How to create a sales process: a step-by-step guide
While there are as many ways to sell as there are salespeople, there are also real, measurable benefits to creating a streamlined sales process that your whole team can get behind.
If your existing process could use a tune-up, or you need to start from scratch, this post will cover everything you need to have in a powerful sales process, and how to build one, start to finish, with your own team.
Today, we’ll talk about:
- What is a “sales process”?
- What makes a great sales process
- 4 benefits of having a strong sales process
- The difference between “sales process” vs “sales methodology”
- 8 essential steps in a successful sales process
- 9 tips for building your own sales process
What is a “sales process?”
Put plainly, a sales process is the detailed journey that a potential customer follows along the sales funnel and, more importantly, the steps your sales team takes to guide them through the funnel.
A sales process is often depicted as the classic sales funnel. Details are added at each level of the funnel to show the activities a sales team takes to push their leads along.There are tons of different sales process models out there, but here’s a pretty good one from Zero Gravity Marketing:
What makes a great sales process?
Okay, that’s the dictionary-level definition of a sales process, but just having any old process isn’t enough to boost conversions and increase revenue. (Well, having a good cold calling software won’t hurt.) So let’s raise the bar a little and talk about what makes a great sales process.
A great sales process is:
- Focused on the customer, not the company. We’re living in the Experience Economy, where customers look for the best feeling, not the best price. Every touch is an experience, and that’s why having a good customer-centric strategy throughout your sales process is critical. Think about what people need instead of what you have to sell.
- Clear and to the point. A sales process is not a place to leave things up to interpretation. A clear sales process means every customer will receive a consistent level of service, even if they have to change hands mid-sale. Plus, your sales team will be well aware of your expectations and how you’re evaluating them.
- Intuitive. Take time to consider the flow of your sales process. It should feel like second nature for your sales team, so they can quickly adopt and follow it. The more natural the process is for your sales team, the more at ease your potential customers will feel, too.
- Easy to replicate. A successful sales process can be executed the same way, every single time, across all of your salespeople without log jams or confusion.
- Aligned with goals. As you build your sales process, make sure you’re thinking about how you’ll measure success. The best sales processes are held accountable to goals that everyone understands, with regular checkpoints throughout the year.
- Flexible. Anything can happen, especially when you’re a small business on the rise: new technology, new product or service offerings, other unpredictable changes in your market, the list goes on. That’s why it’s important to build some wiggle room into your sales process so you’re ready to turn on a dime.
- Scalable. Build a sales process that can grow with you. Think ahead as you’re planning: how might these steps need to change when your sales team is handling twice the number of leads they are today?
4 benefits of having a strong sales process
If you haven’t nailed down a standardized sales process yet, here are four reasons to get that done ASAP:
More efficient selling
With a sales process in place, your sales team will be more focused on the behaviors that need to be driven. They’ll know which cold calls are meant to get appointments, how to close more quickly without getting sidetracked by objections, how to use content at each step to help nudge the prospect closer to the finish line, and more. That means you’re likely to shave off some time on your customer conversion rate, as well as downtime between handling leads for your team, which can pay off with real money in the bank.
Faster sales rep onboarding
Growing your team? A clear, standard sales process can make your sales meetings more efficient and cut down on the time it takes to bring salespeople up to speed on your specific business’s approach. That means your new hires could be selling more quickly with fewer errors and roadblocks.
Consistency for your future customers
A sales process protects your brand. With a clear and easy-to-follow process in place, each potential customer receives the same high-quality service no matter who they’re talking to. This goes a long way toward aligning your brand vision with its actual perception and increasing customer trust and loyalty.
A happier sales team
According to a recent Gallup study, nearly half of U.S. employees say they don’t know what’s expected of them at work, and that setting clear expectations is one of the most important ways to increase employee engagement and retention.
A well-planned sales process clearly outlines how you expect your team members to nurture leads and close sales, so doing a good job doesn’t feel like a mystery code your sales reps need to crack on their own.
