How to Build a Sales Process in 8 Steps (Free Template) for 2023
Converting a prospect into a customer in your sales process can sometimes feel like hitting a moving target. On a windy day. With a blindfold on. It can be a challenge, to say the least.
However, some steps can streamline the sales process and make it easier to get your next potential customers to a clear "Yes."
I’m talking about a documented, effective sales process that works for your sales team—a collection of repeatable steps you can take to move a potential customer from prospect to customer to brand champion.
A sales process means you're no longer going in blind and hoping for the best. Instead, you're using information about what’s worked in the past, to create a checklist for closing more potential clients moving forward.
Ready to create your own sales process? Here's what you need to know.
What is a Sales Process?
If your business sells anything—from software to handmade trinkets—a defined sales process will help you understand how decision-makers find your business and what drives them to convert.
Do I Need a Sales Process for My Sales Cycle? 4 Reasons Why
Even the most detailed sales process can't account for every possible touchpoint for every possible prospect.
The goal of a sales process isn't to force all users to follow the same path, but rather to understand what steps have the most impact and where potential leads fall out of the sales funnel.
Here are a few other benefits:
1. A Documented Sales Process Addresses Customer Problems
Too often, sales teams leverage sales strategies they like rather than focusing on how customers want to buy.
And customers want to solve problems.
A documented sales process helps you create "if-then" scenarios that adapt the process to fit each prospect and effectively solve their pain points.
If a customer is an enterprise business, then we send them this document.
If a customer is struggling with defining their business plan; then we send them this webinar.
A clearly defined sales process is a roadmap to success for both sales and customers.
2. An Effective Sales Process Enables Your Sales Team to Succeed
Sales isn't easy. It's fun, sometimes exhilarating, often frustrating—but never easy.
A clearly defined, well-thought-out sales process is as close to easy mode as you can get. In fact, it’s the only real path to enablement with your sales team.
When sales reps and account managers know the next step in your sales approach, they can spend more time qualifying leads, following up with inbound leads, improving forecasting, or building automation processes.
And, as we mentioned above, an effective sales process isn't just a direct path from prospecting to closing the sale. Rather, it accounts for the needs of different prospects, helps sales reps to deliver a consistent experience faster, and ensures you’re really addressing your new customer’s needs.
3. A Standardized Sales Process Can Be Improved Over Time
Standardizing the sales process increases accountability and makes it easier to measure results because every sales rep uses the same (or very similar) strategies.
You can leverage that data to improve the sales process over time.
For example, if delivering a recorded demo is part of every sales rep's process, you can see how many times the demo is viewed and maybe even track how many prospects then return to your website.
If you find a larger percentage of leads that view the demo convert, you might decide to develop more demos, longer demos, or even consider sending it out twice during your sales process.
On the other hand, if demos have no impact on conversions, but take up tons of time for your sales team, you can remove or reduce their role in the sales process. Or, you can even consider setting up an available anytime demo like we have for Close.
Markets change. Competitors switch tactics. You need to know what’s happening and how you can adapt. That’s why you defined all those metrics and set up a clear plan.
With a standardized process, you can regularly review what works and what doesn't, and make improvements.
4. A Defined Sales Process Helps with Accurate Sales Forecasting
A well-defined sales process makes gathering data about the sales process easier, improving sales forecasting accuracy.
More accurate sales forecasting helps your team plan for the next quarter, improve pricing models, plan advertising budgets, and guide product development in the right direction.
8 Steps to Create a Successful Sales Process Right Now
You understand the benefits of a successful sales process, and you know you need one.
But building a sales process from scratch feels overwhelming.
That's why we created this sales process guide. We'll explain the steps to include, and you can adjust the process based on your target audience, market, and competitive analysis.
1. Find Your Prospects (and Generate Qualified Leads)
The first step in the sales process is finding the right people to target for your sales pitch.
Just like forty-niners in the days of the gold rush, sales prospecting requires digging around in the mud looking for gold. In sales, however, you're after hot leads, not shiny gold.
The goal of prospecting is to develop a database of strong leads you can nurture through to conversion.
Target the right people, and you close more deals.
Target the wrong people, and you'll waste a ton of time.
This process differs for every company, so focus on what works for your company. Remember, your sales process should be a living document, so don't worry about getting it 100% right the first time.
In the beginning, your prospects are likely broken down into two groups:
- Suspects: Individuals or companies you think need your product or service, but probably haven't heard of your business.
- Prospects: People or organizations who confirm in one way or another that they might be interested in buying. For example, a startup with a new round of funding dedicated to growing their sales team could be a prospect for a sales CRM, as long as they know who you are.
Beyond that, your leads are likely broken down into buyer personas based on demographics or prospect needs.
