A clear, repeatable sales process enables your reps to understand exactly what they need to do to succeed. It also helps you to plan out a well-defined sales cycles that can generate more revenue with less effort.
Why? Because your reps have a map that tells them exactly which activities they need to be doing, and when they need to do them.
Your sales process is that map.
When your reps follow it, everyone is doing the same activities to get results’ no one deviates from the process, which is both clear and repeatable.
A sales process can also help you track your team’s process. When you know the steps everyone on your team is taking to close deals, you’ll know how everyone is spending their time and be able to identify where a rep is struggling—or the process itself is falling short.
In this article, we explain what a sales process is, talk through some of the steps, and describe how to create one based on the metrics that are most important to your organization.
What is a sales process?
A sales process is a structured, step-by-step formula that tells your team exactly what activities they need to do to close a deal. Its steps should cover the stages of your pipeline.
A typical sales process generally includes:
- Finding prospects
- Qualifying them
- Making contact
- Giving a presentation
- Closing the deal
- Retaining the customer
A quick search will reveal several variations on the above process. Some sales processes have three steps, some have eight. Despite the many variations, every sales process will take your deal through these sales process steps: finding prospects, qualifying them, engaging them and closing.
Here’s the thing, though: no matter what you read online, there is no one perfect sales process that will work for every sales organization.
There is, however, a perfect sales process that will work for your sales team, but you are the person who should design it.
When you’re building a sales process for your team, you’ll need to take the following items into consideration:
- Your organization’s most important KPIs
- Clearly defined stages in your pipeline
- Structured lead qualification criteria matched to your pipeline stages
- The activities your salespeople should take at each stage of your pipeline
The challenge lies in knowing which steps to include and which to discard when you’re designing your sales process. Is it worth breaking down each step into its component parts, (breaking down Making Contact into Cold Emails and Cold Calling, for example), or is it more important for your team to have a quick, streamlined process with only five steps?
The answers to this question have a lot to do with your sales team, your sales cycle and your organizational goals.
Sales process steps
The best way to know which steps to include and which to discard is to examine them in detail. Below is a sales process map showing the most common, universal sales process steps.
This sales process flowchart is just a template, but it will help you map out your own process.
Depending on the structure of your organization, leads may be generated in different ways. In many cases, warm leads are generated by an inbound marketing team and handed off to your sales team.
Leads could also be generated:
- Through downloadable content, such as a lead entering their email to receive a download
- Through a conversation with a chatbot on a webpage
- When someone expresses interest in your product or service
This step (combined with lead generation) can also be called prospecting since you’re actively finding sales prospects.
During the research step, your team will examine the leads they’ve been given. This step often includes a lot of time spent online, trying to understand who is the best initial contact for a rep, what problem they’re trying to solve and what their contact information is.
Your reps may spend a significant amount of time on Twitter and LinkedIn, finding common ground with prospects, or looking into recent achievements—anything to find a conversational opening for the next step. They may also speak to contacts at an organization, looking for the best person to talk to.
There are tools that can help you to track down leads and their information at companies. For example, Pipedrive’s Smart Contact Data feature retrieves information about your Pipedrive contacts that is available on the web with just one click.
This is the sales process step people tend to associate with salespeople: that first phone call from a rep, asking for a moment of your time. In fact, initial contact can happen in a variety of ways, including —phone, email, text and social media are all options.
Cold Calls: Cold calls, though routinely proclaimed dead by blog posts across the internet, are still alive and well. The Rain Group found that 69% of buyers accepted cold calls from sales reps in the last year.
With the right training, experience and script any sales rep can control the conversation on a sales call. Cold calls are also preferred by high-level buyers: the Rain Group found that more than half of senior-level buyers would rather get a phone call than an email.
Read our cold calling scripts article for more ideas.
Cold Emails: Cold emails are scalable: if your sales team hasn’t got the resources to make a high volume of calls, cold emails can help you get in front of the same number of prospects quickly—more quickly, in fact, than making calls to the same number of people. Interestingly, overall, The Rain Group found that prospects tend to prefer cold emails to calls.
You have to be careful not to be spammy, however. The trick, according to Heather R Morgan, CEO of Salesfolk, a company that produces cold emails, is for reps to thoroughly research their prospects, and remember that their goal is to start a conversation with a prospect, not launch into a one-sided pitch.
