Sales Process: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Your Pipeline
Sales is one of the most crucial processes in any business. The sales process generates revenue, delivers value to customers, and sustains market growth. In order for sales teams to thrive, they need a structured and optimized sales process that helps them convert leads into customers.
This ultimate guide to the sales process will help sales managers and sales reps alike understand how to create and execute a sales process that delivers pipeline results.
What is the sales process?
The sale process is a sequence of steps that helps your sales team convert prospects into customers. The sales process organizes sales operations into stages and determines what actions are needed at each stage to nurture the lead and ultimately close a sale.
A typical sales process follows a lead from prospect to customer and includes the following stages:
- Qualified lead
- Sales presentation
The sales process is a core business process. It generates revenue for the organizations and provides value to customers. Building a structured and effective sales process is a priority for every business.
Sales process vs. sales methodology
A process is a defined, step-by-step structure with milestones and stages. A methodology, on the other hand, is a broad framework that focuses on sales at a higher level.
Specificity is the primary difference between a sales process and a sales methodology. Sales process refers to the stages a prospect moves through as they become a closed sale or missed opportunity. It also refers to the actions taken by the sales team in each of these stages. Sales methodology is the wider philosophy that informs how the sales process is planned, developed, and executed.
Definitive Guide to Workflow ManagementDownload now
Why is creating a sales process important?
A sales process is important because it brings consistency to the work of the sales team, makes it easier to track progress against goals, and helps sales managers maintain control of their teams’ efforts.
Beyond these advantages, organizing sales activities into a structured process delivers additional benefits like:
Higher conversion rates
A structured sales process brings consistency to the sales experience and helps teams implement best practices that improve the lead-to-sales conversion rate.
An effective sales process is informed by data, which is difficult to obtain if every salesperson is doing things their own way, or if the process takes place in email threads, spreadsheets, or disparate apps.
A defined sales process makes it easier to see statuses, track metrics, and connect data in order to determine how well the team is performing against its overall goals. As a result, the sales process can be continually improved to meet process excellence standards.
There are many tasks and activities involved in moving a prospect through the sales pipeline. Sales teams handle tasks related to prospecting, nurturing, researching, and presenting. A defined sales process helps organize these efforts to avoid redundancy and duplication.
Shorter training times
It takes time for a new salesperson to become adept at their job. The sooner they become proficient, the sooner they will start to close sales. Managing sales with a structured process makes it easier for new salespeople to learn how to complete their jobs according to business standards and expectations.
7 steps of the sales process
Most sales processes are customized to reflect a company’s market, their customers, and their internal resources. Despite these customizations and the unique requirements of the individual business, most sales processes follow a common seven-step pattern.
The first step in the sales process is prospecting. During this research phase, the sales team identifies potential leads based on criteria such as company size, industry, or their interactions with your website. Prospects are the largest group in the sales pipeline and not all of them will move along to the next phase.
Prospecting is all about focusing on leads that are a good fit for your product or service, and being able to let go of leads that lack potential.
Prospects that have the potential to become future customers advance to the qualified lead stage of your sales process. A prospect becomes a qualified lead when your sales team determines whether they fit a target customer profile, have a defined challenge/solution your product or service can meet, and have expressed a strong intent to buy. At this stage, the focus should be on establishing a relationship with the lead and building trust.
Demo or sales presentation
Once a lead has been qualified, the next step for the sales representative is to put together a customized presentation. This is an opportunity to demonstrate the value of the product or service for the prospect, illustrate how it solves the problem or pain point, and answer any questions the prospect may have.
Most sales teams have a presentation template that can be modified or personalized so that it resonates with the prospect. This phase of the sales process is about demonstrating the value of your product or service.
After (or during) the presentation, the prospect may have additional questions for the sales team to answer. They may have concerns about the fit between their problem and the product. They may be comparing your product or service to competitors, or they may have internal reasons to resist the purchase. For example, budget constraints or complex approval processes.
The sales team’s next responsibility is to answer these objections. This may require additional information to persuade a prospect to consider the product or service. The sales team may even need to bring an SME or current customer into the conversation in order to address concerns, build trust, and make a case for the sale.
Following the presentation and once any objections have been resolved, the salesperson will draft a proposal for the prospect. The proposal is a formal document that defines the terms of the agreement including the product specifications, price, and payment terms.
A proposal requires a signature of approval from the prospect to move forward to closing. If the proposal requires modification, that will take place in the next phase: negotiation.
Once the initial proposal has been received, the prospect may request adjustments to the price or terms. These adjustments may be required by their internal teams (such as IT, finance, or operations) or they may be requested in response to an offer from one of your competitors.
