What is a Sales Process?
A sales process is a series of activities designed to identify customer needs, align their needs to the services your business sells, and to finalize a purchase; increasing your organization’s revenue.
In B2C environments, the sales process typically consists of a shopping cart and cash register. Customers are expected to take a cart, fill it with the products they desire, and go through the checkout where they finalize their transaction.
In B2B environments, the sales process varies to include demos, proposals, meetings, etc. It takes more time to complete a purchase in a B2B environment than it does in the B2C.
Sales processes are usually custom-crafted to each organization they serve. That being said, it is possible to find templates for sales processes for already well-known industries (like consulting).
Why Have a Sales Process?
Scalability, reliability, standardization, efficiency.
In all the content Marketing Qualified produces, the theme is “scalability”. As entrepreneurs, we’re under constant scrutiny to grow our businesses, offer a quality product or service, and deliver an outstanding customer experience. Behind the scenes, we need to handle our business finances, taxes, payroll, and HR requirements. In all, entrepreneurs wear many hats and balancing our time and energy is very important.
If there’s a task you had to do today, how could you do it in a way that it becomes easily repeatable up to 6-months from now?
This changes how we perform tasks. Instead of randomly Googling information, reading a blog post, and beginning a draft, we start to create checklists, templates, and organize our documents for future use. Suddenly, tasks become repeatable (and therefore manageable).
The same goes for sales.
Having a sales process allows entrepreneurs to save time. Instead of working every deal through a custom, random set of activities, you simply follow a defined process. Furthermore, sales processes allow entrepreneurs to onboard salespeople with ease. When a new salesperson joins your team, you simply show them your sales process and explain the steps involved. It’s never a good sign when an entrepreneur has to sit shot-gun with a new employee while doing sales — the sales process should be defined, scalable, and repeatable.
How to Create Your Sales Process
Put simply, there are 5 steps to creating a sales process:
- Determine What Procedures are Standard in Your Industry
- Determine How Complex Your Transaction Process Is
- List the Activities You Assume to Exist in Your Sales Process
- Create Stages for Your Sales Deals to Move Through
- Define Your Stages & Store Them for New Sales Hires
1. What Procedures are Standard in Your Industry?
Typically, the more expensive a product or service is, the more complex the sales process will be. Think of hiring a freelancer vs buying a car. The only sales process activity that a freelancer might follow is that a deposit is made upon hire. For a car, the sales process might include a test drive, review of payment terms, and setting up insurance on the vehicle. This sort of purchasing behavior is in our nature — they are the processes we’re used to for purchasing things.
If you’re starting out as an entrepreneur selling an expensive product, don’t try to go against the grain and make your sales process an online self-serve checkout. Create a sales process that looks like, and is familiar to similar services.
2. How Complex Is Your Transaction Process?
This might be the most important question you answer in this guide: at the core of your transactions, does a potential customer need to speak with a member of your team in order to buy (and pay) for your products or services?
Don’t overthink the question or include answers that are based on a technicality — keep it simple.
If you answered Yes, the whole online shopping cart approach isn’t going to work for you. Instead, you’ll need to create a sales process that involves multiple personal touchpoints, working a sales deal towards closed-won.
If you answered No, then take the online shopping cart approach. For these types of products, you’ll want to focus on integrating content on your product pages. This would include things like sizing charts, buying guides, etc.
But again, don’t try to go against the grain and force your sales process to be unique. Create a sales process that looks like, and is familiar to similar services in your industry.
3. What Activities Do You Think Will Exist in Your Sales Process?
Will people require a demo of your software? A test-drive of your hardware? A fancy sales proposal outlining the services you plan on providing?
Make a list of all the activities you assume people will want to undertake as part of purchasing your product. From there, highlight only the most critical activities to sales success — the rest become marketing tactics and assets to assist the sale.
4. Understanding ‘Stages’ and ‘Opportunities’ within a Sales Process
Typical B2B sales environments require human contact in order to close a sale, but what does that look like?
Within a sales process, there are stages and opportunities. A stage is a point within the sales process that a deal has reached and/or is being worked through (e.g. a deal reaches the proposal stage of the sales process). An opportunity is a transaction record moving through sales stages.
To conceptualize these terms, imagine you are working in sales for a consulting company. The consulting company’s sales process has the following stages:
- Stage 1, Called “Open”
- Stage 2, Called “Needs Discovery”
- Stage 3, Called “Proposal”
- Stage 4, Called “Closed – Won”
- Stage 5, Called “Closed – Lost”
Suppose you then attend a conference and deliver a talk on what makes a good consultant. After the event, several people ask about the services your firm offers.
- Mary wants to schedule an appointment to talk about the needs of her business.
- Steven is eager to work with your firm and wants you to send him a proposal.
Under these circumstances, Mary’s opportunity (her transaction record) would be at Stage 2, called “Needs Discovery”. Steven’s opportunity would be at Stage 3, called “Proposal”.
Depending on whether or not Mary and Steven sign the proposal offered through the proposal stage, their opportunity record would be updated to “Closed – Won” or “Closed – Lost”.
This might seem overly complex at first glance, but by tracking opportunities and the sales process, managers can identify gaps in the sales process; highlgihting areas that need more attention.
Based on the activities you identified in step 3, which stages make sense for your business?
5. Have a Documented Copy of Your Sales Process with Definitions
Once your sales process is complete, you’ll want to test it out. Start driving opportunities through your stages and determine their fit with your operations. Once optimized, we recommend creating a document that stores each stage of your process with definitions for each stage.
When applying the scalability mindset to the sales process, we want to make sure new salespeople will be able to pick-up and run with the organization’s existing sales process (not build their own).
By having a document you can reference, you can include the sales process as part of a new-hire’s onboarding training. When the time comes, simply schedule a meeting to review the sales process or better yet, add this step to your new-hire onboarding checklist for salespeople. A lot of time, energy, and effort can be saved by doing this final step — don’t forget it!
Example: Creating a Sales Process for Marketing Services
When it comes to consulting services, the sales activities we can assume to exist are:
- A phone call, video call, or in-person meeting
- An internal assessment of areas the marketing company can provide value
- A proposal with attached quote
- Some form of negotiation (for a discount)
These activities prompt us to create the following stages:
- Open — the Opportunity record has yet to begin the sales process.
- Needs Assessment — The combination of discussion and research to identify where services could be offered.
- Proposal / Price Quote — The activities of creating and sending a formalized sales proposal with attached quote.
- Negotiations / Review — The discussions to follow sending a proposal. This includes review of the services listed, price, and onboarding plan.
- Closed – Won — The potential client has accepted the terms of service outlined in the sales proposal.
- Closed – Lost — The potential client has rejected the terms of service outlined in the sales proposal.
In application, whether you, the entrepreneur, or even the new hire begins selling consulting, you can all follow the same process. This helps maintain operational efficiency, consistency, and reliability — not to mention it makes sales operations very scalable.