Initial contact, no matter how you do it, isn’t about giving as many people as possible the hard sell. Instead, it’s about starting a discussion with the right prospect.
Your script or email template may vary; they may start with a personal connection, gleaned during the Research phase. Your reps should also have a list of questions that will help them understand the prospect’s specific business problems
The personal touch is also important: this initial contact is when your reps need to make a connection with the right prospects; to really thinking about which ones are likely to be a good fit for your product.
The job of a salesperson isn’t just to sell a product or a service (although yes, that’s why you hired your reps), their job is also to illustrate that your product or service can help your prospects solve a problem.
“I like to say that salespeople are the research and development department for our customers,” says sales trainer Mark Hunter, of The Sales Hunter. “What we’re here to do is to help you find ideas, help find solutions to challenges that you’re facing, that you don’t know what to do with.”
That’s partially what Lead Qualification is about: finding the prospects who really do need your product or service. At this point in the sales process, it’s time for your reps to examine the answers they received during Initial Contact and use those to determine which prospect is right for your product.
Qualification is important because you don’t want reps wasting their time on leads who are unlikely to buy, or who might be wrong for your product.
You can use several systems to qualify your leads, but one of the most common is BANT:
- Budget: Does your prospect have the budget for your product?
- Authority: Can the prospect actually make the purchase, or do they need to convince someone else?
- Need: Do they truly need your product?
- Timescale: Do they seem ready to buy now?
If the answers to all those questions are yes, great! You’ve got a hot lead, and you can start scheduling presentations.
If the answer to one or more of the questions is no, your rep may want to take a hard look at that lead. They may not be a good fit, or they might end up being a loss. You don’t want your pipeline clogged up with bad leads who aren’t ready, don’t have the budget, or who aren’t authorized to buy, for example.
Those leads, the cold ones, should be dumped out of your reps’ pipelines to make room for the qualified leads who are ready to buy.
But wait a minute: you shouldn’t just take your lead’s word for it that they’re not a good lead. (If you disqualified every no, you’d never make a sale.) Part of qualifying a lead is hearing and successfully overcoming that lead’s objections.
That brings us to the next step.
Sales objections are are a common hurdle for sales teams. These are every “no” you get during Lead Qualification; the reasons why your prospects can’t or won’t buy your product or service. Maybe they don’t have the funds. Maybe they don’t think they need your product. Maybe it’s something else; they don’t like or trust your organization, for example.
The rep’s job is to gracefully handle those objections. That can be tricky: an objection can throw a monkey wrench into the best-written sales script.
There are, however, ways around sales objections.
Planning for objections
Your team is likely to hear the same objections over and over. Come up with a list of objections you hear often by consulting your old call transcripts and emails and plan how you want your team to address each. Develop a script for each one that your team can use to overcome that objection and make it part of your sales training.
You can find some of the experts’ suggestions on how to overcome objections in our sales objections tool. Or, watch one of the videos in our sales training and techniques series to find out how to tackle common sales objections.
The surprise objection
There will be, however, some objections you cannot plan for. The worst way to handle these objections is to get flustered.
According to Gong, a company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze sales conversations, the highest performing reps respond by taking a deep breath and slowing down when they encounter an objection. By contrast, the reps who get flustered and leap into a reply, even one from a script, tend to lose sales.
The best tactic is to teach your reps to pause, and then to start asking the prospect questions about their objections. The answers to those questions will tell them if the objection is truly a barrier to a purchase.
The presentation, meeting, or proposal is the step you’ve been working towards. Your reps have been building goodwill with your prospects by asking them questions in calls and emails, overcoming objections, and building a relationship with those leads (potentially through consultative selling techniques).
The presentation when they finally make their pitch, presenting your value proposition to your qualified prospects and focusing on the ways your product or service can solve their business problems.
Reps should be careful not to rely too heavily on a canned presentation; they should be ready to ask questions and field objections.
Closing the deal
Once your reps have developed a relationship, built trust and made their presentation, it’s time to ask for a sale.
