Sales are the lifeblood of every organization. Without them, well, eventually your company would cease to exist. Whether you have one member on your sales team, one hundred, or more, it’s important to have a sales process for your reps to follow.
A sales process is a repeatable sequence of stages, each including a set of actions that your sales reps perform to convert a potential customer from a lead to a paying customer. It acts as a roadmap to keep your team members on track so they always know what to do next without hesitation.
This process may include anywhere from three to ten steps, depending on your product or service and who you’re selling to. And, it should mirror the process that your customers actually use when buying, also known as the buyer’s journey. The most common ones include 5 steps or 7 steps. Here we’ll review the 7 step sales process.
The stages of the 7 step sales process are:
Prospecting and Initial Contact
Sales Pitch or Product Demo
Proposal and Handling Objections
Following Up, Repeat Business & Referrals
1 - Prospecting
Every sale starts with a lead. Leads are found through prospecting, also known as lead generation. There are various ways for your company to prospect such as through marketing methods, networking at live events or trade shows as well as on social media, purchased lists, cold calling and referrals. The prospecting process helps identify potential buyers who have expressed interest in your product or service or who might be interested based on their demographics, industry or other characteristics.
2 - Initial Contact & Qualifying
Regardless of how you acquire leads, your sales reps will need to make initial contact with them. This may be via a phone call, email or through social media. During this first interaction the goal is for your team member to gather key information to determine if leads are a good match for your product or service. Qualifying questions are typically related to budget, authority, need and timeline. When the lead is a qualified prospect, your rep may proceed with a needs assessment. Depending on your product or service, this may be conducted during a separate interaction, by phone or in person, and scheduled at the close of the qualifying call.
3 - Needs Assessment
At this stage, reps need to have a series of standard questions prepared to ask prospects. This will prevent them from forgetting to enquire about any important details while guiding the conversation. Plus, this makes them look more professional to potential customers. These questions should be open-ended to encourage the prospect to talk. Reps need to be sure to listen more than they speak at this point in the sales process. Although they may be tempted, they should not start discussing product at this point. The goal is to thoroughly understand the prospect’s situation, challenges and motivations to potentially make a change by purchasing your product or service. This information makes it easier for your team members to tailor their sales pitch or demo to each specific prospect. Plus it allows them to anticipate any objections by understanding what might prevent the potential customer from moving forward with your solution. Examples of questions that might be included in this stage are:
What did you like or dislike about your previous provider?
What business problem are you hoping we’ll be able to solve?
Describe your current situation.
Tell me how this situation will look when you’ve addressed your current business problem.
When all questions have been discussed, it is important that your reps verify their understanding of what the prospect told them. The best way for them to do this is by recapping what they heard and requesting confirmation. This ensures that the rep is on the same page as the prospect before proceeding to the next step. If needed, additional questions may be asked to clear up any areas the rep misinterpreted.
4 - Sales Pitch or Product Demo
At this point in the sales process it’s time to clearly communicate the value of your solution in terms of the prospects needs, challenges and desired end state. This is effectively accomplished by connecting the potential customer’s needs and wants with the corresponding features and benefits of your product offering. This is why it is critical that reps gain a clear understanding of what is discussed during the needs assessment stage. Plus, additional information to have a good grasp of during this stage is based on any further details about the prospect’s company and industry. This will provide additional context and facilitate an even better quality pitch or demo. Be sure that your reps make note of any specific benefits in which the prospect is most enthusiastic about. At the end of this stage a proposal, if appropriate to your product or service, is typically scheduled for a mutually agreed upon date.
5 - Proposal and Handling Objections
Not all products and services require a separate proposal. If yours does, it should be customized for the prospect based on all that your sales rep has learned about their needs, challenges and motivations so far. They’ll want to focus on the aspects that are of greatest value to the potential customer and highlight how it will help them reach their desired outcome. Once the proposal has been presented (or if there isn’t one, this would occur after the sales pitch or demonstration), the prospect often expresses questions or concerns. These are also known as objections. There are usually a limited number of recurring objections for any given offering. Keep a record of these and what responses are best to address these. Sharing this information across your sales team will ensure that your reps won’t be caught off guard by an objection and will always be prepared with the most effective responses to remove any roadblocks to closing the sale.
6 - Closing
This is where prospects commit to purchase or to stop the process. It is just one step in what may be a very long sales cycle. While this may seem like the most important step, it is only successful when all the previous steps have been completed properly and in order. There are hundreds of different closing techniques, tips and tricks, but the most important thing to remember is that it is not a standalone event. When the sale is made, prospects agree on your terms and price or negotiate for mutually beneficial ones. All objections have been addressed and all details are finalized for delivery, fulfillment or related actions. This may also involve introductions to others in your company who will be handling these next steps.
7 - Following Up, Repeat Business & Referrals
Happy customers make excellent candidates for your other services. By nurturing an ongoing relationship with them, they’re often receptive to purchasing additional products or services and repeat business. Plus, they are terrific source of referrals! A great way to continue these relationships is through marketing communications such as updates about new offerings, industry news, an e-newsletter or some sort of interactive rewards program. This way, your customers will always think of your company first when they have a related requirement or a friend who has one.
So, there you have it, the 7 step sales process. Is this the right one for your business? Some businesses require a shorter process consisting of 3 to 5 steps and other need a much longer process. Regardless of how long yours is, having a sales process is important to your company’s success.