The field of B2B sales is big business. Being able to effectively identify leads and drive sales is a talent that many companies are on the lookout for. Yet even with the most talented salespeople in your team, your efforts can be fruitless if you don’t have the proper strategy in place. That’s where an effective sales process comes in particularly useful. But what does that consist of? Why is it so useful? And how can you drive successful sales processes? We take a look at all of these questions in detail.
What is a sales process?
Put simply, a sales process is a set of steps that can help you or your salespeople generate leads and convert them into customers. It’s basically your set of instructions for how to succeed with sales.
Of course, this instruction manual will vary greatly depending on the sector or industry you work in, as well as the types of clients and customers you work with. However, there are still some tried and tested general steps that can help your business develop an effective sales process.
With your steps in place, you can make sure that your salespeople are primed and ready to chase down prospects. Yet it’s often an evolving concept that you can refine and rewrite as you learn what works.
Why you should develop a B2B sales process
On the surface, the answer to this question may seem fairly obvious. Having a process in place makes the entire sales procedure more organized and defined. However, there are plenty of other reasons that you should develop your B2B sales process, as well as many statistics that show why it’s important.
Often, the best salespeople are able to adapt, improvise, and bring their personality to their work. Yet it’s not just these features that make them successful. Having the data to back up their decisions and approach plays a significant role. By creating a data-driven sales process, you’re getting the best of both worlds.
Once you have your process in place, it acts as a foundation for your best salespeople. And there are other benefits too:
- It serves as a playbook for new starters. For those who aren’t quite sure of the best approach initially, it can help get them up to speed with your best practices.
- It adds an extra level of strategy. Each stage of the process can be scrutinized and refined to see whether or not it’s working. You can adapt your strategy as you go.
- It means you don’t miss anything. By its very nature, a process is a series of steps. By following these points, you’ll make sure you hit all of the essentials.
- It helps with forecasting. If you can see how far along your process a customer is, you can forecast potential sales and future results with greater accuracy.
The stages of the B2B sales process
So, we know why having a B2B sales process is so essential. But what does one look like? As we mentioned, the exact details will depend largely on your industry and customers. However, there are seven stages that are fairly consistent across strategies.
Below, we’ve highlighted the stages of the B2B sales process that you’ll want to include:
Before you get into the meat of the process, you first need to spend some time preparing. You want your sales team to know their product or service inside out before they start selling it. This means getting to grips with all of the key factors that are going to be relevant to your customers or clients.
Again, this point is rather company-dependent, but it’s still an essential first step in the sales process. And it’s not just your own product or service that they need to have a detailed insight on.
Your industry, niche, competitors, and target audience also need preparation. When you’re prospecting, you should understand all of these factors in great detail. Not only does it mean your team has a solid grasp of where the industry is headed, but also means that they can answer questions with ease and alter their approach on the fly.
Next, you’ll want to spend some time generating leads. This can be the step where many businesses or salespeople struggle. After all, how do you know whether a lead is worth pursuing? This is why you need to classify the different types of leads that are out there.
By understanding the types of people that might be interested in your business proposition and how likely they are to convert from lead to customer, you can further refine your approach. This is where you refine your steady stream of contacts and how primed they are to make a purchase.
Some of the different types of leads you might encounter include:
- Suspect. An organization that fits the profile of someone that might be willing to do business with you.
- Prospect. An individual that matches your ideal customer profile and may need your services.
- Lead. A prospect that’s already responded to your marketing/sales efforts and taken some further action.
- Prospective lead. A lead that hasn’t yet taken action.
- Target lead. A lead that fits into a specific target market.
- Friend/family leads. Leads that exist from within your current network.
- Referrals. Leads that have been referred by existing customers.
- Cold leads. A previous customer or lead that hasn’t interacted in a while.
Connect & Discovery Calls
There could be an argument made that these should be two separate steps. However, by combining them, you have a clear outcome from both of them and can chop and change things as needed. Essentially, in this step, you’re trying to get an understanding of the needs of the client.
Start with a short connect call. Basically, this is a 10-15 minute call where your salesperson will get to know the client a bit better. You want them to gather as much relevant information as possible without being pushy or forcing a product/service at them.
