7 Stages Of A Sales Process To Catapult Your Sales
A sales rep without a process is like an explorer without a map. They might zig zag their way to success, but the whole thing is much easier when they have a clear guide in front of them. With an explicit, step-by-step sales process, your reps will be better at their jobs, feel more accomplished and confident, and probably be happier as a result. Not to mention the drastic impact it will have on your revenue! In this article, we’ll explore the 7 stages of a sales process, and follow up with a handy sales process flowchart to print for your sales team, enabling them to become more proficient sellers.
What is a sales process?
A sales process is a uniform, step-by-step framework for getting new sales. It consists of four basic steps: find the customer, qualify them as a good prospect, present to them, and then close the sale. In the process we recommend below, these four steps expand to seven, to cover each crucial stage of the sale.
For a sales process to be worthwhile, the product or service being sold is usually fairly expensive, because it has to cover the cost of the sales team. It could be a large one-off payment, or an ongoing subscription that becomes expensive over time. The product is also likely to be complex, something that the customer won’t be able to quickly understand or immediately perceive the benefits. The salesperson’s job is to explore the product’s features and the benefits gained from them, to convince the prospect it’s a worthy investment.
Sales is a relatively stable process, which makes it ideal for systematisation. By carefully following each step in a sales process, a sales rep no longer has to think about what to do next for every prospect. They simply move their prospects through their pipeline, knowing exactly what each customer needs depending on their current stage. The result can be a huge leap in conversions, with many more leads converted to sales—teams who follow a solid process are pretty much guaranteed to have fewer wasted leads, and create a better experience for new customers.
7 stages of a sales process
There’s many ways to skin a cat, but one of the most effective, commonly-used sales processes consists of the seven steps outlined below. These 7 stages of a sales process are designed to thoroughly address the buyer’s journey from start to finish, from the moment your salesperson discovers them (or is given to them by marketing), to the point when they give you a resounding, gratifying “yes!”
This process may be adapted slightly to better suit your sales team and the tools you use. Every team is different—the key is to find a process that works well for you. This can take some experimentation.
In the world of sales, prospecting is searching for suitable leads. This is considered by some to be the hardest part of sales, and is made much easier by a straightforward process.
Your sales rep can find customers in a variety of ways. They can use the powerful search features of social media tools such as LinkedIn, to narrow down their target customers. They can network at trade shows, community events, and business functions. They can contact customers who they have a good relationship with and politely ask for referrals. This stage of the process should describe as many lead sources as possible, to give the salesperson the best chance of finding them.
When a lead is found, with the person identified as a likely decision maker for the company, the salesperson will need to find their contact information. This can be tricky. Company websites, Google searches, and Chrome extensions like Skrapp are just a few ways to find email addresses.
Of course, leads should also come from your marketing team (marketing qualified leads) by way of the company website, advertisements, gated content, and other fruitful lead generation campaigns.
As leads emerge, it helps to prioritise them based on their estimated value, and likelihood of converting. The salesperson might create a points system that considers company size, their position at the company, and other factors they deem important. But it can be more art than science, with experience and intuition playing a key role.
2. Preparation (or research)
Once a lead is found, the salesperson will need to prepare for their first contact by finding out more about them. We usually only buy things when they help us solve some kind of problem, so this should be the focus of the salesperson’s efforts—will the product they are offering help to solve a problem for the lead? This information can be hinted at in the person’s job position, social posts, and certain demographics depending on your type of product. This research is the first step towards qualifying the lead, to ensure they’re a good fit.
For a more generic way to understand what your company’s customers want, check out our article on how to identify customer needs.
