Every business goes through a similar series of steps to make a sale. Understanding how the sales process works will help you maintain a consistent approach to turning leads into customers.
Documenting this process and creating a structured sales process makes it easier for your sales team to know where to focus their energy. It also becomes easier to track your results and identify what’s working and what isn’t.
This guide will explain how the different stages of the sales cycle work, and how to build a sales process for your business.
The sales process — also known as a sales cycle — is the method your company follows to sell your product or service to customers. It involves a series of steps, from initial contact with a lead to the final sale.
The sales process is similar to developing a relationship with someone new. When you first meet, you get to know each other, learn what they like and determine their goals. Along the way, you decide if you can work together and whether you are a match. If this is the case, the relationship can proceed and grow.
Here are some benefits of building a sales process for your business:
Creating a sales process will not only improve your business’s bottom line, but also help your employees succeed individually.
What are the 7 stages of the sales process?
There are seven stages in the sales process:
The first step is to prospect for customers, which requires some research. This stage has three components.
After identifying the ideal prospect, reach out to contact them. This step has two parts:
Although you have already done your research to qualify the prospect before making contact, you still need to determine if they would make an ideal customer. This can only happen in a direct conversation with the prospect (either over the phone or in person).
To qualify the prospect, learn more about them. Ask about their goals, budget, challenges and other issues that will help you to make your decision. Make sure that the person you are speaking with has the power to make decisions on doing business with you. When speaking with the prospect, identify opportunities to provide value.
Qualifying the prospect involves confirming whether they meet the criteria of a good customer. If they are not a good fit, tell the prospect why. If they are still interested, determine why.
Once you have qualified the prospect, demonstrate the relevance of your solution to them. This typically involves answering questions about your unique offer, the benefits you provide and the problems you solve.
When answering the prospect’s questions and learning about their needs, you have to nurture them along the process of making a decision. This involves:
Some prospects may be both interested in your offering and qualified, but might not be ready or able to become a customer at this time. To nurture this type of prospect, stay in touch going forward and demonstrate your ability to help. This will help to keep you top of mind when they are ready to buy.
In the third and fourth stages, the prospect might be ready to buy because they need a solution immediately. In this case, move to the next stage.
Use the information you have collected to this point to present the prospect with your best possible offer. Make the offer personalized, targeted and relevant to your prospect’s needs. Craft the offer to address their challenges, budget and goals.
While the content of your offer is very important, how you present the offer can be the difference between success and failure. Consider your audience and the situation when deciding how to present your offer. Creativity can be very effective, but you should also focus on what works best for you given the experience of previous presentations.
You’ve made the best possible offer — now it’s up to the prospect to make the next move. The most common response is some type of objection to your offer, like those listed below
Ideally, you addressed the common objections during the nurturing phase or when creating the offer. However, you cannot always address every objection before the prospect makes it.
To overcome or address objections:
Once you have overcome all objections, you can close the deal to make the sale.
First, work on sealing the deal. The goal is to confirm the prospect’s engagement and work toward the next steps.
The key is to make it easier for the prospect to say yes to the deal. Prime the prospect by reminding them how they will achieve a specific goal in purchasing your product or service. To close the deal:
When the prospect has committed to the purchase, answer any additional questions they have and give them details on the next steps. Provide a written agreement and summary of the conversation so that their supervisor or other stakeholders can review it for accuracy.
If the prospect still responds with “not yet” or “not now” for reasons beyond your control (or theirs), then return the prospect to the nurturing stage. Stay in touch and follow up with prospects who are not ready to purchase.
Consider the following approach to implement the sales process in your organization.
The sales process begins with the buyer. To implement an effective sales process, you must understand the buyer and then design your sales process to address their goals, motivations and needs. This requires identifying and then answering their “why” question. For instance, why is the buyer looking for a solution? Why are they looking to you for the solution?
Build a sales process to help your salespeople find the answer to the key question. Conduct interviews with buyers and salespeople and perform industry research to find the answers to include in the process.
Once you’ve defined the stages of your sales process, establish the key steps and milestones within those stages. A milestone could be identifying where the buyer is in the sales process or engaging with stakeholders within a certain time period. Score each milestone to determine how many resources to invest into that part of the sales process.
When you set a milestone for each stage, train salespeople to meet that milestone at the assigned stage. This will prevent them from skipping steps or taking the wrong approach at the wrong time (such as talking about the price too soon). Instructing salespeople on when and how to do handoffs will also help correct problems in the sales process. This simplifies the process of helping buyers move from one stage to the next.
Build skills, resources and activities into the sales process to help your salespeople move to the next milestone. Resources could include brochures, case studies and whitepapers for a salesperson to share with customers. Provide your salespeople with specific training for particular milestones or have them engage in activities for other milestones.
A sales process is not static; it should be refined and improved over time. Get feedback from salespeople, measure buyer behavior, and track and analyze sales data to evaluate the effectiveness of your sales process.
Use the results to solidify the successful activities and resources within the sales process, implement activities and processes to prevent negative outcomes, and remove activities and resources that do not advance the sales process. This will keep the sales process relevant, actionable and efficient.
By constantly iterating and improving your sales process, you will:
Equip your salespeople with technology (such as CRM software) that enables them to perform each step of the sales process efficiently. However, software tools alone won’t make salespeople more effective or encourage them to follow best practices. Combine the technology with supportive systems, guidance and resources.
Provide technology that streamlines the sales process, collects and organizes information on customers, and lists the required activities for salespeople to follow. Create systems and resources to support the sales team’s use of the technology during the sales process, such as these:
Jamie Johnson contributed to this article.