How to Build a Sales Process: The Complete Guide Part 2

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PART 2: Choosing the right stages and tasks

Your sales stages should reflect and support your customers’ buying process, and help your reps understand what kind of attention each prospect needs at any given moment.

“For complex B2B sales environments that involve a lengthy buying process and multiple customer stakeholders, the best way of defining your pipeline stages is to align them with the key phases in your customer’s typical decision-making process,” says Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners founder Bob Apollo.

In a typical complex sale, these key decision phases can include the following (click each phase to learn more):

“This equates to your prospecting phase,” Apollo says. “The buyer is apparently unconcerned about any of the issues we have chosen to target.”

“Something has happened to alert the prospect to a potential issue, and they are researching their options and deciding whether there is a clear reason to act.”

“The prospect has concluded that action is required, and they are defining their decision criteria and process, and identifying who needs to be on the decision team.”

“The decision team is evaluating their shortlisted options—which could still include ‘do nothing’—and deciding upon their preferred solution.”

“The prospect is negotiating the best possible deal and eliminating any remaining risks or reservations.”

“If the decision is of a strategic nature or above a certain value, it will still have to be formally approved before any order can be placed.”

So what should your reps be doing while the customer is advancing through their buyer’s journey? Here are six sales stages that are frequently used in sales processes, and why they’re important…

Prospecting

Also known as lead generation, prospecting involves identifying potential buyers to add to the top of your sales funnel. These potential buyers can be people who have have expressed interest in the product or service that you’re selling, or who might reasonably have interest based on their demographics, industry, or other factors.

Prospecting is often done through online research, buying lead lists, or inbound marketing methods. Targeting your prospecting efforts to your ideal buyer persona increases the odds that the leads you generate will eventually become customers.

Examples of tasks for this stage:
  • Collect recent customer referrals
  • Attend trade show or networking event
  • Gather recent leads from content offers on your website
  • Search social media for companies/executives in target industry

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Qualifying

The qualifying stage marks the first time your reps make direct contact with a lead. Through an initial phone call or email, the rep’s goal is to gather information on the lead and determine if they are a good fit for your product or service.

The most well-known qualifying framework is BANT—budget, authority, need, and timeline. In other words, if your sales team can determine that a lead actually wants what you’re selling, and has the money and decision-making power to buy from you in the near future, then they’re qualified to move on to the next stage.

Examples of tasks for this stage:
  • Assess needs and pain points
  • Assess potential size of account
  • Identify decision-makers

“”

The most important step to take when building a sales process is correctly identifying your target market. First, define the external criteria that will help you identify companies that are likely experiencing the pain points your product or service solves. Then, identify the people within those organizations who are personally suffering from those pain points, and who have the authority to make buying decisions.

Whitney Sales Founder of The Sales Method

Presenting

Whether you’re doing an on-site demonstration for a potential client or using video conferencing to present a software solution, presenting is your sales team’s opportunity to lay out a compelling, personalized case for how your product or service will fulfill the prospect’s immediate needs.

Success in the presenting stage depends heavily on research and preparation. Before you make your presentation, you should have gathered as much information as possible about your prospect and their specific needs and concerns, so that you can anticipate every follow-up question and have a good answer ready to go. If you can position yourself as a trusted advisor instead of someone who’s just trying to make a sale, you’re doing it right.

Examples of tasks for this stage:
  • Schedule presentation
  • Conduct further research on company/stakeholders to prepare
  • Develop specific recommendations to present

Related: 18 ways to nail your next sales presentation

Handling objections

There are plenty of reasons why a prospect would be hesitant to commit, even if they’re interested in your product—price, timing, and fear of change are some of the common ones. In the objections stage, a sales rep attempts to address all of the outstanding concerns that a prospect still has after hearing your pitch.

No matter what a prospect’s objection may be, knocking it down generally comes down to two things: Demonstrating the value of your solution, and demonstrating the cost or risk that comes from not buying.

Examples of tasks for this stage:
  • Follow-up call with prospect after presentation
  • Identify remaining concerns
  • Demonstrate value above other solution(s) they’re considering

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Closing

Closing is everything you need to do in the late stages of a sale to get your prospect to sign a contract and become a customer. This could include delivering a proposal based on verbally agreed-upon terms, getting buy-in from all the decision-makers, and making final negotiations on the price. With every roadblock out of the way, you’re ready to ask for their signature—and begin the hard work of retaining them as a customer.

Examples of tasks for this stage:
  • Deliver proposal
  • Final negotiations
  • Acquire signed contracts

Nurturing

This is the sales process stage that you want to last the longest. Nurturing a customer means 1) providing them with the proper post-sale support so that they’re excited to continue buying from you, and 2) finding opportunities to increase the value of the business relationship through upselling. Well-nurtured customers can also provide a significant source of referrals, making them a priceless lead source in themselves.

Examples of tasks for this stage:
  • Follow up with customer immediately after delivery of product/service
  • Subscribe buyer to customer newsletter
  • Ask for positive reviews and referrals

Pro tip: Each sales process stage should have an operational definition: What observable activity or action tells you that a customer is in a particular stage?

Five less-common (but still important) sales process stages

Sales teams incorporate these intermediate stages into their sales processes to put additional focus on important activities, rather than milestones. Click each one to learn more.

It’s the first major commitment you make with a prospective buyer. After a lead is qualified, a rep’s #1 priority should be locking down a time for their presentation.

Gathering information on a prospect should be part of every stage of your sales process, but it’s critically important before the presentation. Through conversations and online research, your goal should be to identify your buyer’s pain points and needs, as well as any other unique characteristics that you can use to create a tailor-made solution.

Focusing on your product is fine—but ultimately, you have to convince your prospect why they should do business with you. Are you trustworthy? Do you have specialized insight on your industry?

The “demonstrating value” stage means providing targeted content (including customer testimonials and competitive battle-sheets) as well as answering questions to position yourself as a trusted advisor.

Here’s where you take all the talking and put it into writing. Based on the solutions you discussed with your prospect, lay out exactly what your company will provide, at what price, over what timeline.

The transaction isn’t a success until the customer gets what they’re paying for. Whether it’s physical delivery of a product or onboarding of a cloud software service, make sure you get off on the right foot with your newly-closed buyer by executing this step flawlessly.

Pro tip: Use the Post-it Note method of laying out your sales process. After choosing your sales stages, write down all of your important sales activities and customer milestones onto sticky notes, then arrange them into 3-7 columns reflecting the stages you have chosen. (Or, just use our handy worksheet!)

To make sure that your sales process is repeatable and measurable, nothing should be left to interpretation.

Each sales process stage should have clearly defined goals and objectives, including specific criteria required to move a lead from one stage to the next.

“If you accept the principle that your stages should be based on key phases in the customer’s buying decision process, then the obvious way of establishing the criteria required to advance the opportunity from one stage to the next is through verifiable evidence of the customer’s willingness to take the next step,” advises Bob Apollo.

“For example, between the ‘investigating’ and ‘defining’ stages of the customer decision process, the milestone might be that the customer acknowledges there is a compelling business reason to act. Moving from the ‘defining’ stage to the ‘selecting’ stage could mean that the decision criteria and process are agreed and the shortlisted options are identified.”

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