Sales process vs. sales methodology
A sales process isn’t to be confused with sales methodology. Some people might use them interchangeably, but here’s how they differ:
Your sales methodology is the theory behind your approach to selling, or your sales philosophy. It’s where you nail down what method of selling will be most effective for your product, market, and audience, and how you’ll stand out in the crowd. It’s important to nail down your methodology, as it will affect your sales process at each step. Some common sales methods include the challenger, consultative, and inbound models.
8 essential steps in a successful sales process
There’s plenty of room for creativity and customization when it comes to designing your sales process, and we highly encourage that, since it will make the experience more tailored for your prospects. But as you build your process, be sure to include these key steps. We’ve also included some sales tools that will help you along the way for each step.
1. Do your research
Before you launch into a cold call script or that new sales conversation starter you’ve been dying to try out, do you know where your customers are and what they need? Know your sales territory plan, be sure to make market research a top priority in your sales process; operating on hunches can only get you so far, and you often unearth some surprising opportunities.
Market research is also a great way to learn not just who your customers are but where they are—regions, associations, or even which apps they use—so you can meet them there and make buying even easier for them.
Helpful tool for market research: Your current customer data, via your customer relationship management software (CRM) or your customer surveys. These folks have bought (and hopefully continue to buy) your products and services in the past, so it can help to find out who they are and who are in their circles as you create your sales plan.
Use demographic information and purchasing habits, as well as data about their complaints or concerns, to build a set of solid personas for different age ranges and genders—or whatever classification makes sense from the data you have. From there, you can create a set of messaging that targets each different persona’s pain points and include that in the sales process.
2. Engage new leads
This stage is also known as sourcing or prospecting leads. Basically it’s the time spent reaching out to connect with potential customers, whether it’s in person at a targeted event, over the phone on a discovery call, or through an email sales pitch (but watch out for email overload) after you’ve gathered initial interest, maybe from business cards you collected at a recent expo or trade show. And these days, don’t be surprised if you do some serious engagement via social media, too.
Helpful tool for lead engagement: The days of “dial and smile” aren’t exactly behind us, but things sure have changed. Not everyone loves a phone call anymore, though they’re still a pretty popular choice of preferred method of contact for consumers of all ages, before and after purchase:
This change has affected sales in a big way, as reps need to be able to meet customers on their favorite communication channels in order to stand out. A powerful customer engagement tool can really come in handy for keeping all forms of outreach organized and accessible.
RingCentral Engage Digital is one of these tools, offering a single platform where sales teams can reach out to prospects by email, phone, and social media messages, all in one place. Plus, the Engage Digital platform integrates with tons of customer relationship managers (CRMs). That means you’ll automatically track every interaction before prospects even make a purchase, for more personalized selling:
3. Qualify new leads
We’ve all been on a wild sales goose chase before: following a lead that was never going to become a customer. How much time and energy have you spent coming up empty?
Once first contact has been made, it’s time to evaluate how likely these leads are to convert, or become customers, before you dive in on the sale. Qualifying your leads is an important step, because it can help you decide how much time to dedicate to each prospect. This is also known as the “needs assessment” portion of the sales process.
If a customer is at the beginning of the buying process and shopping around, they might require a lighter touch from you, with more general information about why products or services like yours would be helpful. But if they’re locked in on what you’re offering, they probably expect more regular contact to feel confident in the relationship you’re building. Lead qualification is a real asset for time and resource management.
Helpful tool for qualifying leads: Have you heard of “lead scoring”? This is one way that task automation can save you a lot of time and headaches.
Any CRM that’s worth its price tag comes with some level of lead scoring. All you have to do is set up the parameters for what qualifies someone as a great lead: maybe it’s the number of touches they have with your company, the actions they take, or what their industry happens to be. (Or all of these!) Then, as prospects come in and data is collected, they’re assigned a “score” that tells you how hot of a lead they are.
