With all of the advancements in sales and buyer side technology, now is the time to modernize your sales process or risk becoming irrelevant.
Consumer behavior is changing. Customers lose sleep over their problem, not your product. New engagement channels are propping up. Ignore one and you’ll relinquish potential market share to competitors. Disruptive technologies offer smarter ways of selling services and ideas. Expect outmoded and inefficient sales stacks to drag growth instead of driving it.
Every innovation in sales methodology upends the art of selling, and as best practices shift, can you really afford to stay on the sidelines?
The top professionals at hyper-growth companies are busy hacking their sales process. Are you?
What is a Sales Process?
While some experts view selling as an art of persuasion, all successful businesses approach it as a science composed of data, methods, metrics, and processes.
A sales process refers to the series of steps — each consisting of several activities and involving one or more sales methodologies — that are aimed at finding and connecting with customers; getting them to make a purchase; and creating a template for achieving sales objectives and replicating a desired level of performance.
In a practical sense, your sales process serves as a model by which any member of your sales team can replicate success in finding prospects, solving customer problems, closing deals, performing upsells, and bolstering client loyalty.
An excellent sales process aligns well with the journey your ideal customers undertake towards a purchase decision. As such, the most effective sales process maps out nearly every stage of the journey from the customer’s point of view.
In addition to being:
1) Customer-centric, your sales process must also be
2) Clearly defined;
A sales process that lacks any one of these traits will perform at a disadvantage in the highly competitive digital economy.
The sales process stages you need to reinforce
Formulating a sales process for your business can be complicated. The first challenge usually involves the task of identifying the specific steps that comprise your sales operations. The number of sales process steps differs across sectors, sometimes varying even among businesses operating in the same space.
Some organizations adhere to a simplified five-step process while others take a six-step approach. You might find sales process examples online that perfectly match your business model. However, to move forward faster with more clarity and flexibility, you can start with the seven-stage sales process used by many business organizations:
Being well-versed about your product, your target customers, your industry, and the unique value your brand provides can never be overstated. Know as much as you can about competitors, the core problems your buyer personas usually experience, and the different product features and benefits that directly or indirectly address these problems. Skim through your organization’s knowledge base to understand different customer engagement scenarios and how real salespeople actually solved pain points, handled complaints, closed deals, and generated repeat business.
Finding customers is one thing. Engaging the right ones is another. You can find prospects from many sources including your CRM database, social media, industry events, and online search. Based on a number of factors, your team should set an ideal customer profile and screen prospects based on this benchmark. This enables your team to allocate limited resources on qualified, high-value leads. To ensure a healthy customer pipeline, prospecting should be an always-on instinct across your sales organization.
3. Initial Contact/Needs Assessment
Calling, corresponding via digital tools, or meeting a prospect in person for the first time is a great opportunity to probe deeper into their situation and assess their real needs. This stage enables sales professionals to formulate tailored solutions to hike the likelihood of closing a deal. Active listening, empathy, note-taking, trust-building, and following up are great skills to deploy in this stage.
This is where you articulate the unique value your customers will experience if they purchase your product or adopt your solution. You can do this by connecting real needs and wants to the corresponding features and benefits your product provides. Note that while preparation and product knowledge play important roles in this stage, customer-centricity should remain your default mode. Stay relevant by bridging the prospect and the product.
5. Objection Handling
Reluctance, objections, complaints and outright rejection are so common in sales that any salesperson who lacks grit and the ability to roll with the punches will soon be out of the game. To manage objections effectively, practice empathy and regularly process the situation from the customer’s point of view.
This is where you actually make a sale, with all your efforts getting reflected in your company’s top-line revenue. Depending on your business model or workflow, this step commonly involves sending a proposal or a quote covering the tailored solution you are offering. It may also include further negotiations about specific terms in the sales/subscription/membership agreement as well as a series of signed approvals from key decision makers in your prospect organization. Note, however that attempts at closing do not always result to a successful sale. In that case, you can execute a follow up plan, request for a referral, or schedule the lead for future re-engagement.
7. Follow-up/Repeat Business/Referrals
Paying customers are great candidates as prospects for your other services. By maintaining excellent customer relationships, you can upsell and generate repeat business more easily. Paying customers might also know other individuals or organizations that may need your products so you need to ask for referrals. Nurture customers by keeping them updated about new services, implementing an interactive rewards program, and by regularly getting feedback on how you can serve them better.
