Sometimes, the stars just align and no matter what you say or do, people can’t wait to throw their money at you.
What? That’s never happened to you?
Well, to be honest, it hasn’t happened to me either.
The truth is that selling is a process—one that changes and evolves constantly. Converting a prospect into a customer is like trying to hit a moving target. On a windy day. With a blindfold on. There’s no such thing as a fail-proof sales technique (and if there were, I think I’d probably be keeping it to myself). But there are ways you can greatly increase the likelihood of getting the yes every single time you approach a new lead.
I’m talking about developing a sales process—a collection of repeatable steps you can take to move a potential customer from prospect to client to brand champion.
With a sales process, you’re no longer going in blind with new prospects and hoping for the best. You’re using what you already know has worked in the past and helped you close deals to create a checklist for success.
So are you ready to get down and dirty and create your own sales process? Let’s dive in.
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The 8 key stages of creating a successful sales process
A successful sales process is repeatable, but that doesn’t mean it’s repetitive. Consistency creates success, but it can also cause complacency if you lose sight of the bigger picture.
You can think of what we’re showing you here simply as an outline you need to fill in based on your own business needs and adjust based on customer actions, the market you’re in, and what your competition is up to.
Like every aspect of your business, your sales process needs to be fluid enough to move and stay relevant. It also needs a solid backbone. So let’s start with the big question: Just what should be addressed in your sales process?
The first step in the sales process is finding the right people to target. Just like those old bearded men of frontier America, your prospecting means a lot of digging around in the mud looking for gold (with customers being your precious metal).
The goal of prospecting is to develop a database of strong leads who you can then systematically communicate with to try and convert them into customers.
When you’re just starting out, your prospects will be broken down into two types:
- Suspects: Individuals or companies you think have a need for your product or service, but who most likely aren’t aware of you.
- Prospects: Suspects who have confirmed in one way or another that they might be interested in buying from you at some point. For example, a startup that just took in a round of funding and is growing their sales team could be a prospect for your sales CRM, as long as they know who you are.
As you’re building out your database of suspects and prospects, you’ll also want to be doing additional research to understand their needs and offer them a more tailored experience when you do reach out.
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 recently spoken publically about a problem that 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 Twitter to see where they’re slipping up, and where we can capitalize.
But remember, research isn’t a do-it-once task. You’ll want to continue to do further research throughout the sales process as you learn more about your prospect.
If all else fails in your research process, you can take a page straight out of the political playbook. Marketing strategist and entrepreneur Dorie Clark employs a technique called power mapping, that focuses on winning over the people your prospective client already trusts.
Clark shares, “For years, advocates who hope to influence a legislator would create a map of their connections and the people they listen to most: donors, the head of the political party, the leaders of interest groups whose support they need and others.” As a salesperson, this is leveraged as an opportunity to try and win over the people around your prospect—or identify mutual connections—to quickly get your message in front of them.
Now that we know who we’re after, the next step is to engage with those suspects and prospects 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.
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 it can make or break the sale.
For our sales CRM company, we might take our list of prospects and set a goal of cold calling 10 of them every day. And if you think sales calls are old school or ‘too salesy’, just remember, even Uber started with a cold call.
Now that you’ve got the attention of your prospect it’s time to roll up your sleeves, light a candle, and turn on the smooth talk. Seriously though, it’s time to convince them just why they should care about you and what you’re doing.
The presenting part of the sales process is very dependent 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 make sure 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 around the software. So, for every lead that we get to present to, we’ve got a presentation in place that shows off our product’s main benefits as well as a few specific use cases for them we discovered during our research.
5. Addressing objections
Undoubtedly, somewhere along this sales process path you’re going to hit a few bumps. It’s normal for a prospect to have objections to what you’re selling 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? Hell no. A good sales process takes into account any objections a prospect might 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’re going to 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 up a good thing.” Like 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 the customers you already have 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.” It’s hard to compete with friendships and close relationships, but this is business. You might not get them with the hard sell, but plant your seeds now and follow up with them down the road.
- 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 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 is going to change in 6 months. At this point you need to make hiring you the easiest option for them.
Which brings us to...
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.
Deals can get derailed and the hours/days/weeks you’ve put in can feel like a huge waste of time. 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 our sales CRM example, let’s say our prospect tells us they have to go through legal first before they can sign on. 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 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 the close.
You got the sale! Congrats! Time to sit back, kick your feet up and crack a cold one, right? Not quite yet. As part of your sales process you need to make sure your new customer gets the product, gets it set up, and starts seeing value from it 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 more than easy for your shiny new customer to jump ship to someone else.
We could schedule a call with their whole team to walk them through setting up their new sales CRM, assign them an account manager to help with any day-to-day issues they have, and even send them a thank-you gift for becoming a customer.
