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How to Implement a Sales Process: The Complete Guide

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Building a sales process gives your future sales efforts a much greater chance of success, but your work isn’t done until it’s part of your organization’s DNA.

According to Sales Benchmark Index, a well implemented sales process can improve your team’s win rate by 24%, reduce your sales cycle length by 20%, and increase your average sale price by 15%.

In order to reap those benefits, you have to correctly implement your sales process within your CRM software and invest the proper resources to get your sales reps following it on a daily basis.

In this guide, we’ll show you exactly how to automate your sales process in your CRM, how to measure the effectiveness of your sales process, and how to use your sales process to coach your team’s performance.

PART 1: How to automate a sales process in your CRM

One of the biggest advantages of having a CRM is the ability to automate your sales process. Sales automation can be divided into two categories:

  • Task automation, or the elimination of data entry through automation. For example, your CRM could automatically gather publicly available information on a prospect based on their email address, or automatically update the status of a lead when a goal is completed.
  • Communication automation, or the automatic triggering of sales communications based on your prospect’s movement through the sales process. For example, a prospect could receive different email drips when they sign up for a free trial or after they become a customer—which helps sales reps multiply their efforts when it comes to nurturing and educating buyers.

With sales automation in place, each sales rep understands what needs to be done at every moment to keep their deals moving forward, based on a prospect’s actions or other observable behavior.

Assuming you have a CRM that allows you to automate your sales process (hint, hint), here are four things you’ll need to do in order to put it all into place.

Step 1: Define your pipeline stages, goals, and guidance

Remember those sales process stages that we built in the last article? The first thing you’ll need to do is enter those stages as a pipeline in your CRM. (Note: If you use more than one set of stages to manage different sales efforts, you’ll have to set up multiple pipelines.)

Next, stage-completion goals need to be defined and entered for each stage. With sales process automation, your leads will advance from stage-to-stage automatically after fulfilling specific goals, such as determining the value of a lead or meeting with the prospect. In other words: What is the fundamental thing that needs to be done before a stage can be considered complete?

Nutshell also gives sales managers the opportunity to add stage guidance throughout their pipelines, summarizing their expectations for each stage in their own words, and offering advice. This helps sales reps keep the big picture in the mind as they move through the individual tasks of a sale, and helps new reps get up to speed quickly.

Free download: 16 Sales Process Templates for B2B Pipelines

Step 2: Assign leads to the right reps

User-assignment rules ensure that each lead automatically goes to the rep that’s most likely to close it. With sales automation in place, leads can be assigned to specific team members when they enter any stage, based on your preferred criteria. This can be very helpful if…

  • Your sales team is split into geographical territories, with each rep (or group of reps) responsible for a specific area
  • Your company offers different product lines, with specialized sales reps in charge of selling each one
  • Your sales team is divided into tiers based on skill or seniority, with higher-value leads going to your best closers

As a sales manager, creating user-assignment rules will not only boost your team’s win rate, it will also save you time by reducing the number of little decisions you have to make every day on which rep should get which lead.

Note: If you use multiple pipelines, you’ll also have to establish criteria on which leads go into which pipelines to begin with.

Step 3: Add tasks to each stage

In an automated sales process, tasks are activities that must be completed to fulfill the requirements of a stage. Typically, these are small-sized action items like “make a call” or “prepare for demo,” and they appear in every lead in a given pipeline. If certain tasks are time-sensitive, you can tie a relative due date to them to make sure they don’t sit idle for too long.

Adding tasks to your stages gives sales reps an additional level of guidance throughout the sale, which is one of the most valuable benefits of sales automation. (In Nutshell, outstanding tasks are assigned to the lead owner by default, although you can choose to assign tasks to other individuals or teams who are better suited to complete the task.)

When a stage goal is met, all remaining tasks for that stage are automatically skipped and the lead advances to the next stage.

Step 4: Connect and automate your email

One advantage of Nutshell’s sales automation builder is the ability to add and remove leads from MailChimp email campaigns, depending on where they are in your sales process.

Whether its a series of product education emails, a nurturing newsletter, or an onboarding drip, email automation puts the right content in front of your prospects at the right time, and saves you the trouble of having to draft new emails or subscribe/unsubscribe leads manually.

In a Nutshell pipeline, you can select the stage where a lead should be subscribed to a given MailChimp list, as well as the stage where the lead should be unsubscribed. It’s as simple as it sounds—if you don’t believe us, try it.