Adopting a sales methodology to amplify performance
There have been confusions (especially among non-sales professionals) over the terms “sales methodology” and “sales process.” While they sound synonymous, the two terms technically refer to two different things in the sales universe. Sales methodology is an element in the sales process and refers to the framework, philosophy, or general tactic that guides how a salesperson approaches each step in the process.
Depending on your market, product verticals, corporate identity, or operational model, you may adopt a single methodology to govern your entire sales process or apply multiple methodologies across the specific sales process steps.
There is no single methodology that can claim superior benefits for each and every selling scenario. Depending on a number of factors, the right sales methodology can enhance the performance of a sales team or an individual seller. But the wrong one can negatively impact even superstar performers and elite sales teams. Ensuring the right match between methodology and sales scenario will deliver the optimum benefit.
Popular Sales Methodologies
1. Challenger Sale
The Challenger Sale methodology originated in 2011 when a book authored by CEB’s Matthew Dixon categorized sales professionals into five classes (relationship builders, hard workers, lone wolves, reactive problem solvers, and challengers). The book claimed that challenger-type sellers are the most successful group, especially in the B2B enterprise market. To be a Challenger, sellers make customers aware of the potentially game-changing challenges and opportunities in their respective industries, then offering effective, tailored solutions. Challengers use the “teach-tailor-take” tactic to close a deal.
2. Command of the Sale
This methodology was conceptualized and offered as a service by GrowthPlay. The main tactic used is to customize a company’s sales enablement tools and activities based on solutions already in place while focusing on the lead qualification and value messaging components.
3. Conceptual Selling
Developed by Stephen Heiman and Robert Miller, this method reframes sales as a process where a seller persuades a buyer to purchase a concept (specially the desired outcome), not a product. The seller’s goal — achieved through empathy, active listening, and asking questions — is to discover a specific buyer’s conception of an acceptable solution or a desired state. The seller can then relate that idea with the most salient aspects or benefits of the product/solution.
4. Consultative Selling
This method has its roots in solution selling, leveraging a veteran salesperson’s expertise, industry knowledge, and reputation. Under this dynamic, customers make a purchase because they “trust” the seller and expect the purported benefits and results to be realized.
5. Customer-centric Selling
As the term explicitly says, this method focuses on the challenges, goals, and convenience of the customer. As such sales staff shed their salesy hat and don their consultant/customer care fedora, becoming warm and trusted advisors to their client. Sales processes and activities are modified to suit the client’s schedule, objectives, and situation. Instead of making presentations, reps make relevant conversations about how the solution can be modified to better match the client’s requirements.
6. Inbound Selling
This is a relatively new methodology, having matured with the development of the Internet. In inbound selling, marketing techniques get tightly meshed with the processes and goals of sales. Hence, instead of directly pushing sales-y scripts to their prospects, inbound sellers attract (“pull”) customers by setting up messaging opportunities where customers can actively or contextually engage the seller’s brand or product. Because buyers are now more empowered and informed when it comes to purchase decisions, inbound sellers use data and analytics to hyper-personalize their messaging to pull customers towards the desired action.
Note: As opposed to inbound selling, outbound selling encapsulates many of the traditional selling techniques where sellers initiate and guide a sales engagement with a prospective customer. The engagement can take the form of a cold or warm call, a chat session over social media, or an email outreach.
MEDDIC stands for Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, and Champion. This methodology is characterized by a highly disciplined, tech-driven and tightly controlled approach to the sales process. Using metrics and other relevant data, MEDDIC sets quantitative standards for lead qualification and requires the search and nurturing of a “champion” in the prospect organization who will advocate for the seller’s brand/solution.
8. N.E.A.T. Selling
N.E.A.T. stands for Need, Economic Impact, Access to Authority, and Timeline. Developed by the Harris Consulting Group and Sales Hacker Inc., the methodology requires sellers to a) identify “core” needs by probing deep into their customers’ challenges; b) articulate the value or economic benefit of the solution in terms of ROI; c) engage contacts who can influence decision makers when direct engagement is not possible; and, d) set a compelling timeline within which a buyer must make a decision.
9. SNAP Selling
Launched by Jill Konrath in 2012, SNAP stands for Simple, iNvaluable, Aligned and Priority. As its acronym implies, this method aims to quicken the sales process with the assumption that prospective buyers will generally be busy and distracted.
10. Solution Selling
Solution selling eschews the product-centric approach and focuses instead on the benefits, impact, and relevance of a tailored solution. Solution sellers dive deep into customers’ unique situations not only to accurately identify their pain points but also to establish an agreed upon set of criteria that characterize an acceptable resolution. Introduced in the late 1980s, solution selling evolved over the years to adapt its techniques to changes in buyer maturity and business environment.
