Basic Concepts: Sales Process’ Steps

As you’re already aware, and as we already told you before, having a well structured, strong and sustainable sales process is one of the most important things you can do for your business today. Even if it’s so frequently remarked and brought to surface, though, a fare share of businesses still end up neglecting it.

In previous posts we explained the reasons why you should have a sales process (and a sales pipeline) and, most importantly, how you can create your very own, according to your particularities and needs.

This time, we’ll focus on the Sales Process’ Steps, or simply the steps you have to follow when developing and further on using and adapting yourself to a Sales Process:

Sales Process 101 – Know what you sell and who you want to sell to:

Product Knowledge:

This step’s name pretty much speaks for itself, but as simple as it can be, it can also be the undoing of many sales people, especially those of a technical expert nature.

When one is an expert and extremely well versed in a particular subject (and/or a product), and this situation happens a lot with technical products, it’s more than common to get caught up in a cyclical monologue of all the great features it provides.

The technical expert may get so eager and involved in explaining how the product works, it’s unique features and benefits that the customer is ultimately left out of the discussion.

In this specific step of the sales process, it’s important that the sales person doesn’t assume the prospect will automatically link a feature to a benefit, those links must be stated clearly and it’s his job to do so and demonstrate how his product can benefit this customer specifically.

The acquiring of product knowledge for a sales person with a lot of technical expertise, therefore, is less about the features of the product itself, and more about how the customer will benefit from those features.

Prospecting Customers:

As the first step, the name is self-explanatory and this step is all about searching for new customers. Also like product knowledge, this step is a lot more complex than it seems at first.

In the broadest sense of the concept, prospecting is an ongoing process: it’s happening all the time, everywhere to everyone in the company (particularly to the sales force, but everyone should be involved in it). This actually means everyone should have their ears and eyes wide open when they’re out and about in the world.

Opportunities are everywhere and not so rarely a lead that’ll eventually turn into customer can be discovered after being seen at a party or event, etc.

The key to effective prospecting is to know where to search for your customers and, more important, what is it you’re looking for. It’s also of upmost important being able to distinguish a lead, a prospect and a qualified prospect.

First things first, to know what you’re looking for, you need to establish a profile of your existing customers and follow from there to identify your major market segments.

You may also want to establish approach tactics tailored to match each of your customer’s profiles, making sure your marketing tactics are appropriately adjusted to the characteristics of each segment.

Sales Process 102 – Getting and keeping in touch:

The Approach:

For this Sales Process purpose, let’s consider the approach on an active context, let’s say sales call (a carefully scripted cold call) rather than just lead generation (seeing there a difference between the cold e-mail you sent to a CRM database and a telephone call, even a scripted cold call, because of the human element).

The Approach is the moment on your Sales Process when you begin to build a relationship with your prospect and keep on gathering intelligence (this step started in Prospecting).

A well crafted approach can be the breaking point to the success of your whole sales process because it can either identify you as boring and only interested in selling, causing your prospect’s guard to go all the way up, or show you as obliging with something of value to offer them, other than just selling a product/service (there’s a few shades of gray in between, but it’s basically black or white, love or hate).

The difference more often than not is not on the prospect’s perception, but on how astute and articulate the caller is and how he’s able to work with the little information he gets along the call to aggregate specific value to the customer.

Recording information:

It doesn’t matter if it’s a scripted cold call or a follow up call or the results derived from it, it’s of upmost important that salespeople take detailed call notes to record all relevant information acquired.

Don’t trust on your memory only, our memory tends to fail us when we need us the most so it’s very important to keep organised and focused on keeping your call notes accessible to your colleagues for further follow-up reasons, this is a very important action for all steps of your sales process.

Tracing a timeline and being able to find your history notes easily is very important for a wide range of reasons, the most important one being able to track where a prospect is in the sales process (including what follow up actions may be necessary and when).

The Needs Assessment:

Of all of your sales process’ steps, this is without a doubt the most important, for it allows you to truly assess your prospect’s needs and position yourself within them, determining how you can be of service to them.

In order to be a highly effective salesperson you need to score an A on this step and really nail it: your ultimate goal will be to sell to your prospect’s needs but, to do so, you need to actually understand what those needs are.

In this step of your sales process, you need to think as a problem solver and figure out how to solve your prospect’s problem/how to relieve its pain.

The only way to do so, of course, is running a thorough diagnosis as a doctor would, asking lots of questions. You can’t go around and around asking random questions, so be prepared to ask the right questions to help determine what will best suit your prospect’s needs. Asking good questions will not only help you find your prospect’s needs, but also helps build confidence, trust and may very often help the prospect see issues they may never have thought of.

It’s very important, as noted before, to pay close attention and record all information, because these situations provide you with opportunities to showcase features of your product/service, which the prospects answers led you to. Think to yourself what questions would you ask to illustrate how your product/service is different/superior than a competitor’s.