Now that your sales process is automated in your CRM, you have to measure its effectiveness and make improvements where necessary. Here’s how to do that…

PART 2: How to measure and fine-tune your sales process

A properly implemented sales process gives your organization a wealth of new data to draw from. By continuously measuring that information, you’ll be able to see which of your efforts are working, what needs improvement, and what to do about it.

Here are six key metrics that you should track throughout your sales process:

#1: Adoption Rate

First things first: Are your sales reps actually using the new process? Until you can achieve 100% process utilization—i.e., full participation across your team—any data you get from the sales process will be incomplete and unreliable.

According to Jacco van der Kooij, founder of Winning by Design: “The best way to measure the impact of the sales process is to ask yourself, ‘Is the process hanging anywhere on the wall?’ Can people point to a block and say, ‘This is where most of the deals get stuck?’ Is the team trained in individual parts of the process, and can we measure improvements on these parts? When you ask people to draw the part of the process they are responsible for, can they sketch 4-5 blocks on a whiteboard and describe what happens in each block?”

If you can’t answer “yes” to all of the above, it suggests that the process was likely created in a vacuum, without enough of the sales team’s input. Remember, this is your sales team’s playbook, so don’t impose it from the top down.

It is easier to scale a company with a broken process being well executed, then it is to scale a company that has no process and relies on artistry.

Jacco van der Kooij

#2: Key Funnel Conversion Rates

It’s one thing to measure the volume of your pipeline, it’s entirely another to measure the velocity through it. That’s what a funnel report allows you to do.

As soon as you have a pipeline set up in your CRM, you can use Nutshell’s funnel report to track your conversion rates from stage to stage. This will show you which parts of your pipeline are responsible for the most lost or stuck leads, so you can make targeted improvements to your sales activities in those areas.

Of course, conversion rates constantly fluctuate to some extent, due to a number of factors. To avoid “paralysis by analysis,” you might want to focus on just one or two key conversion rates within your funnel—i.e., the ones that have the biggest impact on whether or not a lead becomes a customer—and take action when significant drops occur.

For example, at Nutshell we pay close attention to how many of our new leads convert from “pre-engaged” to “engaged” by completing specific actions during their free trials. Since our engaged leads are 20 times more likely to convert to paid customers, this conversion rate is a key predictor of success, and a constant point of focus for our Sales and Marketing teams.

Again, if you’re measuring everything you’re measuring nothing. Identify the make-or-break stages in your sales process, and keep a close eye on how well leads are traveling through them.

#3: Win Rate

Win rate refers to the percentage of leads that become paying customers. Since this metric can be influenced by any number of sales activities from the presentation to closing stages, improving a sluggish win rate often depends on measuring the performance of individual sales activities until you identify the real issue, then fixing it.

Some common culprits behind low win rates include:

  • Not enough qualified leads: You’re wasting resources attracting leads that don’t actually have the need for your product or the ability to buy. Putting more effort into defining your buyer personas and focusing the messaging on your website and in your advertisements can help address this problem.
  • Insufficient lead nurturing: According to a 2017 LinkedIn study, B2B decision makers read an average of ten pieces of content before making a purchase. So once you have a prospect’s email address, don’t let them slip away. Get helpful content in front of them on a regular basis and check in regularly by email and phone. Monitoring the open rates and click-through rates of your emails can tell you if you need to improve the quality of your emails in addition to the quantity.
  • Specific reps underperforming: If you discover that your overall win rate is being dragged down by an individual, relative to the rest of their team, it’s possible that they’re lacking a bit of secret sauce that the top performers use to stay effective.

“It can be very instructive to compare what top performers know and do at each stage of the process, and what their relative success rates are,” says Bob Apollo, founder of Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners. “Armed with these insights into behavioral gaps, managers can coach underperforming reps with the goal of progressively narrowing the gap between the best and the rest.”

And it should go without saying: If you discover that your top sellers have outstanding win rates due to their own proprietary methods of moving a sales along, you need to formalize those activities within your team’s sales process, pronto.

#4: Deal Size

In addition to turning more leads into customers, another clear sign that your sales process is working is that the average amount of each closed sale starts to increase. This demonstrates that your sales reps are focusing on the leads with the greatest need for your product, and that they’re putting more effort into upselling.

What you want to look out for is inconsistency. Review the average deal size by individual salespeople, teams, products, territories, and sources. Is deal size increasing steadily across the board, or are the larger deals only being driven by certain teams, products, etc.? Again, the goal is to identify the cause of those successes and make sure the whole organization is following suit.