Despite the fact that the sales process is always the same, there’s no one way to do to close a deal. Sales is about creating relationships with leads and every relationship is different. There are, however, some guidelines for closing a deal successfully:
- Be flexible, but not too flexible: Your reps may need to make some concessions in order to make some sales. Be clear as a team what limits are reasonable for those concessions in advance, and tell your reps to come to you if they have questions about how much leeway is too much.
- Make it easy to say yes: Your prospect has just been through a sales pipeline. When it comes to closing a deal, don’t make them jump through hoops. Instead, make it easy for them to finalize the deal.
- Don’t beg: Your rep might think the prospect is ready to buy, but then the prospect stops answering phone calls and returning messages. You don’t want a ghost in your pipeline, but you also don’t want reps to keep emailing until they get an answer. Instead, after a few touches, have your reps send an email, explaining that they realize it may not be a good time. Tell them to reach out when they’re ready. That way reps can stop chasing a “no” and focus on getting a “yes.”
The sales process doesn’t end with the sale. Once your rep closes the deal, the customer is handed off to your Customer Support or Customer Success team. Keeping customers happy is essential—according to Harvard Business Review research, it costs between five and 25 times less to retain a customer than it does to convert a new one.
Also, happy customers are an excellent source of repeat sales. According to the Rain Group, the number one sales prospecting technique is a phone call to an existing customer, so have your customer support or success team follow up with their customers every once in a while—not necessarily to pitch a new product, but to ask how things are, and if they’re still happy.
Your reps could even do the same. Mark Hunter suggests this tactic for struggling reps: he suggests that reps start their day by touching base with a happy customer and let them remind you how great the rep is.
Industry-specific sales processes
Not all industries are able follow the same sales process.
While most businesses follow some variation of the basic sales process—finding prospects, qualifying them, making contact, giving a presentation and closing the deal—others have to add a step, or in some cases, several.
This modification of the sales process can happen because of legal requirements, niche products, a challenging target customer base or simply because that’s the way a specific industry is structured. Here are a few examples of industries that use slightly different sales processes than the one above.
The sales process for real estate is long and complex because real estate agents make two sales:
- First, they convince the homeowner to use them to sell their home
- Then they sell that home to a buyer
Because of this, real estate agencies may think of their sales cycle as two sales processes strung together, one for the seller and one for the buyer.
Real estate sales processes also have additional steps mandated by law. Agents must open escrow accounts, complete title searches, have homes inspected and more.
In the financial services industry, the sales cycle can be very long.
The reason for this? A financial sales process map usually includes steps like application processing, which a salesperson has no control over. Application processing can take a while, and may require a good deal of paperwork to establish a new account or a transfer of assets. (The same goes for underwriting time in the insurance industry.)
Education or government work
Industries that sell to schools or to other government-run entities may add several steps to their sales processes, depending on the organization they’re selling to.
They may need to include a bid, or a response to a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) to their sales process. They may also have to include a second presentation to a governing body, like a board of education. This presentation is usually followed by a vote, often after a request for more information.
Sales in the healthcare industry can be complex, mostly because the medical industry itself is complicated. The healthcare industry is governed by stringent laws and guidelines, for example. Also, doctors and other healthcare providers often feel more comfortable with sales reps who demonstrate knowledge of medicine and science.
While this is not exactly a step in the sales process, your reps should be ready to speak fluently and knowledgeably about clinical subjects and evidence-based medicine. Knowing about your product and market if important for every rep, but the level of detail in medicine adds an extra challenge.
Creating your sales process map
Now that you know what a sales process is, how can you build your own? Have a look back at the sales process map above. How many of those steps are in your sales process? Is a sales process flowchart the best way to structure it?
You need to consider what activities and metrics are important to your company, industry and sales team. Here are the metrics to consider:
- The metrics that are important to your organization
- The requirements of your industry
- The needs of your sales team
Your company’s most important metrics
What KPIs are most important to your sales organization? Is it the length of your sales cycle, your conversion rate, or something else? While some of your important metrics may be handed down to you by leadership, you probably have a good idea what your most important KPIs are.
If it’s important to you to shorten your sales cycle, for example, keep that in mind when you’re designing your sales process, so that each stage is as streamlined as it can be.
Or, if you’re trying to keep customer acquisition costs down, make sure all your reps are actively reaching out to existing customers as part of the sales process.
