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Break It Down: 5 Steps to Defining the Sales Process Methodology

Doug Dvorak
Doug Dvorak

Each step in sales is made up of several key activities with predictable, measurable outcomes.

These steps help sales professionals succeed by focusing on a total understanding of critical business issues faced by customers.

They also develop potential value to be gained by customers and create a strong desire in the customer to buy products and services supplied by your company.

Here's how to execute each sale with ease.

Related Article: Surefire Signs Your Sales Strategy is a Success

Step 1: Prospecting

At this first stage of the sales process, the salesperson is generating qualified leads, finding new opportunities among the existing customer base, and differentiating his or her company from the competition.

Depending on the type of business, prospecting can take many forms including networking, attending seminars, marketing, trade shows and cold calls. The purpose of this step is to identify a qualified decision maker or an ally in the organization who can help you reach the decision maker.

Step 2: Qualifying

In this stage, you and the customer are “sizing each other up.” You are assessing the revenue potential and costs associated with a customer opportunity to decide if it’s worth pursuing further while the customer is assessing whether your company can meet their needs. In this stage of the process, your sales professionals need to be adept at probing to unearth the customer’s true needs, in detail.

Then they need a way to clearly articulate a “buying vision” to the customer – capabilities that illustrate how your company’s products or services can uniquely meet their needs. The goal of this step is to convince the decision maker to move ahead with an in-depth evaluation of your solution.

Step 3: Proposal

When you reach this stage the promises end and you have to demonstrate to the decision maker that your company can really deliver the goods.

You can create a mutually agreed upon product/service evaluation plan that highlights key steps to prove your capabilities and ensure a win for both the customer and the salesperson. The evaluation plan is an important, formal lever that many salespeople overlook: once a customer agrees to the evaluation plan, the salesperson is in control of the sales process.

In other words, the customer can only afford to go through the steps of an evaluation plan with one selling organization because of the time, cost, and resources to perform each step.

The goal of the proposal stage is that the value has been demonstrated – via successful completion of the evaluation plan – and the customer requests that the salesperson submit a proposal.

At this stage of the process the consideration set of companies narrows in the eyes of the customer, and responding rapidly – and professionally – is essential for the sales professional. Most business winces at the thought of how many potential sales slips away when a commitment falls through the cracks or an e-mail goes unanswered. 

Step 4: Decision

By now, you are so close to pushing this deal across the goal line that you can “almost taste it.” But how often has your sales force fumbled the ball in the end zone? Perhaps one of your salespeople gave too much away in the final negotiations, making the deal unprofitable. Or conversely, perhaps he or she walked away from a good sale when a low-cost giveaway might have sealed the deal. Such is the delicate and tantalizing nature of the Decision step of the sales process.

The desired outcome, naturally, is a successfully negotiated deal – perhaps formalized in a signed contract – that symbolizes a win-win arrangement for your company and the customer. 

Step 5: Repeat Business - Referrals

A signed contract is really just the first chapter of the story. The Repeat Business - Referral step acknowledges that it is indeed a sales process – not a moment in time when a contract is signed or a sales commission is paid out. First of all, the product or service must be delivered and implemented as promised.

A sales professional focused on a long-term profitable relationship will take ownership and follow up with the customer to make sure that everything is going smoothly. And at the right time, he or she will begin the Prospecting step again, probing the customer to see if there is an ongoing need that can be serviced with a simple re-order or, if needs have changed, the opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell a new product or service.

Obviously, the goal of this step of the sales process is to repeat business – not to mention a satisfied customer willing to be a referral for you.

Related Article: Fill It to the Top: Tips to Ensure a Strong Sales Funnel

The Challenges of Implementing a Sales Process

Clearly, a well-defined and measurable sales process can help to increase sales and profit margins and make a huge difference in your organization. But there are still challenges to overcome. Change is scary, and inertia is a powerful force. People like doing things the way they always have done them. Here are some best practice guidelines to help you successfully implement a new sales process in your organization.

The Role of Management Support

Senior sales management needs to take ownership for implementing and managing the sales process. As with any proposed change, sales professionals will watch closely to see if the sales process will really be adopted and enforced by the organization. Is this just the flavor of the month or is it truly a new way of doing business?

Senior sales management must support and reinforce the change at every opportunity. Use the sales process terminology inherent in the process to show that a cultural shift is being made, for example. It also means adjusting compensation schemes to reward those who use and excel with the sales process. And most importantly, it means enforcing participation across the board. Nothing will do more to undermine the participation of junior salespeople than seeing a more senior colleague allowed to blithely skip steps in the sales process.

The role of management support is so critical that we will discuss it again. You may want to consider working with a sales coach to ensure your senior sales managers are setting your team up for success.

A sales process is simply a series of steps that enables your sales force to close more sales and generate more repeat business through referrals.

It is just as important to be aware of the customer buying process. All customers go through several basic steps in the Customer Buying Process. Obviously someone who is thinking about purchasing a candy bar for a dollar at the check-out stand at their local grocery moves through the steps much more rapidly than a Chief Information Officer considering upgrading his multi-million dollar Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of each stage are very similar.

Marketing - Identify Needs

Businesses look for ways to improve revenues and market share, to lower costs, and to improve operating efficiencies. Consumers look for ways to improve their standard of living or their overall satisfaction.

Qualification - Determine Requirements

The goal in this step is to clearly identify all the aspects of the problem or opportunity they are trying to solve and to specify the requirements for a solution.

Proposing - Evaluate Options

The customer solicits proposals and seeks out proof that the potential vendors can meet the stated requirements.

Related Article: Shortening the Sales Cycle Through Content Marketing

Delivering - Customer Begins Using Product/service

The customer now has a clear understanding of the options available and begins negotiations to acquire the product or service. Price is one consideration, but negotiating considerations include the cost of change and the risk that the solution will not meet their needs. The product or service is implemented and the customer begins the process of judging whether it truly meets the stated needs. 

Image Credit: NanoStockk / Getty Images
Doug Dvorak
Doug Dvorak Member
Doug Dvorak is the CEO of The Sales Coaching Institute, a worldwide organization that assists clients with sales productivity training other aspects of sales and marketing management. Mr. Dvorak’s clients are range from entrepreneurs to fortune 500 companies including, IBM, Marriott, Subway and Unilever, just to name a few. Mr. Dvorak is also a motivational keynote speaker. He has delivered over 1000 customized training keynotes, presentations and workshops on over 5 continents, 107 countries and 1 million people and growing. He has also earned an international reputation for his powerful sales training, educational methods and motivational techniques. His background in sales, leadership, management and customer experience and loyalty has allowed him to become one of world’s most sought after sales training consultants, lecturers and teachers. This vast experience has helped him shape and determine his philosophies on sales success which he now shares annually with thousands of individuals through keynote presentations, syndicated writing, television, seminars, books and tapes. Mr. Dvorak is a certified sales trainer, sales coach and management consultant. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and a Master of Business Administration in Marketing Management. However, Mr. Dvorak’s sense of humor is no less refined, as he is a graduate of the Player’s Workshop of the Second City, one of the oldest and most prestigious improvisational comedy schools in the world. Doug's dedication to success and sales excellence led him to be named one of the “Top Ten Sales Professionals in America” in 1988, by Personal Selling Power Magazine. Between 1995 and 2006, Mr. Dvorak’s vision and leadership were recognized when he was honored with induction into several prestigious National and International Who’s Who organizations, including: Who’s Who in Professional Speaking. Mr. Dvorak is an active member of the National Speakers Association.