotiated with the customer or a reward for closing the sale. Though again, this can vary from company to company.

    Why you need a standardised sales process

    You could argue that as long as the sales team are closing deals, who cares how they do it.

    However, there are some key benefits to a standardised process and to understanding the

    different stages.

    Firstly, this helps you to optimise your team structure for better results. What we mean by this is if you know your team are struggling in a certain area, for example, their presentations aren't very good, you can put more time and effort into getting this right.

    Secondly, a standardised sales process can help to improve the measuring, forecasting and general management of sales.

    And finally, having a strong sales process in place makes it easier to onboard new reps. It makes it easier to train them on how to make sales and also helps when setting targets and goals.

    This list is by no means exhaustive but these are some of the key reasons your business can benefit from getting a standardised sales process in place.

    Final thoughts

    If you're hoping to take your sales team to the next level and help to boost sales and profit this year - a standardised sales process could be the way to do this.

    Keep in mind the different stages of the process and take some time reviewing where your team of sales reps are struggling the most. This can help to pinpoint areas of strength and weakness.

    What’s more, these six steps can help you to shape your sales process and train your team. If you're still not sure how to go about this, then consider investing in a sales coach who could do this for you.