Sales Process

Read our ultimate guide on the sales process and its key stages, including how to create, map, and optimize your own killer process.

Table of Contents

A sales process is a defined set of repeatable steps that salespeople take to close deals with potential customers. While all businesses have unique sales processes that fit their specific needs, the best typically have six stages that begin with lead generation and end with objection handling and deal-closing.

Regardless of your specific sales process, one of the best ways to create and manage it is through the use of a CRM. With CRM software, you can build a sales pipeline that matches each of your sales process stages, helping you better track the customer journey as well as automate key tasks along the way.

6 Essential Sales Process Stages

Check out this overview of each stage, and then continue reading for more information, including how to map and improve your own sales process:

1. Lead
Generation

Find and qualify prospects that fit your customer profile.

2. Needs Assessment

Conduct discovery activities to understand prospect needs.

3. Sales Presentation

Present to potential customers based on your discovery call.

1. Lead
Generation

Find and qualify prospects that fit your ideal profile.

2. Needs
Assessment

Conduct discovery activities to understand needs.

3. Sales
Presentation

Present your sales pitch based on your discovery.

4. Business
Proposal

Create a professional proposal with your terms.

4. Business Proposal

Create a professional business proposal outlining your terms.

5. Objection-Handling

Address customer concerns and build trust while closing the sale.

6. Deal-
Closing

Finalize your offering and close the sale with a signed contract.

5. Objection-Handling

Address concerns and build trust while moving to close.

6. Deal-
Closing

Finalize your offering with a signed contract.

1. Lead Generation

Lead Generation is the act of compiling a list of potential contacts that fit your ideal customer profile, and then identifying which represent qualified leads (aka, those that have a high likelihood of converting). First, generate a list of contacts using one of the methods below. Then, reach out to each contact via a call or email to qualify the lead by gauging their interest and fit.

Below are the key methods of lead generation, including compiling your list and making first contact.

How to Compile a List of Leads

The first step of Lead Generation is putting together an initial list of potential customers. To do that, you’ll first want to create a customer profile, answering the question: Who is the ideal consumer who truly needs your product / service? Then, you can start generating a list of potential leads using one of the strategies below:

Networking Events

Think about the trade shows, conferences or other events your customers might attend. Many of these events allow for exhibit booths and advertising, which you can use to meet potential leads face-to-face, but both at a cost. If your budget is tight, go to the event as an attendee, ideally with the ability to demonstrate your product or service on the spot wherever you are.

Visit websites like Meetup.com or Findspark.com, to find networking events relevant to your business. You can also do a Google search by typing in your business + events or conferences + your local area (e.g. “IT services + events + New York City”). From there, scan each event’s site or call the event coordinator to verify if the attendees represent your ideal customer.

Social Media

There are typically two ways you can generate leads via social media. The first is organically, where you’ll create a strong social media presence by posting information relevant to your niche customer base. Then, either send organic social traffic to your website or reach out to engaged contacts directly, using your social media profile as your “social proof” to entice them to learn more about your offering.

The second is through paid social media advertising, where you can create advertising campaigns across the social media platforms where your audience is most active, and then drive that paid traffic to your website or landing page. From there, capture the potential lead’s contact information through an email newsletter offering or content upgrade, click-to-call, or click-to-schedule an appointment.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising

PPC advertising allows you to advertise on search engines like Google, showing up in the top two search results for specific keywords. Advertising costs are based on the number of people who click on your ad. Target search keywords related to your product or service, and direct that traffic to your website or landing page where you can capture their contact information to follow up later.

This lead generation strategy works best if your product or service solves an acute problem or is something that people search for regularly. Common keywords to target include things like, “best [product or service]” or “how to do [thing your product or service does]”.

Manual Prospecting

Another form of lead generation is manual prospecting, where you put together lists of potential leads by culling the internet or other resources and finding contacts directly. You can do this using prospecting tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator, which helps you do advanced searches on LinkedIn, or by using an email finder like Hunter.io, which can find prospect email addresses if you know their name and business website.

Marketing Generated Leads

If you’re part of a larger organization, a marketing team will likely reach out to potential customers on your behalf, procuring key information that helps pre-qualify the lead. These are therefore warmer leads, whereby much of the legwork has been done for you. As such, you can skip right to making initial contact and assessing customer needs.

