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Read our ultimate guide on the sales process and its key stages, including how to create, map, and optimize your own killer process.
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.
To start, check out an overview of each sales process stage, including information on how to map and improve your own sales process. Then, scroll to the bottom for a complete list of all our related sales process articles:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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]”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.