Have you asked top-performing sales teams about their success?
If you have, you might have noticed a recurring theme.
Most of these teams will have a well-defined process that’s constantly evaluated and improved based on their learnings and experiences. We even discussed a direct correlation between the strength of a company’s sales process and its success in our last blog post around sales best practices.
Think about this for a second. How would you describe the sales process in your company today?
- Ad-hoc: There is no set sales process.
- Nascent: Some structure, planning, and a growing framework
- Defined: A solid framework with well-defined stages and touchpoints.
- Industry-Leading: Sales is second nature for these firms. They have a super streamlined sales process that helps them bring in a lot of revenue.
We all aspire to have industry-leading sales processes in our own organizations, but those processes aren’t built overnight. They are iterated continuously.
In order to get there, we need to first dive deep into what a sales process is. This post will do just that, and focus on the 6 stages of the sales process. But first:
What is a Sales Process?
A sales process is the series of steps or activities undertaken by a salesperson or team to take a prospective buyer from the early stages of discovery to becoming a customer.
Ideally, a B2B sales process can be broken down into six granular steps, further envisioned as the buyer and the seller.
So let’s take a look.
1. The Prospecting Stage
The first stage of the sales process is the prospecting stage, where sales reps and teams ideally:
- Research their Ideal Customer Profile and lead profiles.
- Create and implement an outreach strategy to attract these leads and prospects.
- Hyper-personalize customer interactions through emails, meetings, LinkedIn outreach, and more, using relevant data.
During this stage, it’s all about making the first connection with your prospect. To attract prospects and leads in this stage, both the sales and marketing team should work together to:
- Create conversion-optimized top-of-the-funnel marketing and sales content such as blogs, landing pages, and more.
- Explore platforms that help them identify their ideal customer profile, such as Slintel, Wingman, Outplay, and others.
- Plan and implement an outreach strategy for finding the right set of prospects and leads.
- Begin sales opportunity planning which involves all the activity succeeding the prospecting stage.
We covered the seller side of the sales process.
But, what if I tell you that there is a flip side to the prospecting stage from the buyer’s perspective?
Well, there is.
The Dissatisfaction Stage (Buyer Cycle)
The Prospecting stage can also be aptly described as the “Dissatisfaction” stage for your buyer. Don’t worry; this doesn’t mean that your prospect is dissatisfied with you, your product, or your service. Instead, this refers to the fact that your prospect is unhappy with the status quo and is looking for a solution to help improve their results.
Some 2-factors typically push your prospects into the dissatisfied stage:
- A void or a broken process in their current function that pushes them to look for a solution that can fix their problem/improve results
- Dissatisfaction with a competitor/alternative solution that they’re already using, pushing them to look for alternatives that can drive better results
Buyers that don’t fall into either category typically have a low likelihood of buying your solution.
2. The Qualification Stage
After prospecting, the next stage is qualification. Marketing and sales use different data and activity indicators to qualify a prospect as a target buyer during this stage. Once both teams filter out leads that don’t fit the criteria, you’re left with marketing qualified, and sales qualified leads.
Qualified leads are deemed more likely to become a customer based on specific criteria they meet. The two most common types of qualified leads are:
- Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) – A prospect that has shown high buying intent by interacting with your web content, forms, etc. Junk and test form-fills are then filtered out, and the MQLs are then passed over to the sales team for further vetting.
- Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) – A lead that the sales team has vetted as a potential future customer.
The Analysis Stage (Buyer Process)
Your ideal customers during the qualification phase are in analysis mode. At this stage, they will be found:
- On your website, blog, or other forums such as G2 and Capterra.
- Looking for possible solutions and interventions that could mitigate moving from their current solution to a new one.
- Evaluating the feasibility of adopting a new platform, in-house support, and more.
3. The Approach Stage
The approach stage, also considered the solution crafting stage, involves your sales rep putting together a strategy to nail their sales presentation to the potential customer. During this stage, the normal sleuth of activities would be:
- Outlining possible approaches to the client – like use-case, industry-based features, credit requirements, and more.
- Creating the impact case that portrays the benefits of your product over their existing solutions.
- Creating a collection of personalized sales collateral for client presentations.
- Planning the sales presentation, meetings, and follow-up process.