8. Following up (asking for referrals)
One mistake a lot of companies make is cutting the sales process after the close. You got the sale, you delivered, your customer is happy. Why do anything else? Because a happy customer is your greatest asset.
Entrepreneur, investor and sales coach Grant Cardone cites not following up with your customers to ask for referrals as one of the biggest missed opportunities for increasing sales with relatively low effort and time investment.
Cardone shares, “91% of clients say they are open to providing referrals. Yet, only 11% of salespeople ask for referrals.”
That fact alone creates a massive opportunity for you to incorporate a feedback loop of requesting referrals directly into your sales process after delivering your first results.
Set a reminder to follow up with new customers on a regular basis (1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year) to see how they’re getting along. At a certain point, you should ask them if they know anyone else they think 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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Applying this sales process framework to your business
Now that we’ve got a clear framework for a sales process in place, it’s time to look into how you can actually apply these ideas to your own business.
I know we used a sales CRM as our example, but I want to be extra clear that this sales process framework works for any company, service or product out there. It doesn’t matter what you sell, you need to have a repeatable way to sell it to new customers.
So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how you can start filling in the blanks and fleshing out your own sales process:
Start with what you know
If you ever get lost in the wilderness, the first thing you’re supposed to do is take stock of what you have already.
Now, you might be sitting down in your fancy office (or coffee shop—no judgement) but going after new customers is a lot like venturing off into the deep unknown woods. You don’t know what you’re going to run into. So starting with the tools you have at your disposal is a safe bet.
This means documenting everything about your current sales process.
Start by looking at the last successful deal you closed. Go back to the beginning and analyze the customer. Who are they? Why did you go after them in particular? What characteristics made them a good lead in the first place? This is your first step towards 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? Was it on the phone? E-mail? Social media? Knowing where your audience hangs out will help when you’re reaching out to new prospects.
When you presented your product or service to them, what format did they prefer? Video chat? In person meet-up? Powerpoint? Write down how your ideal customer prefers to interact with you so you can offer that as the first option next time around.
Once you presented, what objections came up? And how did you deal with them? If they came up once, there’s a good chance they’ll come up again, so be sure to start making a doc you can share with your sales team of all objections you’ve actually faced and how you got through them.
Now onto the good stuff. How did you finally get them to give you the yes? What sort of 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 people on the team?
Once they said yes, how did they prefer delivery? Did they ask for help setting up their accounts (which is something you could automate or create a resource for if it keeps coming up)? How often did they ask for help once they were new customers 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?
This will be a big doc, but it will start to give you a picture of how your process should be laid out specifically for your business.
Set clear expectations
Now that we have a broad picture, let’s go into the details.
At each stage of the sales process you need to define clear metrics that tell you whether you’re doing a good job or not. Remember, this is a fluid process. If we don’t have benchmarks to measure against we can’t get better in the future.
Look at things like prospect to presentation ratio. How many prospects are engaged enough to actually want a presentation or demo? If that’s low or dropping, it’s time to adjust your pitch.
What about after you’ve presented? How many of those people are becoming customers? If that number’s low, what objections are coming up time and time again? Is it the pitch or the product? Getting feedback from real, qualified, potential customers can help shape your product into something people really want.
Set success metrics and goals for each stage of your process so that your team knows if they’re on the right track, and so that you know when things stop working and can act on it, fast.
Have a list of actions to move the prospect onto the next stage
Just like we should have a list of common objections and how to answer them we should also know clear next steps for each part of our sales process.
Every action, whether it’s prospecting, researching, connecting, presenting, closing, or delivering, needs to have a clear corresponding action. If there are ever any hiccups, you know that’s an area of your sales process that needs to be looked at again.
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 probably not a good fit. Which is right for you?
What about when closing? How many times do you ask and how far do you push before you accept you’re not getting the yes? Your process 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 you deal with these situations you’ll do more than lose sales, you’ll lose your reputation.
Analyze, learn, and keep on optimizing
I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but, like all aspects of your sales set up, your sales process is truly a fluid system. You have to be constantly measuring, analyzing and optimizing your process as you engage with more prospects and close more deals.
Markets change. Competitors switch tactics. You need to always know what’s happening and how you can adapt. That’s why you defined all those metrics and set up a clear plan.
All this planning and documenting does nothing if you just leave your process as it is and keep on marching blindly.
Regularly revisit your process and look at how things have changed. Or sit down with one of your colleagues and run through a recent sale. What happened that was different than before? Were there objections they hadn’t heard before?
Getting the jump on potential issues will keep you at the front of the pack. But you’ll only ever know these if you keep track of what’s going on.
So there you have it.
While it’s no magic bullet, a clear sales process is the closest thing you can get to a checklist for success with scaling your business. Put it in place, stick to it, and adjust when necessary.
You’ll have a repeatable way to take a prospect from unknown stranger to lifelong customer.
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