It’s no secret salespeople are a breed of their own. They beat to their own drummer, have their own agenda and, most prefer to operate on the fly, using their own set of intuitive gut instincts as a means for telling a potential customer what they think they want to hear. The sales profession is not for the faint of heart. Left to their own devices, one company with 100 sales reps could essentially present a hundred different sales pitches all for the same product. If it were up to most sales teams, they would be left alone to do their thing on a wing and a prayer. If history tells a story, some of the best sales reps find great success on their own, dictating their own sales process for throwing lots of balls against the wall and hoping and praying that some stick. And some do. But most don’t.
Against their better judgment, few salespeople will argue that following a consultative sale process maximizes success, increases conversions and ultimately, leads to more repeat business. History and experience have spoken and the gig is up. It is no longer an option to provide your sales force with a set of steps, a synthesized set of tools, tactics and telltale facts, it is a requirement. To succeed in sales, being a great talker or schmoozer isn’t enough, in fact it’s too much of not a good thing. Salespeople can be coached and trained and, when they are, the returns far exceed those of even the most mastered in the ‘wing it’ sales discipline. Typically, there are 7 steps to successful sales that when followed, generate the greatest results, regardless of the industry sector. The 7 step sales process, when used consecutively will yield a marketable difference that few can argue their value or ability to build and manage ongoing relationships that are the lifeblood to the future sales pipeline.
The Importance of the Sales Process
Having a sales strategy alone makes you 33% more likely to close a sale at a higher rate. However, the 7-step sales process alone is not enough, it is only the beginning. Each company is unique with a different set of challenges and opportunities. Being able to identify the potential clients unique set of challenges or situations is critical to understanding the client’s journey, and how to position your products or services as the solution to their particular needs—and, more importantly, to your potential customers as you move them through the sales funnel.
Overall the sales process is a logical and thoughtful system for turning a prospective lead into a paying client. At its core, the 7 steps in the sales process are designed to provide a potential customer with the solution they need in the right form at the right time with the right tools. It is a journey, a virtual roadmap where the seller’s goal is aligned with the buyer’s needs. There is nothing quite scientific about the 7 steps in the sales process but instead, when deployed properly, the prospect is engaged in the seller’s sales cycle at the point that aligns with where they are currently in their own buying process. When salespeople get ahead of themselves – and the buyer’s process – and make assumptions, they alienate the buyer. When a seller is focused on overcoming an objective at the point where the potential customer is still trying to assess the quality of your product or service, you have demonstrated you are not paying attention to their requirements. Everyone has the potential to be successful in the sales profession but only those who understand their place and purpose are poised for success.
Steps of the Sales Process
Step one: Insightful Prospecting and Successful Qualifying
The first of the seven steps focuses on identifying potential customers, known as prospecting, and determining if they have a need for your product or service and can afford it, known as qualifying. In today’s digital economy we hear a lot about lead generation. Without a lead the sales process cannot commence. Leads are found via the art of prospecting which can take on many forms. Depending on the nature of your business you may generate leads through digital channels such email marketing, social media ads or PPC. You might attend or sponsor trade shows or networking events where potential customers of your product or service might be searching for new tools or solutions to enhance their business. Or you might engage in more traditional marketing avenues such as cold calling or purchasing lead gen lists. By prospecting you are looking for potential buyers who might find interest in your products based on a variety of characteristics including demographics, geographics, industry or specific product or service lines.
Once identified, prospects are then quickly run through a qualification process whereby quantitative, qualitative and psychographic aspects are reviewed to measure whether the potential customer is a likely buyer, and if so, where they fit in a predetermined ranking of how likely. Over time, a company and its sales team will be able to signal which types of candidates are the most likely buyers of their products or services to know whether the outreach effort will be beneficial or result in a wasted cold call. There is a lot to be said for history and experience and patterns within the sales genre do form with time. While it is always preferred to use scientific measurement, where possible, experienced sales reps do bring a set of intuitive knowledge to the table that can prove valuable and save the company time and resources. During the qualification phase, you seek to gain insight into the potential clients buying behavior, patterns and where prospect identification and confirmation collide.
It is important to note that not all lead generation, prospecting and qualification occurs from outbound efforts. Many times, based on a company’s own marketing efforts, leads and prospects are generated organically, mitigating the cost of the lead gen process, minimizing resources and shortening the sales journey. A good salesperson can turn an inbound prospect into a qualified lead with some simple questions and appropriate answers in short order.
The Sales Process, Step Two: Proper Preparation Prevents Problems
Not enough can be said about preparation. More often than not, sales calls result in dead ends simply because the sales rep came to the table unprepared. As the saying goes, “the first impression is the only impression.” Making a solid first impression as an expert with knowledge on not only your own product or service but also and perhaps more so the wants, needs and solutions your lead is seeking requires a special type of skill set. Sometimes a lead knows exactly what they need and will be able to assess in the first 30 seconds whether you are truly listening or just trying to sell them something.
Even the best of sales reps can never be too prepared. Never underestimate the importance of this step of the sales process. Regardless of what you may or may not know about the prospect you would be best to assume they know nothing about you, your product or your value proposition. Always come to the table fully armed with pertinent market research and collect all relevant information tailored to the prospects specific needs. During this step, a good salesperson will practice a variety of important sales skills above and beyond meeting preparation including anticipating and creating interest, consulting skills, audience and industry assessment as it applies to the prospects business, presentation techniques, asking questions, identifying solutions and how to schedule the next meeting.