How to Make Initial Contact

Now that you have your list of leads, qualify them by reaching out to see who responds with interest regarding your product or service. The best way to make this initial contact is either through cold calling or cold emailing. Ideally, you’d want to do both to increase your chances of connecting with the lead. Either way, start with a one-sentence introduction, followed by a clear objective.

Cold Calling

These are first-time calls to potential customers who fit your customer profile. Start the call by briefly introducing yourself and explaining how you found them–whether they’re on a prospect list you purchased or a member of a relevant social network site. And finally express interest in chatting with them about their goals and challenges for their business.

Cold Emailing

These are first-time emails to potential customers who fit your customer profile. Keep it short. One line introducing yourself and your business (nothing salesy or they’ll run for the hills). A second line on what you’ve researched about the customer. And conclude by stating interest in setting up a time to chat, to learn more about their goals and challenges.

That is IT. In my fifteen years of selling across different industries, I’ve learned that focusing less on your product or service and more on the customer’s needs is what gets you in the door. Your ultimate goal is becoming your customer’s trusted advisor and partner.

Additional Reading:

There are many inbound and outbound lead generation methods. To help you chose the most effective one, check out our ultimate guide on lead generation. This detailed guide includes top strategies and software as well as a complete list of our niche-specific lead generation articles.

2. Needs Assessment

Once a qualified lead responds to your initial outreach, your next objective is to have a conversation with this prospective customer and assess their needs (aka discovery). This will build trust and help with lead nurturing, but it will also give you better insight into whether your product or service is a good fit as well as how to position it. The best way to assess needs and fit is to ask key questions that get to the heart of this information.

Questions to Assess Customer Needs

When you’re assessing customer needs, there are typically five key pieces of information you’ll want to assess, each with a specific set of questions to help procure that information. Here are some universal questions you can ask almost any customer at any level of decision-making authority. Always make your questions open-ended, rather than dead-end questions they can answer with “yes” or “no”.

  1. Customer Goals and Challenges: “How is your business doing? What’s going well, and why? What challenges are you encountering? What goals do you want to accomplish, and by when?”
  2. Decision Factors: This is as close as you’ll get to talking about your own product or service on this call, unless the customer asks for that information…“What’s most important to you when you’re considering a product or service like ours?”
  3. Competition: “What products or services are you using now, similar to ours? What do you like or dislike about those products and services? If you’re not using those types of products or services, is there a reason why not?”
  4. Decision Timeline: “What do you need to make the best decision on whether or not to buy our product or service? What tasks and deadlines should I prepare for (e.g. sending samples of our product, presentations, business proposals, etc.)? How long do you need to review before deciding whether or not to invest?”
  5. How Future Communication Will Happen: “How do you prefer to communicate with me in the future? Phone, email, other? How frequently? Are there others at your company I should also be talking to, or are you my primary contact?”

As you’re wrapping up this conversation, make sure to reiterate the customer’s needs.This will solidify the customer’s trust in you.

Depending on how much time you have and how important the customer is, consider writing the customer a detailed email recapping the conversation. This will give the customer a point of reference for future conversations, but also really hits home how much you’ve listened and care.

Key Tips to Establish Credibility

  • Don’t pretend to be an expert. If you’re not a technical specialist with years of experience on your product and market, be up front about it. The customer will respect you for your candor. They’ll respect you less if they catch you playing expert when you’re not one.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.” Not only will the customer respect your honesty, but it will also provide you an excuse to have a follow-up conversation (whereby you can capitalize on moving the sale along toward close).
“The needs assessment phase is critical for assessing fit. Many salespeople feel they have to turn every lead into a sale, and end up wasting valuable time on contacts that don’t fit their ideal customer profile. When conducting a needs assessment, use it as an opportunity to verify whether or not a lead fits your target niche, and only continue to engage the ones you deem to be a good fit.”

3. Sales Presentation

At this point, you’ve learned about the customer’s needs, identifying what’s important to them and the objections that may arise. Now, it’s time to present your product or service to the customer and show them why it’s a good fit. The best way to do this is to set a meeting, put together a slide deck for your main contact to review in advance, and then present to the customer either over Zoom or in person.

Set a Date & Time To Meet

Ask to present first thing in the morning, when their minds are fresh (especially if there are competing companies also presenting that day). If that’s not possible, try to be the last presentation, so you’re foremost on their minds as presentations end. Avoid presenting in the middle of the pack, if possible.