The sales representative and/or sales manager will respond to these requests and adjust the proposal to reflect any changes necessary to secure the sale.
Once the proposal has been approved, the prospect can move to the closing stage. This formalizes the sales agreement and officially converts the prospect to a customer or client.
This critical point in the sales process may kick off several related processes that impact your customer onboarding, implementation, and finance teams. These processes can be triggered automatically if they are orchestrated with an engagement layer such as low-code BPA.
Once the prospect’s journey ends in a sale, your team has successfully converted a lead into a new customer. The focus now shifts from meeting the needs of a prospect to retaining the customer, strengthening your relationship, and continuing to learn about their needs and pain points.
At this point, responsibility for the customer may shift to the customer success team, with the sales rep having less contact with the customer.
How to create a sales process
Building a successful sales process starts with gathering information and planning. You want the process to work for all stakeholders including prospects/leads, the sales team, and the sales manager. The sales process must also do three things:
- Help the business meet its goals;
- Work with existing apps, databases, and systems;
- Serve as a centralized and accessible point of reference for documents.
Beyond these requirements, here are some best practices that can help you build a world-class sales pipeline process.
Begin at the end
Start with the end result(s) of your sales process. What are all the possible outcomes? These may include deal won, deal lost, or deals that may need to be temporarily set aside and revisited at a later time. You’ll want to make sure the process you build accommodates each possible outcome and aligns with the overall goals of the sales team.
Identify all stakeholders or actors
Who are the stakeholders in the sales process? Who are the actors involved? Any person or system that handles the lead, sale, or customer at any time, or handles information or work in the process should be included. This will ensure maximum visibility and prevent collaboration and data silos. Learn more about process and workflow terminology.
Build a customer-centric process
Think about the process from your prospect’s perspective. Will the process make sense for them? Does it provide workflows to address issues that may arise, such as delays or questions that require input from a subject matter expert? What can your team do to earn the customer’s trust? Do customers have an opportunity to provide feedback?
Define KPIs and performance metrics
Make sure your process is structured in a way that makes it easy to track performance, monitor statuses, and measure progress toward team goals. If your sales team uses low-code CRM, you should be able to build dashboards and reports using a visual user interface.
Build a process map
With outcomes, stakeholders, and KPIs identified, the next step is to create a process map or flowchart. This allows you to document the process structure and provides a point of reference for anyone who wants to understand how the process works. A process map can also help maintain process consistency.
The original draft of your to-be process may be informal and created with pen and paper or a whiteboard. Alternatively, you can also map your process with specialized software.
Sales process flowchart
A sales process flowchart is an illustration that outlines the individual tasks that must occur in order to convert a lead from prospect to customer. A sales flowchart makes the work of the sales team visible and helps to identify bottlenecks, decision points, and define accountability.
A sales process flowchart is usually a formal document or file that uses standard flowchart symbols. Flowcharts usually result from a process mapping exercise.
What defines an effective sales process?
The sales process is the lifeblood of the organization because it generates revenue for the company, creates value for the customer, and builds long-term relationships that can lead to sales at a later date. Here are 10 factors that make for an effective sales process.
1. The process is structured and clear
Sales teams with a formalized sales process see more consistent sales growth than those whose process lacks definition. According to one study, companies with a defined process saw 18% more revenue growth than those without.
2. The process is buyer-centric
The most important stakeholder in the sales process is the buyer, so the process should be built around their needs. This not only makes the process more effective but also builds the company’s reputation and establishes long-term relationships that can result in additional sales later on.
3. The process accommodates differentiation
Prospects bring a variety of needs and interests to the sales process. They may have different characteristics, pain points, or buying cycles. The process must be flexible enough to accommodate these variances.
4. The process is tied to business strategy
No sales process, however structured or refined, will be considered truly effective if it doesn’t align with the overall business strategy. The process needs to be informed by business goals, and business strategy needs to be informed by insights that arise in the process.
5. The process provides full visibility
Every process requires improvement over time, but this is only possible when the effectiveness of the current process can be measured. Visibility means being able to see how the activity and information in the process flow. This helps teams identify problems and bottlenecks, as well as opportunities for improvement.
6. The process is data-driven
Optimized sales processes are informed by quantitative data. Quantitative data includes conversion rates, sales cycle data, cost of customer acquisition, and other metrics.
7. The process is shaped by feedback
In addition to quantitative data, a healthy sales process is also optimized in response to qualitative data, such as feedback from customers and your sales team. Qualitative data can improve user experiences and help your team identify blind spots or practices that have become outdated.
8. The process managers receive regular training
Research suggests that companies who train their sales managers to manage their sales process grow revenue 9% faster than those who don’t. That’s likely due to training that prepares sales managers to identify and resolve problems more quickly than their peers who don’t receive formal training.