Throughout the sales journey, preparation will continue to resurface, particularly as it relates to understanding the prospect, their unique set of company challenges, their competitive landscape and qualitative and quantitative solutions that will enhance the value proposition of your product vs. other vendors with whom the potential customer may be engaged. You will continually want to demonstrate how your product solves the clients unique set of challenges which will require ongoing positioning, research and proper illustration of use cases. You will always want to tie your pitch back to how your product fits the needs of the target customer while also overcoming any implementation or perfunctory challenges. As a sales leader you want to make sure that your sales team is properly communicating a realistic set of qualifications to determine whether a lead is actually a good match for your product or if they are just spinning their wheels.
Sales Process Stages, Step 3: Needs Assessment/Approach
The third stage of the 7-step sales process is the first meaningful engagement with the potential client whether that is by approaching them with a gift and/or entertaining a needs assessment where you present the client with a formal list of questions to determine if an actual need exists to move through to the next stage of the sales cycle. By any definition, needs assessment and/or approach each accomplishes the same goal, they establish formal engagement, a sales process relationship whereby both buyer and seller are in agreement and that they intend to explore whether a partnership is realistic or reasonable.
Assessing the Needs of the Target Customer
Coming to the table with a set of questions that cover the gamut of requirements, data that supports your sales solutions and quantitative or qualitative needs will ensure the rep is well prepared for the conversation. It also ensures that the rep is armed for the situation at hand and that they don’t forget any critical details while directing the dialogue. It is a sign of professionalism. Questions should never be yes/no but rather open-ended allowing the prospect to speak freely which allows the salesperson a chance to read the prospects thinking and knowledge about the product or service and to what the rep may need to further highlight. The more engaged the lead is, the better they will feel after reflecting on their impression of the meeting and the reps performance. Reps need to be sure to listen more than they speak at this point in the sales process. Although they may be tempted, they should not discuss the product yet. The goal is to thoroughly understand the prospect’s situation, challenges and motivations.
When all questions have been discussed, it is important that the rep verify their understanding of what the prospect told them. The best way to do this is by paraphrasing what was said and requesting confirmation. This ensures that the rep is on the same page as the prospect before proceeding to the next step. If needed, additional questions may be asked to clear up any areas of confusion or misinterpretation.
Sales Process Cycle, Stage 4: Product Demo Presentation
Assuming you’ve done all your homework in the first three steps, you may be fortunate enough to book a meeting. What happens following the presentation will be determined not only by how good your knowledge, pitch and delivery is but also how you have nailed down the prior three steps.
Sales presentations are a form of business performance so make sure you know what you’re talking about, rehearse it to the point that you could do it in your sleep while still seeming “spontaneous.” It’s an art form. It’s also an important part of building credibility and establishing trust.
In the presentation phase, you actively demonstrate how your product or service meets the needs of your potential customer using images, creatives, demonstrations or videos. The word presentation typically implies using a program or solution such as PowerPoint or Keynote, or in today’s world, Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and giving a formal sales spiel. However, with new technologies abound, there are a myriad of different possibilities for getting in front of your prospect and delivering a profound display of how your product or service works. Make sure to actively listen to your customer’s needs and then act and/or react accordingly, throughout the presentation, not just at the end. At this point in the sales process is where the rubber meets the road – it’s time to clearly communicate the value of your solution in terms of the prospects needs, challenges and desired results. This is most simply addressed by aligning the prospects needs and wants with the parallel features and benefits of your product and/or service. In addition, it would also be wise to have a good grasp of the company and their industry in order to be able to follow an intelligent discussion that leads to a solution.
7-Step Sales Process, Step Five: Proposal Writing and Handling Objections
Perhaps the most feared of all the steps and the one that is responsible for the loss of many salespeople from the profession, potentially good partnerships and the cause of tremendous stress is addressing objections. It is among the most difficult of all sales skills to learn. Essentially what handling objections means is listening to your prospects concern with your pitch, product, assessment or strategy and addressing them in a way they are overturned from objection to confirmation. Don’t be surprised that more than 80% of sales require a minimum of five touch points to convert. This is the one step in the sales process that separates those who get coffee (because coffee is for…) from those who don’t. Many times the objections arise following issuance of the formal proposal. How you address objections from here and in the future will determine the long term success of your sales team. Chances are if the objection has come up once, it will come up again. Don’t let your sales team be blind-sided the next time around.
Step Six: Closing – The End of the Sales Process or the End of Sale
While the end, the closing stage is when the prospects either agree to complete the sale or complete the process. There are many tactics you may try as a means for signing the final deal but some of the better options include speaking in terms of an assumption that the answer is yes already and asking whether the client will be paying by cash or charge or whether they would like to be invoiced in advance or if they will be paying on a set day of each month. You might offer the new client a launch or sign-on incentive such as a discount for paying in cash today or if they pay the annual fee now, you can provide one month free of charge. Alternatively, you might suggest that time is of the essence and that your company only has space available for one more client. Once that slot is taken, they will have to wait another year.
The 7-Step Sales Process, Step 7: Follow-up, Repeat Business & Referrals
This is often a neglected step in the process — despite its immense revenue-generating opportunities. Happy customers make excellent candidates for your other services and the best source of new business referrals. By keeping an ongoing relationship with new clients, they’re often good candidates for signing on for ancillary products or services and your next new client. Stay in touch with clients always as you never know when they or someone they are talking to has a need for your product or service.