The need for a Sales Process might be stating the obvious, but are you getting the most out of your prospects? Sales Managers should be frequently reviewing their process to find areas for improvement.
The 5 step sales process
Good salespeople are the lifeblood of any organisation, it is their dynamism and hunger for the next big deal that keeps a business moving forward.
It’s the role of every Sales Manager to keep this level of enthusiasm high, but also to gently steer their team in such a way that they can achieve their targets. By putting too many restrictions and frameworks in their way, it is all too easy to dampen this motivation, so Sales Managers must be thoughtful when putting a sales process in place so as not to take away the ability to innovate.
You may have heard of the 7-steps sales process. Although full of detail at every stage, we feel this is too prescriptive, and can actually demotivate your team. For this reason, we prefer the much simpler 5-step model inspired by inbound sales methodology. These 5 simple steps are the bedrock upon which to improve your sales process and get the most out of every opportunity whilst keeping your team proactive and engaged. Alternatively, you may be interested in our totally free mega-blog “Sales Management - The Ultimate Guide”, which you can download here.
Step 1 - Prospecting
The first stage is where your team will spend most of their time and efforts, and rightly so! There are as many methods of prospecting for opportunities as there are potential customers. It is likely that members of your team prefer certain methods over others based on past successes, but be wary of limiting your opportunities. Remember, there is no telling where the next big opportunity might come from, so it's wise to utilise as many channels as possible. Some examples include-
Social Media platforms such as LinkedIn are invaluable tools for lead prospecting, with potential customers proudly updating their networks on their latest promotions or new projects. For example, Stephen, a sales manager in your industry, has posted that they have recently been made a director. This is an ideal time to consider whether this development may pose an opportunity for your organisation; an opportunity that the close monitoring of social media has presented, and hopefully before your competitors get wind.
A classic staple of the B2B salesperson, events such as networking functions, exhibitions and industry conferences all present great potential for discovering new leads and customers. Perhaps sales manager Stephen mentions in passing at a networking event that he has recently secured several large pieces of business. This should also pique the interest of your salesperson.
Much like the above example, this is likely to be a method of prospecting that your sales team like to use, although often it comes by accidentally as opposed to a deliberate effort. When talking to an industry contact, sales people should be adept at walking the fine line between gaining as much information as possible, whilst building up a friendly enough rapport so that the contact may refer the organisation to another prospect in the future. If you are unsure that your team members are achieving this balance, you might want to consider brushing them up on their sales techniques. Much like at events, the key here is to always be gauging comments made by contacts for any potential opportunities.
Step 2 - Connecting
Although this step seems fairly explanatory, there are a few things to consider here. Firstly, the lead is unlikely to be qualified to the extent that you should pour unnecessary resources into making the initial contact. For this reason, contact should be made primarily over a medium such as phone or email. Don’t jump straight in with a site visit at this point, it’s a costly exercise for little assurance of return.
During the conversation, your team wants to be gathering basic information using exploratory questions to gauge the viability of the contact. One important thing to consider is whether the contact is a good customer fit for the organisation. Remember, not every customer is the right customer!
Let’s consider that Stephen is interested in a prompt, cheap solution, whereas your specialty is in bespoke offerings. Even if by some chance you closed the deal, it is likely that the disconnect between Stephen’s expectations and your business model will lead to disappointment for him and headaches for you. By taking the time to ask the initial questions, your team will be able to avoid these potentially troublesome encounters, saving time in the long run for them, and ultimately increasing profitability for the organisation.
Step 3 - Researching
Although a vital part of your sales process, research is often overlooked by salespeople, who are often much more interested in getting out and closing deals. However, the importance of thorough research of your prospective customers cannot be overstated.
Research should include not only information regarding your contact, but also about the company as a whole. Your salespeople might even choose to have conversations with people within other departments of the organisation to get a stronger view of the company culture, aims and aspirations outside of the single deal. Not only will this help create a stronger chance of closing the deal, but also of retaining the customer in the future. The more you know about a company, the more solutions you can potentially provide them with.
For example, your salesperson may discover that Stephen works in an organisation that values charitable activities. Depending upon the potential Customer Lifetime Value, your organisation may wish to contribute to any charitable drives the organisation is currently running, or even begin your own. This will serve to strengthen the ties between your organisation and that of your prospect, leading to potentially increased opportunities in the future.
Step 4 - Presenting
Your sales team will most likely be well versed in presenting to potential clients, the importance here is in the timing. As mentioned earlier, presentations of products or services can be costly and time consuming, so you want to be as certain as you can be that it is worth your team member’s time. This is the benefit of accumulating information and gauging viability prior to investing in the presentation.
If you sell a technical product or service in which complex specific questions may be asked, you may want to consider sending a designer/engineer to the meeting to offer assistance. This streamlines the decision making process. If all questions or objections are raised and answered within this single session, it reflects well on your organisation’s capabilities, potentially leading to a faster conversion.
Step 5 - Closing
By now, the prospect has been identified, qualified, researched and is blown away by your presented offering. Now it is simply a matter of closing the deal. Closing can mean many things for different organisations, it may be an RFQ, it may be a contract agreement. Ensure that the closing element of your sales process is as streamlined as possible. If you have account managers, they need to have all the available information as soon as possible, or if you are a manufacturer, PO’s should be given to the sales entry team ASAP.
Your salesperson has won the business and painted your organisation in the best possible light, make sure the transition to product/service delivery doesn’t hamper the relationship!
So we said at the beginning that there are five steps to this sales process, and technically there are, but your salesperson is not able to rest on their laurels quite yet. The final stage is an ongoing one, and for the sustainable future of the organisation, the most important.
As a B2B sales team, it is likely that your customers will have ongoing needs. It is the responsibility of your salesperson to continually nurture these contacts, to ensure that they are happy with the service they have received, and be first on the scene when new requirements arise.
Sales process round-up
By following the sales process steps discussed above, you will ensure that you are helping your sales team get the most out of their opportunities. However, as every good sales manager knows, a process is only as good as the component parts that go into it. There are many different elements to effective sales management that combine to create the perfect team. Learn more about each component with our free megablog “Sales Management - The Ultimate Guide”.