11. SPIN Selling
SPIN stands for four types of questions sellers should ask their prospects: Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff. These questions help sellers a) assess their customers’ real situations, b) isolate the core problems that need to be solved, c) cite the consequences of not solving the problems, and d) guide buyers into reframing the situation had the problem been solved.
12. Target Account Selling
This methodology requires sellers to break down large deals into smaller, more manageable components, effectively reducing the impact of politics in the sales process. Target Account selling can also be automated using Salesforce CRM, making it a good fit for many organizations.
13. The Sandler Selling System
This methodology reframes the role of sellers into trusted advisors who are as invested as customers in the success of a proposed or purchased solution. The Sandler Selling System emphasizes relationship building, lead qualification, and deal closing. Equipped with an accurate analysis of a customer’s situation as well as an in-depth assessment of their needs, sellers should forego further engagement when the solution doesn’t exactly match the problem. On the other hand, transactional roles will be upended in an ideal scenario, with customers trying to convince sellers to sell.
14. ValueSelling Framework
This methodology focuses on lead qualification and lead value assessment, enabling sellers to close deals faster and engage only leads with significant impact on their portfolio. ValueSelling encourages sales professionals to ask the right questions, articulate the value of a product to the customer’s business, and demonstrate flexibility in formulating a mutually beneficial solution.
Optimize your sales process: best practices, tips & tricks
As previously mentioned, excellent sales processes possess all these characteristics:
- Customer-centric. Buyers are more empowered, better informed and have wider options than in the past. Smart businesses align their sales processes with this new reality.
- Clearly defined. To be effective, each stage and element in your sales process must be well understood by all stakeholders.
- Replicable. All your sales staff should be able to replicate all the steps in the process as well as their constituent activities without any ambiguity.
- Predictable. The flow and expected outcomes in your sales process should follow a predictable pattern.
- Goal-oriented. A sales process systematizes your approach in meeting specific objectives (e.g., drive revenue growth, achieve process efficiencies, etc).
- Measurable. Relevant activities and other elements in your sales process should be quantifiable, enabling the team to determine and measure success based on metrics.
- Adaptable. A sales process must be flexible enough to accommodate changing business climates, tech integrations, or modifications in your sales operations. It should also allow a high degree of portability such that other teams or organizations can use it readily.
Charting your sales process map
Organizing your sales process and the sales methodology(ies) you need to adopt requires a well-designed sales process map. Whether you’re using an old-fashioned pen and notebook or a mobile app, start by listing down the stages and customer touch points in your workflow (such as lead generation and qualification) and connect these with the key steps in the sales process.
Take note of relevant metrics (duration, transaction volume, number of new leads generated, etc.). Fill up each sales process step with all associated activities (cold calling, follow-up emails, etc.) until all the stages have been completed.
Remember, a sales process map evolves over time and you should modify your process to remain on top of shifting business realities.
Build, automate and unleash your sales stack
Even the best-designed sales process won’t take you very far if you haven’t upgraded the sales platform your team deployed 20 years ago. Technological advances on many fronts (cloud, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, CRM, mobile communications, rich media streaming, etc) are rapidly changing the world of sales that even best practices get modified every once in a while.
As industry leaders consistently demonstrate, technology enablers will amplify the impact your sales process and methodologies can deliver. However, choosing which solutions to integrate into your sales stack can be quite challenging and time-consuming. In addition to CRM, there are tools that optimize staff performance, provide critical business intelligence, generate insightful data analytics, and facilitate better communication environments with customers. Here’s a guided overview on a wide variety of sales tools you may want to include in your stack.
Metrics: Weighing in on sales process success
Not all sales processes are equal. That is why you need to conduct a sales process audit every now and then. You can do this by periodically analyzing your performance metrics and conducting A/B testing campaigns to compare different outcomes. For example, you can test whether a new methodology would work better for a specific activity in your pipeline than the one you currently adopt. Remember, metrics are your friends and staying in their good graces future-proofs your profitability.
Hack your sales process now
With consumer behavior and market realities shifting at lightning speed, the need to adapt becomes imperative. Sales professionals can no longer depend on outmoded approaches and have no other choice but to embrace next-generation thinking and technologies.
Your sales process is not exempt. Without a reliable template to follow, your sales team will underperform, their output delivered at disproportionate cost but ultimately fragmented. The only route to success is to reimagine your sales process and reinforce your efforts with the right knowledge, tools, and strategies. Raise the bar by building, refining and optimizing your sales process over time.