The requirements of your industry
This one is fairly self-explanatory. You can’t build a sales process without taking the regulations and best practices of your industry into account.
If you work in real estate, you’ll need to build out a longer sales process to account for both buyer and seller. If you work in finance, you’ll need to build in a period for paperwork to be filed and approved.
The needs of your sales team
Your sales process needs to serve your team, not the other way round. The sales process is designed to make selling as easy, structured and repeatable for your reps as possible. It should outline the activities your salespeople need to take at each stage of your pipeline in order to make a sale.
Your sales process should be simple enough that new reps will be able to jump into their jobs and know exactly what is expected of them. Once you’ve created a rough outline based on your organization’s important KPIs and your industry’s guidelines, it’s time to bring in the experts: your salespeople.
Involving your sales team in the creation of a sales process
Your sales process is a map for your team, so, although you know which steps you want your team to take when they’re approaching a sale, it’s important that you hear their concerns about the process.
If you don’t have a sales process yet, talk to your team about the steps they’ve been following to make sales. Pay attention to your high performers. What have they been doing to close deals? How long have they spent on each sales activity?
If you do have a process that you’re refining, ask reps where they have the most trouble. It may be that a particular step in the process isn’t well defined and is causing them to stumble.
You should also ask your reps about the objections they hear often, the places the sales process runs most smoothly, and if there’s any clarification they need during any step of the process.
Remember, a sales process is a living document. What works for one team, and at one time, may not work as well for another team. You should plan to revise it periodically, bringing in your team for feedback during each revision.
How to educate your sales team
Your team may balk at being told how to make their sales, especially if they come from organizations without a set sales process. They may feel that it’s your job to set targets and their job to bring in sales, and that it shouldn’t matter how they bring in those numbers.
In this case, you’ll need to educate them about what a sales process is, and why it will be helpful to them. Here are some arguments that may help reluctant reps:
- A sales process will let them work smarter instead of harder
- A sales process maps out the sales process for their new or struggling peers, which will make it easier for the team to hit goals (i.e. they won’t have to shoulder the burden of meeting sales targets)
- A good sales process gives everyone a checklist of activities to do, but doesn’t tell you how to do those activities (they can still sell in their own style as long as they tick the boxes of the sales process.
A good time to educate your team is when you’re asking them for feedback about the sales process you’re building, as they may be worried about losing control over their personal approach to a sales process. Letting them help you build the new process will allow them to regain that control.
Maintaining your sales process
Your sales process is not a crockpot; you can’t just set it and forget it. Once you’ve put together a sales process, it needs to be maintained, and you also need to make sure your reps are following it.
You need a window into the sales process. The best way to do that? Use software that’s mapped to your sales process and intuitive enough for your reps to use easily. Once you’re able to track your sales team’s progress, you’ll be able to see where your process is working and where you may need to refine it further.
The best sales process software
Thinking of documenting your sales process with a spreadsheet? Stop right there.
While small sales teams with a couple of prospects and a short sales process could probably manage their sales with a static spreadsheet, a growing sales team needs a flexible sales pipeline management tool that helps them spend less time on admin and more time selling.
You can customize your pipelines in Pipedrive so that they map to your sales process. The stages in your pipeline are based on the activities your reps need to do to close a deal.
Your reps log in and work on the platform, completing activities, checking them off as done, and sending emails right from Pipedrive. Using integrations like those found on the Pipedrive Marketplace, or the call tracking feature, your team can also make calls from the platform.
Pipedrive’s intuitive interface makes it easy for salespeople to log their activities, and makes it easy for you to track their progress and your sales process.
A good sales process is one of your most important sales tools
What do you want your sales team to focus on: their quarterly targets, or the specific activities they need to do to achieve those goals?
We’re betting that if you made it this far, you said “activities.”
Most salespeople do best when they’re focused on the checklist of things they need to do every day—make a call, schedule a meeting, work on a proposal—the little, manageable things. That is why having a repeatable sales process in place is so important.
A big project can be intimidating, like the numbers a salesperson needs to bring in at the end of the month, quarter, or year. A sales process is a way to tackle that target a little at a time.
Now you know what a sales process is, what the sales process steps are, and how to create and manage a sales process for your team. Design a process that will help your team build relationships with their prospects, close more deals, and navigate the sales process with confidence.