#5: Sales Forecast Accuracy

Sales forecast accuracy reflects how close your actual sales are to your predicted sales for a given time period, based on the value of your pipeline and your overall win rate. By using a CRM with forecast reports, reps can also see how they are performing compared to quotas.

If your results start to drift away from your projections, determine whether it’s the result of circumstances—i.e., a new competitor emerging with a comparable product, the unexpected departure of your best sales rep—or because one element of your sales process is less effective than you thought it would be.

Keep in mind that if your business is implementing its very first sales process, it can take a few months of establishing win rates and fine-tuning before your forecasts are even close to your actual sales data.

#6: Sales Cycle Length

How long does it take your sales team to work a lead through closing, on average? A well-implemented sales process reduces time inefficiencies by letting your reps exactly know what needs to happen at each step to move a deal forward.

If you don’t see any notable reduction in your sales cycle length after implementing a sales process, one thing you can do is reconsider your qualification methods. Think about the traits of prospects who quickly say “no.” Disqualifying them earlier in your sales pipeline can help increase your win rate while empowering your reps to focus their time on buyer personas who are more likely to become customers.

But what if your sales cycle is hitting speed-bumps near the end rather than the beginning? The time from ask to decision is one often-overlooked element of sales cycle length that refers to how long it takes a prospect to make up their mind after they have all the information in front of them and the sales rep has explicitly asked for their business.

To reduce the time from ask to decision, make sure you’re providing all the necessary information to each decision maker within a company. In B2B sales, it’s rarely one person who has a vested interest when buying a product—you’re usually dealing with a committee that meets before they buy. By having your team doing the legwork and providing data that addresses each parties’ concerns, your prospects can make faster decisions.

PART 3: How to use your sales process to coach your team

While the biggest advantage of implementing a sales process in your CRM is to give your sales reps a roadmap for what to do at each step of the sale, the value of sales process extends far beyond directing activity.

Your CRM’s sales process can be an effective tool for understanding customer behavior and coaching your sales team—and not just around their numbers.

How a sales process reinforces good habits

Sales coaching is about building habits and encouraging the right behaviors. The goal is to get your representatives consistently doing the activities that have been proven to lead to sales in your organization.

“Managers need to work with individual team members to address the specific part of the sales process they are weak on,” says Jacco van der Kooij.

A CRM’s sales process allows you to see the specific part of the sale that a given team member is having the most trouble with. This allows you to more easily create custom coaching plans targeted at each reps’ weaknesses.

How a sales process helps reps buy into the coaching process

Having the information provided by a CRM can help your team better understand the specific impact of their sales behavior, which can make them more receptive to coaching.

“Without a formalized sales process, you have nothing to benchmark or compare individual performance, behavior or activity against, and so any attempts to improve performance will inevitably come across as random acts,” says Bob Apollo, founder of Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners.

Many experienced salespeople or top performers may be resistant to coaching because they believe their abilities are good, or, at least, good enough. Your CRM can help them see places where they could improve, and quantify the potential results of those improvements—larger sales and higher commissions.

How a sales process encourages reps through a sales cycle

In his New York Times Bestselling book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business, Charles Duhigg describes the Habit Loop: “First there is a cue, a trigger…Then there is the routine…Finally, there is a reward.”

This loop is a three-part process that must be repeated over and over again to build any habit. The more complex a behaviour or action is, the more time and repetitions are required for it to become a habit.

Sales behaviours, of course, are more complicated than self-improvement habits like drinking more water or going to the gym—which means they need more repetition to get down.

This is further compounded by the lack of swift payoff involved in longer sales cycles. There is no instant gratification for better qualifying a client, outside of the vague sense of knowing that a deal that will be more likely to close in several months time. By that point, the cue and the reward (the closed deal and subsequent commission) are no longer mentally linked for your team members.

A CRM can help here by automating the cues and reminding your team of the steps they need to take (the routine), then providing some sort of reward when each individual milestone is reached.

A Harvard study found that spontaneously telling your employees they’re doing a great job can increase creativity, enhance problem-solving skills, and reduce stress. So even a quick email saying “awesome job getting that big prospect out of the Meeting stage” can help your rep stay motivated to keep pursuing the sale.

By automating the cues for your team using your CRM’s sales process, you’ll help your reps build good habits more quickly, and execute them more efficiently—which benefits everyone involved.


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