9. The process includes time for pipeline management
Sales teams are under pressure to close as many deals as quickly as possible. That makes it easy for sales reps to deprioritize any activity that doesn’t directly lead to a sale. As a result, the pipeline becomes sluggish or disorganized when follow-ups don’t happen regularly and when low-quality leads aren’t pruned.
10. The process has the elasticity to scale
Sales processes that rely on spreadsheets and email threads may not scale easily, which can limit the team’s ability to capture new sales without adding stress or requiring shortcuts. Software solutions like low-code automation can make it easy for teams to build workflows and processes that can scale.
3 reasons why your sales process isn’t working
If your sales process isn’t delivering the results you want, it’s time to evaluate the current process and identify improvement opportunities. As you review your own process, look for these three common reasons why sales processes don’t work.
1. The process lacks visibility
It’s crucial for managers to have X-ray insights into the sales process. Otherwise, it will be difficult to tell the difference between problems with the process and issues with sales rep performance. The use of ad hoc processes, spreadsheets, and email threads can all lead to low visibility, which in turn can lead to data and communication silos or errors.
2. The process is inconsistent
Consistent processes improve the customer experience and make it easier to enforce security and compliance requirements. When processes are carried out the same way, every time, by every sales rep, it’s easier to manage changes and build customer trust.
3. The process isn’t easily modified
When businesses enter a phase of sales growth, teams need to be able to adapt quickly. Otherwise, opportunities will be lost, sales teams will become stressed, and competitors will siphon off leads. For a process to scale quickly and securely, workflows (such as approvals) and activities (such as document creation or data entry) should be flexible enough to change when needed, and automated when possible.
How to improve your sales process
Without continuous improvement, your sales process will eventually become outdated, and ineffective. Like other types of business processes, you will need to adapt your process over time in response to external factors (such as changes in customer behavior or competitor activity) and internal factors (like available resources, new technology, or IT requirements).
Sales managers can stay prepared for improvements with the following best practices.
Standardize the sales process
Standardized processes bring consistency to sales, which avoids errors and improves follow-ups. This creates a consistent process across all sales teams and resolves any ambiguity regarding how the sales team completes tasks and activities to convert leads into customers.
Create a process map
Once your sales process is standardized, create a visual representation that serves as a single source of truth. This process map can be used to explain the sales workflow to business leaders who sit outside the sales team, as well as to new employees. The process map will also be helpful for IT teams who are tasked with creating solutions to obstacles the sales team may face.
Define performance metrics
Improving the sales process won’t be easy without a clear understanding of how well it performs. Try to establish benchmarks for the following metrics:
- Total revenue (combined income generated by the sales team).
- Average revenue per sale (total revenue divided by number of sales)
- Average sales cycle (the time it takes to convert a lead into a customer).
- Conversion rates (the number of sales won divided by the number of opportunities).
- Customer acquisition cost (the resources required to convert a lead into a customer).
Depending on the structure of your sales process and your business goals, other metrics and KPIs may also be useful for your team so consider these as a starting point.
Capture and apply feedback
Customers and employees can provide insights to help you build an effective sales process. The trick for many teams is to find a way to consistently capture and apply this qualitative information. Record and review sales calls and customer interactions with an app like Gong, or talk to sales reps and customer success teams to find out what customers are saying about the sales experience.
Develop a system of engagement
Most sales teams rely on a system of record such as an ERP or CRM. A system of record maintains data related to the sales process, prospects, leads, and customers. Adding a system of engagement can offer a path to differentiation for your sales team and lead to better collaboration and deeper insights.
Automate repetitive tasks
The less time your sales team spends on manual tasks, the more time they have for prospecting and building relationships with potential customers. Many elements of the sales process — updating statuses, creating documents, data entry, etc. — can be easily automated with low-code software.
In addition to creating a more efficient process, sales automation also avoids errors and supports data management by updating integrated apps and systems.
Train the sales team
One of the most important things any sales manager can do to improve the sales process is to spend time training the team. When problems or bottlenecks arise, use those instances as learning opportunities that can help other team members solve or avoid these same issues.
Build a better sales process with low-code BPA
Businesses need sales processes that can adapt as their strategy evolves. Whether that means automating tasks that were previously handled manually or updating workflows in response to competitor activity or customer feedback, low-code business process automation (BPA) can help.
Pipefy’s low-code BPA gives sales teams an IT-approved set of building blocks to organize and improve their sales process. Teams can automate tasks, capture and route incoming leads, and track prospects as they progress through the sales pipeline. Pipefy also integrates with current apps and systems to fill process gaps and achieve stack extensibility with a low-code CRM.