The Intervention Stage (Buyer Process)
While the seller is busy structuring their plan to lure the buyer, the buyer has started actively looking for a solution. During this phase, you can expect the buyer to:
- Identify solutions that include you and your competitors
- Set up a budget and list out administrative requirements
- Sign up for free trials, referrals, and demos
- Set up meetings, prepare RFP questionnaire
4. The Presentation Stage
When the seller reaches this stage, they are in an actual meeting with a buyer, presenting the product in-depth. At this stage, the representative runs the buyer through the product and benefits their business.
The presentation needs to:
- Resonate with buyers — they need to feel that you understand their “pains and problems.”
- Differentiate between your product and the competition by highlighting your strengths and negating any competitor advantages.
- Substantiating your claims by providing social proof like case studies, testimonials, and social media instances.
- And finally, let the buyer know you are open to addressing any objection that might come your way.
Decision Stage (Buyer Process)
At this stage, the buyer has to decide whether the product is a “go or a no-go.” Expect your buyers to:
- Ask a plethora of questions on how the product is useful and better than other options.
- Ask for time and more meetings depending on their eagerness.
- Seek to understand how the product fits their needs and use case.
- Quiz you regarding pricing and features. Expect them to start pricing negotiations from this stage.
The presentation-cum-decision phase is probably the most critical stage in the sales process. So ensure that you bring your A-game when the prospects get to this stage.
5. Objection Handling Stage
Objection handling, in our opinion, is where the critical negotiations happen regarding going ahead with your product or abandoning your product for another solution.
During this stage, a salesperson addresses objections raised by the buyers like pricing, product features, competitors, or refusal.
The key here is to handle objections without being confrontational. Instead, adopt a way to ask the right questions so that you can help prospects address their complaints.
We have covered objection handling as an entirely separate post, given the diverse nature of questions and objections that could come your way.
Decision Stage (Buyer Process)
Yes, we’ve repeated the decision stage for the objection handling stage as well. The reason is that when you compare both stages as a buyer, it doesn’t seem any different. For a buyer, it’s a continuation of the last process, where they follow up with their questions and doubts.
And for a seller, this becomes an entirely different stage, as now they have to counter any doubts and questions the customer may have regarding your offering.
The buyer will generally quiz your team regarding the product pricing, features, deployment, post-sales support, and at times pose irrelevant questions to brush you off.
6. The Follow-Up or Win Stage
The last stage of a sales process is the follow-up stage, where you either win the deal or you lose it. For the sake of simplicity, we will discuss wins and follow-ups.
If a customer decides to buy from you, it’s a win. However, if you’re still waiting for a decision from your prospect, then you need to follow up.
For wins, as a sales representative, you will be:
- Negotiating the price structure and agreeing on it.
- Delivering all the executables and initiating product integration with your client’s business.
- Gaining verbal, written, or public agreement.
- Finally, handing off the deal to your implementation team (customer success, post-sales team, or support).
Otherwise, if you are still waiting to hear back from your prospects on their decision, you should:
- Have a meticulous follow-up sequence in place to win back the prospect’s confidence.
- Try to gain feedback if the deal is lost at that moment.
- Offer incentives if the budget offers you the flexibility to win them back.
Commitment Stage (Buyer Process)
For the buyer, this is the phase where they buy a new product or service. This is where weeks of research, negotiations, and questioning have paid off. The buyer would ideally:
- Negotiate agreement terms like tenure, pricing, post-sales experience.
- Allocate funds for the purchase.
- Oversee the product implementation.
Bonus: The Post Sales Experience
The post-sales phase isn’t a part of the sales process, but what happens after you’ve won a deal. This is where the client moves from the sales pipeline to a full-time customer. Again, your implementation and customer success team handle the full-time customer relation.
Be wary that at this stage, your customer will be continuously monitoring your product and evaluating if their decision to buy your product was right. This phase also allows your customer success team to upsell if the product exceeds their expectations.
Happy customers will continue to evolve and expand their solutions to become loyal, repeat customers. In a way, these loyal customers also become pretty beneficial to your sales process. It’s because they provide genuine value to your business by word-of-mouth and social proof.
Once you understand these six stages and post-sales experience from both the seller and buyer’s perspectives, you can create an industry-leading sales process.
When your team understands what is required of them and what their ideal prospect does at each stage, you give them a better chance at winning more deals consistently.