One of our favorite CRMs that nails lead scoring is Zoho CRM. The scoring criteria are easy to set up, and it seamlessly syncs with customer engagement solutions like RingCentral, so every customer interaction is captured and rated:
4. Make your sales pitch
It might go without saying that this should be a top stop on your sales process journey, but we’ll say it anyway: don’t fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to your sales pitch. In the interest of brand consistency, make sure your team is delivering a consistent message about the solutions and products you sell.
This doesn’t mean your pitch needs to be like Every Other Boring Pitch. Depending on your business’s chosen vision and voice, and what you actually sell, there’s plenty of room to develop a fun and innovative way to present yourselves to the customer. But this presentation should be consistent from salesperson to salesperson, in order to take the guesswork and room for error out of the equation wherever possible.
Helpful tool for crushing your sales pitches: From PowerPoint to Google Slides to Prezi, there are a boatload of presentation builders to choose from, so let’s focus on a lesser-discussed need when it comes to delivering your pitch.
It’s not always easy to get in-person time with a potential customer, given everyone’s increasingly busy schedules. But the quality of some remote presentations can leave a lot to be desired. Have you ever sat through a remote pitch with grainy, delayed video and voice connections? (Here are some sales demo best practices and remote working tools to help you avoid that situation.)
Whether we like it or not, lower-quality tech might affect how others perceive your brand, even if you aren’t a software or IT company. That’s where a tool like RingCentral Video comes in handy. Thanks to high-def voice and video and an industry leading 99.999% uptime, you can share your demo, deck, face, and voice with confidence:
5. Address prospect concerns
Here’s how a sales pitch goes in the Wonderful Land of Make-Believe:
YOU: Here is our product, Customer. It is a very good product, and I think it is the best fit for your needs.CUSTOMER: You are absolutely right! This is a very good product, and I have no concerns or objections. I would like to buy 100 of this product right now.
(YOU and CUSTOMER high five and skip off into the sunset.)
As dreamy as this sounds, it’s just about never the way a sales pitch ends up. People work hard for their money, and even if they need what you’re selling, they want to make sure they’re getting the most bang for their buck.
That’s why it’s important for your sales process to include messaging for a rebuttal, where you anticipate a customer’s objections and can reply in a persuasive way that sets their mind at ease. The messaging will vary depending on the specific concerns around a certain product or with a certain customer, so take the time to do the necessary research upfront before presenting. It will save your sales team from being caught flat-footed.
Helpful tool for countering objections: Your ears. They might not be high-tech in today’s sense, but they could save you from losing out on sales.
Active listening is key to understanding a lead’s objections to doing business with you. Don’t wait for your turn to speak and persuade; listen to understand and ask questions for clarification. As you do so, you might uncover other underlying reasons for the objections, so you can negotiate on the real concerns at hand.
6. Close the deal
Don’t fumble at the finish line. Make sure your closing steps are standardized and clear to your team, so your new customers feel cared for especially as the business transaction winds down.
Depending on your type of business, “closing steps” might include things like sending and adjusting quotes, negotiating contracts, signing important documents or contracts. However your business goes about tying up loose ends, make sure the process is spelled out for your sales team.
Helpful tool for closing the deal: If contracts are involved, allow customers to sign and return documents electronically through a secure platform like DocuSign. This is a real convenience you can offer your customers, and since they can sign and send from anywhere in a flash, you could close deals more quickly.
7. Ask for feedback
Oh, you thought you were done at closing? Not so fast. These final two steps are critical for retaining customers and creating future referrals, so make sure they’re set in stone, too.
One of the best times to ask for customer feedback is directly following the sale. Follow up with your customer! Their feeling about you is fresh—and hopefully, it’s a good one! It can be awkward to ask for input at first, but baking it into the sales process should eventually make this important task feel like second nature.
Helpful tool for soliciting feedback: There are lots of excellent electronic survey platforms and other sales apps that do this—SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics, to name two of the heavy hitters. Both of these include the ability to sync with your CRM and automate the send of surveys to customers after their first (and future) purchases.