Documenting this part of the sales process might include noting where you gather prospects from—such as social selling, lead magnets, and the beginning stages of qualifying leads.
2. The Research Stage (Understanding Your Prospective Customers)
As you build out your database of suspects and prospects, you’ll conduct additional research to understand their needs and develop a more personalized outreach plan.
Outline what that looks like for suspects, prospects, and different segments of your ideal customer profile.
Check out their Twitter or other social media and see what they talk about. Do you have any common interests that could create a connection?
What about complaints? Have they spoken publicly about a problem your product or service solves? Knowing these sorts of things before reaching out can be the difference between a hard no and the more ambiguous and optimistic maybe.
For our fictional sales CRM company, we might search Twitter for people tweeting at a competitor’s support to see where we can capitalize.
Remember, research isn’t a do-it-once task. Continue to perform research throughout the sales process as you learn more about your prospect.
3. Connecting with Potential Customers
Now we know who we’re after; the next step is to engage to let them know who you are, how you can solve their problems, and why they should be giving you some of their hard-earned cash.
Outline what this looks like for your company, and remember to develop a sales process map with multiple paths for different types of leads that come into your funnel.
Connecting can take many forms, from emails to social media messages to picking up the phone and cold calling.
Whatever format you choose, you should have a clear script in place and know what you’re saying before you get involved. This is your first impression and can make or break the sale.
Here at Close, for example, we’re a sales CRM company. Given that, we might divide up our daily list of qualified prospects (or trial users) and set a goal that every rep makes 20 sales calls per day in order to advance the right prospects further into our sales funnel.
4. Presenting, Pitching, and Qualifying Leads
Once you have your prospect's attention, it’s time to roll up your sleeves, light a candle, and turn on the real talk.
The presenting part of the sales process depends on what you’re selling, but could be anything from a formal presentation to a walk-through of your app or service. This is your opportunity to show benefits and explain how your solution solves the problems that you know your prospect has.
It can be time-consuming, however, and you should ensure that you’ve qualified your prospects properly before taking the time to present.
Because our sales CRM is a SaaS company, the best way for us to present to customers is to show them the software. So, for every lead we present to, we have a presentation showing off our product’s main benefits and specific use cases we discovered during our research.
5. Addressing Objections
Somewhere along the sales process path, you will hit a few bumps. It’s normal for a prospect to have objections or question how you can really help them. Our brains are hardwired to hold onto what we have (money) and not like change.
You’re asking them to do both.
So do we give up? Nope.
A good sales process takes into account any objections prospects have. Some of these objections will be specific to your business, but to get you started, here are 7 of the most common objections you’ll hear from prospects:
- Price: Example: “We don’t have the budget for your Sales CRM.” The oldest objection in the book is price. When the bottom line is the biggest hurdle for a potential customer, you need to help them justify the value of what you’re providing.
- Complacency: Example: “Yeah, I’m OK with what I’ve got now…” It’s hard to sell a prospect if there’s no clear, immediate need for them to switch. Try showing them results and research why you’re better than what they’re using.
- Fear of change: Example: “We’ve been using X sales CRM for 5 years. I don’t want to change a good thing.” As I said, we’re hardwired to fear change so you’re bound to hit this objection more than a few times. Try showing your prospect how the industry has changed in that time and how you’re addressing current and future issues.
- Trust: Example: “I like what you’re saying, but you’re new. How do I know your sales CRM is going to be around in a year?” Trust takes years to build and seconds to destroy. If you’re starting out and going after new customers, be transparent. Show testimonials from your customers and offer to put them in touch (if the customer is fine with it).
- Personal politics: Example: “I’m close friends with our current sales CRM’s CEO.” Competing with friendships and close customer relationships is hard, but this is business. You might not get them with the hard sell today, but plant your seeds now and send follow-up emails down the road to see if their needs have changed.
- External input: Example: “I like it. But I need to run it past my business partner first.” This is a potentially positive objection if your prospect is actually showing your service off rather than just trying to get out of the conversation. In this case, try to stay part of the process. Offer to jump on a call and walk their partner or other decision-makers through the product.
- Timing: Example: “We’re really busy right now and it’s just too much to try and switch our sales CRM. Call me in 6 months.” Right. If they don’t have time now, nothing will change in 6 months. At this point, you need to make purchasing your product the easiest option for them.
As you map the sales process, provide examples of how to overcome any of these objections. Outline resources reps can share and provide scripts to overcome these objections.
If prospects have objections outside the ones we've listed, add them to your sales process!
6. Closing the Sale
With objections out of the way, expectations set and met, and benefits clearly shown, it’s time for the ask. After all of your hard work getting to this point in your sales process, the close should be a no-brainer for your prospect.
But it isn’t always so simple.