Part of any sales strategy should be building a rapport with potential customers as well as establishing trust. This first connect call can be exactly that.
When you follow up with a lead or prospect, you’ll want to spend a little longer on the phone with them. In a 25-50 minute discovery call, you can delve deeper into what the customer is looking for. You want to understand their goals, challenges, and other key information.
Ultimately, with this call, you want to establish whether or not you can work together. You should shape the language here to lead into your later steps without being pushy, so keep that in mind. Ask open-ended questions and focus on the emotive language they use.
In this stage of the sales process, you want to start determining how valuable your previous activity has been. Your goal is to determine whether or not you think they are a good fit and worth further time investment as a lead.
You need to consider whether or not they’re going to move further down the sales process. Plenty of people will give your sales team the time of day on the phone but might not be willing to take things further than that.
Assess the types of language they’ve been using, what type of lead they are, and whether they’re in a position to make serious decisions. It’s not always easy to spot the potential for a sale, but the more objective you are, the easier it can be.
Even after all the hard work and preparation you’ve put in until this point, it’s rare that a prospect will be primed and ready to buy. This is why you’ll need to deliver a pitch to your lead that’s going to convince them you can solve their problems.
By this point, you should already know a fair amount about them and their business. You need your salesperson to use their skills at this stage. With a brief sales pitch, they need to show that you understand their needs and struggles. You also need to convince them that your product/service can help them deal with these issues.
It can be a good idea to show off a demo at this point if it’s relevant. No amount of talking can replace a convincing demonstration, after all. Keep the demo brief but enticing, showing in a simple way how the full product/service can help them. You don’t want to over-explain things; instead, you want to pique their interest and prove how helpful you can be.
If you’re not talking directly to the decision-maker after qualifying a lead, you’ll need to make sure you’re talking to them when you make the pitch. Decision-maker buy-in can make the difference between success and failure, so don’t let your prior efforts go to waste.
Try not to be too scripted with your pitch, as potential clients can spot it a mile off. You have to trust in your sales team and give them the freedom to be creative and charismatic when pitching.
At this point, you’ve hopefully wowed your lead with a strong pitch. But even then, it’s unlikely that they’ll be ready to pull the trigger straight away. You might need to spend some time handling some of the questions that they might have.
Some people term this ‘objection handling’, but really, it’s a negotiation. You need to listen to the prospect and their concerns and be ready with an answer that’s going to satisfy them.
Of course, everything that you’ve been doing until this stage helps here. You should already know a fair amount about your lead and what’s important to them. The language they use, the problems they have, and your prior conversations can all help.
You’ll also find that, over time, you’ll encounter similar questions and objections. As your sales process develops, you can make sure that you have solutions ready to present to the person you’re dealing with.
It’s important not to get pushy or overly forceful at this stage. As frustrating as it can be, you need to remember that an approach that’s too aggressive is offputting. Genuinely listen to the person you’re talking with, and respond with empathy.
By the time you reach this stage, you should know whether a deal is won or lost. It’s important to remain objective at this step, as both sides can bring about a swell of emotions.
If the deal is won, then your business needs to be in a position to deliver on your promise. The hard work is far from over at this stage; it’s in fact just beginning. You need to make sure that your product or service turns up on time and to the level you’ve sold it at. Similarly, ongoing support and service are also needed.
Sometimes, you won’t win the deal. The prospect may decline your final offer, choose a competitor, or hold-fire on their purchase. Although this can be disappointing to hear, it doesn’t have to be the end of the process.
If you’ve got a robust sales process in place, a lost deal can sometimes be recovered. Individual and business needs change frequently, and if you’ve given a good account of yourself, you will stay front-of-mind.
This is where things like good CRM software comes in handy. You can make sure that leads stay on your radar, ready for a follow-up down the line. If your product or service changes in the months after a lost deal, your new features might now fulfill the prospects’ needs.
A respectful message asking for feedback can also help you refine your sales process. Not only does this help you keep on their radar, but it also gives valuable insight.