Gather Information for Presentation

  • Time Allotment: How much time will you be given for the presentation?
  • Expectations: What is expected for the presentation (e.g. PowerPoint slides, product demonstrations, etc.)? Will you have to do a technical demonstration that’s beyond your expertise (and therefore requires a specialist to co-present with you)?
  • Know Your Audience: Who will be in attendance? How many attendees will there be? What are their respective roles?

Compile Necessary Material

  • Put Together A PPT Presentation: A great PPT program is Google Slides. Tailor it to your customer’s needs and expectations. If the customer’s given you one hour to present, rehearse these slides in advance to make sure you’re not going over that time limit (and that you’re giving ample time for Q/A).
  • Gather Your Full Arsenal Of Sales Content: Things such as official literature regarding your business, features or benefits of using your product, customer testimonials, etc., but only present what the customer has shown matters most to them.
  • Bring Business Cards & Leave-behinds: Such as samples of your product, brochures, company swag, and more.

Present to Potential Customer

  • Present your slide deck, focusing specifically on what you uncovered with the customer during the needs assessment stage. Depending on how much the customer reviewed the slide deck in advance, try to minimize time spent here.
  • Make the presentation interactive. Ask questions to your audience (e.g. “Raise your hand if…”). Ideally, walk the customer through using your product or service, all the while highlighting where/how it is filling a crucial need of theirs.
  • Demo your product. Your product or service is your most effective sales tool. If a customer starts exploring the product in front of you, the best thing you can do is not say a word. Let your product do the talking. This is a critical juncture whereby the customer is truly envisioning using your product. When they need you, they’ll ask.
  • Encourage attendees to ask questions. You can save this for the end, but I’ve found it’s better to ask the attendees if they have questions at key points throughout the presentation. It becomes contagious and usually gets other attendees more engaged.

Key Tips to Stand Out from the Competition

  • Bring food / refreshments. Whatever is suitable to the time of day you’re presenting (e.g. coffee/bagels/danishes in the morning, etc.).
  • Get all attendees’ names and email addresses. Pass around a sign-in sheet for attendees. This way, you can send a fully detailed recap email to everyone, later that evening or the next day.

4. Business Proposal

Once you’ve presented and given your sales pitch, send an initial business proposal to interested prospects outlining the terms you discussed during the meeting. Remember, most proposals go through multiple iterations based on customer feedback, so use this as an exercise to advance the conversation as you handle objections and move toward deal-closing. Here are the things to include in an initial proposal:

What to Include in a Business Proposal

  • Title & Table of Contents: Start with a title page and a table of contents outlining the sections of your proposal.
  • Executive Summary: Use this as a short summary of your overall proposal, including an overview of the problem and solution.
  • Problem & Solution: Then, go into detail regarding the customer’s problem you discovered during the needs assessment phase and how your product or service is the solution.
  • Qualifications: Use this as a chance to provide “social proof” regarding why the customer should trust you and your offering. This could include past projects or customers that help you prove you can deliver.
  • Full Scope of Work: Once the problem, solution, and qualifications have been established, detail the full scope of work, including timeline, pricing, and billing.
  • Terms & Conditions: Conclude with any required boilerplate legal information regarding current and ongoing work and/or relationships, including a signature page.

Business Proposal Temlates

There are many proposal templates you can find on the Internet, either free or for a fee. Canva is a leading graphic design platform offering a wealth of free proposal templates to you can use. There, you’ll find industry-specific proposal templates as well as ones for general purposes.

Business Proposal Software

If you’d rather not manually create a business proposal using a free template, try using business proposal software. Leading options such as PandaDock and Proposify not only help you create business proposals but streamline and automate workflows, such as tracking and signing contracts. If interested, check out these reviews of the best providers.

5. Handling Objections

Even if your needs assessment proves a prospect is perfect for your business and you execute on a great sales presentation, your proposal will almost always garner objections. That’s okay! Objections enable you to put the customer’s hesitations at ease through concrete facts about your product or service. The goal here is to provide counter-objections as well as iterate on the initial proposal as you work to close the deal.

Key Objection Handling Techniques

  • Express Empathy: Listen to and validate the customer’s objections. Tell them they’re right to have these objections.
  • Restate Their Objections: This will show you listened, understand and care. (e.g. “To confirm I’ve got everything, you’re hesitant to buy my product because of the following reasons…” and then list them.)
  • Alleviate Concerns: Explain how you and your product or service can resolve these issues. (e.g. “You’re saying you only need one part of my product, not all five parts. That’s perfectly doable. We can sell you just the one part, for less expensive.”)
  • Confirm Your Solutions Are Sufficient: Ask the customer if these solutions would be enough to ease their hesitations. (e.g. “So if we only sold you the one part instead of all five, would that work for you?”)