Deals can get derailed, and the time you've invested might feel like a waste. This is where your sales process comes in handy. Look at how deals have closed in the past and ask your prospect: “What will it take for you to become a customer?”
Continuing with our sales CRM example, let’s say our prospect tells us they have to talk to legal before they can sign. Here’s how we could play this out:
You: “After legal gives the go-ahead, are we ready to move forward?”
Prospect: “Yes, we’d only need to run this past a few higher-ups, then the ethics committee and procurement.”
You: “Interesting. What can you tell me about this part of the process?”
Prospect: “Well, the ethics committee usually takes a couple of weeks to review agreements, and if everything looks good, they'll send it to procurement, who has the final sign-off."
You: “Great. And then we're in business, right?”
Prospect: “Yes. At that point, we'd purchase your product.”
Not only are you exploring their buying process, but you’re getting your prospect to imagine a scenario where they become your customer, which is a powerful tool for getting close.
You got the sale! Congrats!
Time to sit back, kick your feet up and crack a cold one, right? Not quite yet.
This stage of the sales process is about ensuring your new customer gets the product, is successfully onboarded, and sees value as soon as possible.
Why? Because there’s always someone else lurking around the corner doing their own prospecting and presenting. If you drop the ball now, it’s easier for your shiny new customer to jump ship to someone else.
Outline what this process looks like. It might include scheduling a team-wide call to walk them through setting up their product, assigning an account manager to help with day-to-day issues, or even sending a thank-you gift for becoming a customer.
8. Following Up (and Asking for Referrals)
A mistake many companies make is ending the sales process after the close. You got the sale, you delivered, and your customer is happy.
Why do anything else now? Well, it’s worth taking one more step because a happy customer is your greatest asset.
Entrepreneur, investor, and sales coach Grant Cardone cites not following up to ask for referrals as one of the biggest missed opportunities for increasing sales.
Cardone shares, “91% of clients say they are open to providing referrals. Yet, only 11% of salespeople ask for referrals.”
After delivering your first results, incorporate a feedback loop of requesting referrals directly into your sales process.
Set a reminder to follow up with new customers regularly (1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year) to see how they’re doing. Not only will you show just how customer-centric your business really is, but you’ll create opportunities to win repeat business and generate qualified referrals.
At a certain point, ask them if they know anyone else who would benefit from your service or product. A warm lead like this is the easiest way to bring in new business.
If they don’t have any connections, you can still plan to ask them for a testimonial or case study to help convert future prospects.
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4 Actionable Tips to Improve Your Current Sales Process Today
Earlier, I mentioned a sales process should be a living document. That's because markets change, users need shifts, and competitors switch tactics.
You need to be paying attention so you can adapt your sales process.
All the planning and documenting will be for nothing if you blindly follow the set process.
To keep growing, regularly revisit your process and look at how things have changed. Here are four things you should analyze on a regular basis.
1. Analyze and Understand Your Customer Journey
To make sure your sales process is working, follow the customer journey step-by-step. This might mean working with your marketing team!
Who are they? What characteristics made them a good lead in the first place? This is your first step toward building your own database of suspects and prospects.
Next, re-read your initial conversations. What sort of language did they use? Where did you have success reaching them? Knowing where your audience hangs out will help improve your outreach.
When you presented your product or service, what format did they prefer? Video chat? In-person meeting? Powerpoint? Write down how your ideal customer prefers to interact. You can offer that as the first option next time.
After the presentation, what objections came up? Created a shared document of all objections you’ve faced and how you got through them.
How did you get them to give you the yes? What language did you use? How much time did you give them? Did you have to follow up or not? Did you have to talk to other decision-makers?
Once they said yes, how did they prefer delivery? Did they ask for help setting up their accounts (which could be automated)? How often did they ask for help and were you able to help them?
Finally, when you followed up, what did they say? Were they happy to refer you to other people or give a testimonial? Do you have a system in place for gathering testimonials you can use in your own marketing?
Use this information to refine your sales process regularly.
2. Identify Friction Points Throughout Your Sales Process Funnel
As you review the buyer's journey, you might notice some friction points or leaks. These are steps where customers feel frustrated or just stop responding altogether.
Pay attention to where in the process this happens. Is it after your presentation? Right before the close? After your second outreach? Do a large number of customers churn right after closing?
Not every prospect becomes a customer. One or two lost leads falling out of the sales pipeline isn't necessarily concerning.
However, if you're consistently losing prospects or feeling pushback, pay attention.
Are fewer leads converting? Your lead generation process might be attracting leads that aren't a good fit.
Do they share similar attributes? Are they in the same industry or from similar-sized companies? You may not be addressing potential customers' pain points appropriately.
Are they falling out at a specific point in the process? That may mean there's an issue with your sales process. A step might be too difficult or not provide users with the information they need.