After the sale
Once the sale is complete, the rest of the wheels in your process need to start turning. The first thing is to make sure that the onboarding process goes smoothly. After-sales care is a crucial part of your customer satisfaction and customer retention, creating loyal and repeat customers.
This onboarding should be a thorough and streamlined process, introducing the product/service in a straightforward way. It’s likely that new clients are going to need support and instructions during this phase, so it’s important to bear this in mind. Make sure that systems are in place to deal with any questions or queries they may have.
Once the client has gone through the onboarding process, it’s important that you check-in with them. You’ll want to make sure that everything has gone according to plan and that they’re happy with the level of service they’ve received.
This can also be a good time for feedback on the sales and onboarding process. Clients are usually happy to share in their experiences. It’s worth spending the time genuinely listening and engaging with them on this. The insight they can offer may help with future sales.
Ultimately, you want to ensure that your new client is happy and content. You want them to keep interacting with your business and sharing their great experiences with other potential leads.
Success Factors Driving Successful Sales Processes
So, we now know what a B2B sales strategy looks like. Your own one will be tailored to your salespeople, industry, and customers. But what makes it successful? There are several factors that can determine how well your sales process works:
What does success look like?
Before you can determine how well your system is working, you need to first outline what you’re hoping to gain from it. You want to outline some metrics that you can measure success by.
These metrics should be tied to your strategic plan and reflect your aims and ambitions. It could include things like total revenue, conversion rate, net promoter score, year-on-year growth, or other similar factors. Whatever they are, you want to outline them and measure how well your sales process is delivering against them.
Any sales strategy needs plenty of leads in the pipeline. As we mentioned earlier in the process, having a way of quantifying these leads is essential.
You need to have a reliable way of finding new leads. And, once you have them, you need to know the potential each one has to convert. Your strategy and process may well differ between the different types of leads.
In the world we live in, a data-driven approach is everything. You need to make sure that you have a consistent stream of data on your market. Similarly, you’ll want to have as much possible insight into your leads as you can get.
Part of the reason your sales process exists is to keep everyone on the same page. Although you want to avoid anything that’s too scripted, you still need to make sure that your messaging and branding is consistent.
Make sure that your sales team are all on the same page. Whether it’s through training, feedback, or a more structured process, the same messaging should be reaching your potential customers.
Ways To Improve Your Sales Process
It’s unlikely that you’ll get your sales process perfect the first time around. Even if you do, the market will eventually change, and your approach should change with it. Either way, you’ll want to spend some time refining and improving your sales process. Here are some tips to try:
Have a strategy
Central to a successful sales process is a clear strategy. No matter what your business’ aims are, your sales efforts should reflect them. These two factors combined will give your sales team a clear goal to work towards.
Make your stages clear
The steps we’ve outlined above only give you so much detail. For the rest, you’ll have to fill it in yourself. How many times will you contact your leads? How does this differ between lead types? At what point do you close negotiations? These are all questions that need defining to help your salespeople.
Align with your customers
You need to understand how your buyers think and make decisions. This will make it far easier for you to structure a sales process that reflects their needs and motives. Again, market research is essential here.
Take a data-driven approach
You should have already outlined your KPIs and other key metrics. It’s important that you then use this data to refine your process. Are there certain points where customers are regularly dropping out? How can you improve this stage? And are your changes benefiting? Use the data available to answer these questions.
Customer feedback can be vital in improving your sales process. Ask them what they liked and disliked about the experience, as well as what you could have improved on. You can also gain insight into what motivated them to buy from you. Similarly, your sales reps will know what is and isn’t working in your sales process. Listen to them and make changes accordingly.
There are all kinds of tools and technology that you can use to improve your process. Whether it’s lead gen automation from Bant or other tools that can help with productivity, find the ones that are best for you.
So, that concludes our detailed look at how to design an effective sales process. It’s touched on a wide variety of topics, many of which are interconnected.
Clearly, having a process in place for your sales team is essential. It gives structure to a process that can often be complex. However, it also allows for freedom and creativity from your salespeople.
Keeping your prospects and your business goals at the heart of your sales process is essential. However, you also need to listen to feedback from both your customers and your sales team. This information can help you refine and perfect each step.