In this stage, the salesperson contacts the lead for the first time. This is most effective with a call (cold calling can work well), but phone numbers can be difficult to come by, so can also work via email. 82% of buyers accept meetings when a salesperson contacts them first, which is why it’s so important to get your foot in the door before another company does.1
This stage is basically an extension of the last, with the intention of accurately qualifying the lead by asking relevant questions. The BANT method can be helpful for finding questions to qualify leads: budget, authority, need, and timescale.
|Area||Purpose||Question(s) to ask|
|Budget||Does the person have the budget to buy the product?||What is your budget for solving this problem?|
|Authority||Does the person have the authority to purchase the product? Or can they get the authority?||What is your role in the company?|
|Need||Does the person need the product? Will it solve a nagging problem for them?||
|Timescale||Is the person in a position to buy the product right now?||When do you need to solve this problem?|
During this first conversation with the customer, the salesperson is really trying to get at the heart of their needs. Once clear, they can move them into the relevant section of their sales pipeline, hopefully as a qualified lead.
4. Sales pitch
With the customer successfully approached, and the salesperson satisfied they’re a qualified lead, they can arrange another meeting to go through their sales pitch.
The sales pitch is the best possible chance of converting the lead to a customer, so should be thoroughly researched and prepared. It’s likely that the salesperson will have a template that they use—a Powerpoint presentation, a product demo, or even just a structured conversation—which should be personalised for the lead to make it explosive. Successful sales pitches might follow this framework:
- The problem(s)—the key problems that the lead is having.
- Value—the most tantalising benefits gained from solving the problem.
- How the product works—clear instructions on how the product will solve the lead’s problems, and give them the benefits.
- Social proof—stories and testimonials of other customers who have had similar problems solved. Can also share industry awards and other forms of social proof.
Ultimately, a sharp sales pitch does the following:
- Explains how the product will solve the lead’s problems.
- Makes the lead believe they genuinely need the product.
- Makes the lead feel as though they’ve been listened to.
- Makes the lead feel as though they need the product urgently.
- Gives the lead evidence of the product’s effectiveness.
5. Address objections
A product or service that is expensive enough to warrant a sales pitch naturally leads to objections by the prospect. Humans are averse to risk, so we want to make absolutely sure we’re making a good financial decision.
If the salesperson is experienced and diligent, they may have a list of common objections from other customers, which they know well. They can be anything—concern about the price, hidden costs, being tied into a contract, migrating data from another system, and plenty more. The trick is alleviating the concerns of the prospect without telling them they’re wrong, which can harden their position and damage the trust that has been built up. Good preparation and clever diplomacy is crucial for neutralising objections and winning the sale.
After all of the good work has been done finding, researching, and winning over the customer, it’s tragic to lose the sale at the final stretch. Closing leads is a skill in itself, which is why we wrote an entire article about it: 9 Proven Techniques To Closing Sales Leads.
To summarise, the salesperson should be authentic, persistent, and keep touting the benefits of the product. They can use tactics that create a sense of urgency, or try tapping into both their logical and emotional sides. Check out the article if you’d like to learn about the rest.
7. Follow up
The final step in the sales process is following up with the customer, which is something often neglected. Many commission-driven salespeople will want to move onto the next lead, so they can maximise their earnings. This is regrettable because a follow-up phone call can really show the customer that the salesperson and company cares about them, which tends to increase their loyalty. If you want to encourage your salespeople to complete regular follow-up calls, you might consider introducing a commission for them. They pay in the long run!
Follow-up phone calls can also be a great way to ask for positive customer reviews—a go-to for buyers interested in a product or service.
Sales process flowchart
Once you’re clear on the stages of your process, and your sales team are well versed in what they should be doing, you can create a simple sales process flowchart like the one below, and print it off for everyone to see. Or if you really want to get into it, you can create a more complex flowchart that shows individual activities and decision points, so that the process is crystal clear. But an overview of the process should be enough for your sales team to start.
7 stages of the sales process—summary
The 7 stages of a sales process are simple. When diligently learned and followed, they can result in higher conversion rates for your sales team, richer and happier salespeople, and customers who feel validated. The result is faster growth for your business.
- Cambria Davies, Sales Prospecting: 26 Tips, Techniques, & Tools to Succeed, HubSpot