Although information gathering is an ongoing process that occurs throughout the sales process, it is here where it happens in its full potential, so be ready to take notes and take all the opportunities your prospect offers you through its answers.

Sales Process 103 – Showcasing and Selling:

The Presentation:

Remember all the way back in the sales process when we were only thinking about product knowledge and said that you should focus on the benefits your product/service offers the prospect rather than its features?

If you took that advice seriously all through your sales process, your presentation will already be a focused and relevant dialogue, enough to capture your prospect’s attention, rather than a self-aggrandizing boring technical monologue.

Nothing kills a sales presentation faster than developing it from a seller’s perspective (you shouldn’t worry about it, though, because if you focused on the benefits rather than the features, you’re most definitely safe from killing your prospect out of boredom).

This is where the importance of the needs assessment within the sales process shows itself since a good one will allow you to tailor your presentation to your audience’s needs and interests, keeping it interactive and interesting.

The Close:

The success of a carefully crafted sales process may be doomed if you fail to close. We’ve already discussed some sales closing techniques as well as how to close a sales deal on the phone, but to actually get to this step on your sales process, you’re figuratively taking your prospect’s hand and advancing your sales process until you ultimately get an order.

Each step of your sales process means selling different things to your prospect, so you’ll actually need to “close” deals more times than you think.

Explaining it with examples: early in the sales process, a close may get you an appointment to discuss your product/service, in which case, your ultimately selling the appointment, not the product/service in itself. In later stages, you might need to meet with a committee or a board of executives, in that case you’d be selling the meeting.

Seeing the process in this light, with closed phases within it, may help make the whole process more manageable, since it takes a little pressure off of each specific encounter.

Don’t let this manageable process end up managing yourself, however. You must ultimately end up asking for an order to be made, and no sales conversation, no matter the step in the sales process, should ever end without an agreement to some kind of next step.

You should not let yourself be satisfied with “we’ll get back to you”, since this response gives you no guarantee of any agreement of a next step whatsoever. Always be ready to say something in response in order to ensure the advance of the sales process.

Most of the times, closing is about discovering and overcoming obstacles and objections (that were hidden all through the sales process and decided to show themselves at the very end).

There are a lot of ways and techniques to close, as we already pointed out, so much sales closing has become a science unto itself, with very interesting books written about the topic alone (at least 10 out of this 49 sales books every salesperson should read relation are focused solely on sales closing).

However, out of all of the information about it, there’s one elemental truth about it: you can’t get it if you won’t ask for it. From among the many sales closing techniques versed and discussed, here are a few examples:

Sales Closing Techniques:

  • The “Ask For It”: As the name clearly states it, you bluntly ask for it.
  • The “If-Then”: Time for you to bring up all the information you recorded all through the sales process, specially the needs assessment, to ask for specific actions from the prospect.
  • The “Either Or”: Another blunt technique, don’t give the prospect much escape space.

Sales Process 104 – To have a customer and to keep it:

The Follow-up:

As said for the closing step, following up is something you’ll do all through your sales process. We already gave a few useful tips on how to write follow-up e-mails, and it’s known for a fact that a thorough follow-up process will double up your closing ratio.

Making the first contact with a prospect, here signaled as the approach, is how a relationship is built, and following up is how it’s nurtured. You should not, however, confuse the persistence it takes to always be one step in front of your prospect’s mind with being annoying.

The tenuous line lies with getting agreement on some kind of next step every time you get in touch. Follow-up, therefore, as intelligence gathering, is an ongoing and never ending process. It may slow down depending on the step of the sales process, but it doesn’t end.

Follow-ups are normally best handled by the salesperson responsible for starting the relationship, after all, as a rule, no one could be better capable to pick up the conversation where it was last left.

This is another moment where keeping detailed notes on each prospect, emphasising their “state of mind”, is specially important. It is unwise and ineffective to keep track of this information anywhere other than a centralized database, available for everyone to access in case another salesperson needs to continue where another one stopped.

When a sale is made, then there’s time for a new type of follow-up. It’s important to “hold” some information back for latter use as follow up ammunition in reserve.

While overwhelming your prospects with every piece of information you possess on their first request may be very impressive to show them how much you knowledge you possess, it may hamper your ability to stay in touch. Having a variety of collateral informative materials in stock gives you reason to follow up and keep in touch.

Keep track of all the steps of your Sales Process!

Try Pipefy’s Sales Pipeline Template: it will guide your team through all the steps of the sales process, from prospecting, to properly qualifying leads to closing the deal, helping them keep track of the opportunities and always staying on top of their game.

Download a free Sales Pipeline Template

Written by Isabelle Salemme, Product content manager at Pipefy. She uses her extensive Pipefy knowledge to write informative pieces teaching users to make the best of Pipefy. Besides being responsible for all product-related content, she's an avid reader, a coffee lover and a professional photographer.