8. Nurture the relationship
It’s Business 101 that keeping an existing customer costs less than finding a new one. So why not make this philosophy an explicit piece of your sales process?
When the sale is completed, the customer relationship has just begun. This piece of the sales process probably involves detailing the handoff to customer service, or maybe your sales team stays on for a bit to cross-sell, upsell, or ask for referrals. Whatever the process, put it in stone so it isn’t overlooked as your team moves on to the next lead.
Helpful tool for relationship building: Your creativity! Customer relationship management (CRM) software (more on other useful sales software here) is a powerful tool for managing every stage of the customer journey, but how you nurture at each stage is up to you. Try to think outside the box and find brand-aligned ways to delight your customers, whether they’re newly acquired or long-time loyal fans.
9 tips for building your own sales process
Now that you know the main pieces of any good sales process, here are some best practices for mapping out your own:
1. Audit your existing sales process
Consider this a brain dump, where there’s no wrong response. Have your sales team lay out how they currently walk a prospect from lead to customer. You might be surprised how differently each sales rep handles things, or find some areas where everyone feels confused or undersupported.
2. Bring great minds together
This might be a sales process, but no team is an island. As you prepare to write your sales process, engage your marketing, product development, and customer service teams. A diverse planning team will be able to help craft pitch and objection messaging and brainstorm ideas for centering and delighting customers at every step.
3. Consider the timing of each step in the sales process
How many days should there be between outreach attempts? How long should sales reps wait for a response before considering a lead unviable? At every step, set some preliminary time benchmarks, so you can standardize the process even further and better understand your true conversion time.
4. Set meaningful goals
What will a successful sales plan look like for your small business? How will you know it’s working? Set some benchmark key performance indicators (KPIs) for a few points in the process: number of conversions over a certain period, perhaps, or number of new leads per salesperson.
Whatever objectives you choose, make sure they matter and directly impact revenue, so you don’t waste time analyzing vanity data that tells you little about your team’s performance.
5. Bake adjustments into the process
A sales process should be a living, breathing document that you adjust as your business changes and grows.
Determine how often you’ll check on the sales process KPIs that you set, and stick to that schedule. Write it down in black and white, right in the plan. Program the monthly or quarterly reviews into your calendars once a schedule is decided, so all stakeholders are clear on the process going forward.
6. Consider and plan for scalability throughout the process
We have a hunch that staying the same size forever probably isn’t your small business’s mission. As you put your sales process together, account for the future. Think about how approaches and tools might need to change as you outgrow them, and put those plans and ideas into the process so no one is blindsided when it’s time to scale up.
7. Test drive and tweak the new process
Instead of flipping a switch on your new process, use the dimmer function. Slowly roll out the new process by having one or two sales people adopt it first, so you can adjust it with their feedback before presenting it to the team. It’s human nature to be averse to change, so having a few of their colleagues as advocates for the process might make it more appealing to the rest of your team.
8. Educate and launch the new process
This piece is important. The only way you’ll be able to know if the new process is positively impacting your bottom line is if everyone buys into it. Make sure your sales team is well-versed in the new process; make a game of learning the new steps, if that helps. Then, release the hounds!
9. Gather feedback, adjust, repeat.
At the top of this article, we talked about great sales processes being intuitive. This bit can only really be evaluated after the process has been in effect for a while, thanks to hands-on experience. Once you’ve launched the new plan and your sales teams are using it, ask them regularly for their input on how easy the process is to remember and follow. They’ll probably have some great ideas for how to make the process even better.
How to improve your sales process
With the right combination of people, tools, and creativity, you can create a sales process that will streamline the lead-nurturing journey and boost customer conversions. Be sure to think ahead as you plan, building in room to grow and adapt, as you and the markets change. And don’t forget to build a process that aligns with your business’s vision and voice, as well as your overall goals.