Key Tip for Handling Rejections

Many objections will turn to outright rejections. Having the skin to accept a “no” (when it’s truly a “no”) is essential. The more sales calls you make, the better your chance for success. Sales is a numbers game.

The more leads you call, the more sales opportunities you create into your pipeline, the better your chances of getting that “yes”. Simple math.

6. Closing the Sale

Closing the sale is the act of getting your prospect to finally purchase your product or service. Once you’ve shown how your business fully addresses the customer’s needs and overcome all objections, finish by reiterating all of the above. Then, ask if there are any remaining hesitations. If the customer says no and agrees to buy, create a final proposal for the customer to sign, deliver your product, and follow up to ensure customer satisfaction and explore other areas of business.

Prepare Your Closing Material

  • Customer Goals / Challenges: Where you determined the customer ultimately wants to be, and what’s stopping them from getting there.
  • Pros / Cons of the Competition: What competing product or service is the customer using now, and what do they like or dislike about it
  • General Customer Objections: What hesitations does the customer have about your product or service

Use This Closing Technique

In my experience, the best and most all-encompassing close goes something like this: “We’ve discussed your needs and challenges, and how our product ot service addresses them. Is there anything remaining that makes you hesitant in trying us out, that I can address today?”

This question may unearth further objections, which you can handle using the objection handling techniques listed above.

Finalize Your Business Proposal

Once you have a verbal agreement (or better, an email agreement) from the customer, you can start working on the final proposal that includes updated information based on your discussions up to this point. Once both parties are satisfied, get the official signature and the sale is closed.

To help, check out these reviews of the top e-signature software for creating and executing contracts. With options like DocuSign, you can create, send, e-sign, and manage agreements based on your proposal terms.

Deliver Product or Service & Follow-Through

  • Deliver the customer the product or service you promised, at the time you promised it.
  • If applicable, bring in teams specialized to on-board your product or service, perform in-service training, etc.
  • Schedule follow-up meetings, to ensure the product or service is to the customer’s satisfaction, and to address any issues.
  • Explore other areas of your business they may be opened to investing in.
  • Ask for referrals or testimonials. Almost nothing is more effective in sales than peer endorsement.

How to Map Your Sales Process

The best way to create and map your sales process is with the help of a CRM. With CRM software, you can create a visual sales pipeline that represents each stage in your sales process, and then track leads and automate tasks every step of the way.

With a CRM, map your sales process using the below:

  • Gather all required stakeholders: The worst thing you can do is create a sales process without consulting the people who will be using it, experiencing it, or affected by it. For this reason, include key sales, product, and marketing people, and even existing customers if you have them.
  • Identify Each Sales Process Step: Clearly identify each step in your sales pipeline and the activities required for each. If one step requires multiple activities, it might be a sign to break it up into two separate stages.
  • Map Your Customer’s Journey: Once you’ve identified each sales process step, shift your view to the customer and see how those stages stack up against their perceived customer journey. This ensures your sales process helps the prospect as much as your organization.
  • Create, iterate, and Improve: With the above complete, physically create your sales process in the CRM of your choice and test its effectiveness and efficiency, iterating and improving when necessary to close more high-quality deals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

“Sales process” refers to the What: The list of steps needed to find prospects, assess needs and ultimately close deals. “Sales methodology” is the How: Your approach or philosophy in how to implement and manage your sales process.

For example, the first step in your sales process might be “lead generation”, while the specific strategy for generating leads in that step is your “lead generation methodology”.

Most sales processes follow the six steps outlined above. However, it’s not uncommon for sales processes to end up with 5-7 stages, breaking out some stages into two or doing away with unneeded steps based on business-type or industry.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution or approach to selling. You need to continuously take note of what’s working and what’s not, including what’s consuming too much of your time and what requires more time.

Ultimately, start with your end goal and assess how effective your current process is at achieving it. From there, identify key stages or activities that can be improved to better meet your goal. Then, continue to iterate and improve over time.

Bottom Line

Successful sales require a solid process to help you match your business solution with the ideal customer who needs that solution. Focus on the customer’s needs first and foremost, then on how your product or service addresses those needs, nurturing the lead through deal-closing.

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