Ask for customer feedback and pay attention to your analytics to find these friction points. With enough data, you'll quickly see where these problems lie so you can make changes.
3. List the Criteria for Prospects to Move Along in Your Sales Process
Every action, whether it’s prospecting, researching, connecting, presenting, closing, or delivering, needs to have a clear criterion to move prospects on to the next stage.
Let’s say you reach out to a prospect and don’t hear back. What do you do next? Move on? Wait a week? Look for them somewhere else?
For some salespeople, a no isn’t a no until they hear the words come out of their prospect’s mouth, whereas for others, two weeks of silence means it’s time to move on.
Which is right for you?
What about when closing? How many times do you ask and how far do you push before you are not a good fit?
Your sales process document should answer these questions clearly and concisely.
Remember, your sales team represents your company and its values. If you don’t clearly lay out how to move prospects through the sales process, you’ll do more than lose sales; you’ll get a reputation for being pushy or annoying.
4. Measure the Results of Your Sales Process (and Iterate)
Getting the jump on potential issues will keep you at the front of the pack. But you’ll only ever know if your sales process is working if you track success.
The sales KPIs you'll track will vary by company, industry, and the type of product you sell. For example, a SaaS company might track leads as well as closed deals.
Choose metrics for each step of the sales process. This will help you spot areas that need improvement much earlier.
For example, in the prospecting stage, you might track the number of leads but also the lead-to-close ratio, which helps you see how qualified leads are.
In the connecting stage, you might track response rates based on outreach channels. Do you get more responses from LinkedIn or email? What about Twitter?
Over time, you'll notice patterns you can use to adjust your sales process.
Avoid These 5 Sales Process Mistakes at All Costs
We've covered what you should do when defining your sales process. Now let's talk about what you shouldn't do. These are huge mistakes that can cost you both customers and time.
1. Not Clearly Defining Every Action in the Steps of Your Sales Process
Your sales process should be customized to your team and your company. And it should outline every single step in the sales process. In some cases, this might look more like a tree than a straight line.
Clearly define each step in the process, from how to qualify leads, when to make phone calls, and even scripts you can use to overcome objectives.
The goal of a sales process is to provide sales managers and their teams with a repeatable process, so it needs to account for differences in the buyer journey.
2. Setting the Wrong Expectations for Your Sales Team
A sales process won't take a mediocre sales team to an A+ team with no effort. It also won't limit great sales professionals from following their instincts and adjusting a potential customer’s needs.
Make sure your team understands the point of the sales process—to guide the process, not stop them from following their own instincts on how to follow up with a sales pitch or what leads are most valuable.
3. Failing to Measure Your Key Sales KPIs (Goal Tracking)
Are you tracking the right sales metrics? If you want to grow revenue and scale your team, make sure you're setting and tracking the right goals.
Depending on your organization, this might include metrics beyond just sales to include lead conversion rate, monthly sales growth, sales by contact level, and retention and churn rates.
More sales is always a good thing, but make sure to track goals that highlight where the process is working and where it's not.
4. Not Analyzing and Regularly Updating Your Sales Process
I'm going to sound like a broken record here, but it bears repeating. A good sales process is one that is constantly changing. That's because your customers and the internet as a whole are continually changing.
Right now, LinkedIn is great for B2B sales—but next year it might not be as effective. Tracking metrics and analyzing performance means you can update your process fast.
5. Focusing Your Process on Closing Deals (Instead of Bringing in the Right Customers)
We all want to close more deals, but when you focus on final closing numbers rather than bringing in the right customers, you're shooting yourself in the foot.
Bringing on customers that churn in a few months won't help your business grow.
Signing customers with a low order or lifetime value won't drive overall revenue.
Your sales process shouldn't focus on jamming as many prospects through the funnel as possible; make sure it also helps weed out customers who just aren't a good fit.
What’s the Difference Between a Sales Process and Sales Methodology?
The main difference between a sales process and sales methodology is how specific they are. A sales process is a defined series of steps your team can follow to close deals, while a sales methodology refers to the broader approach a company takes.
There are multiple types of sales methodology, including the Miller Heiman, Sandler, and MEDDIC methodology. On the other hand, a sales process is a customized plan for a specific business and may be influenced by the methodology the company uses.
Final Thoughts: Even the Most Successful Sales Process Will Fall Flat Without the Right CRM
While it’s no magic bullet, a clear sales process is the closest thing you can get to a checklist for success in scaling your business. Put it in place, stick to it, and tweak your process as necessary.
You’ll have a repeatable way to take a prospect from an unknown stranger to a lifelong customer.
The right CRM can help your team implement your sales process, build repeatable workflows, and see where prospects are in real-time.
Looking for a CRM to help support your sales process? Check out a free, on-demand demo of Close to see if it's a good fit for your team.