The 7 Main Stages of an Effective Sales Process

Written by Chris Crosby

Published on December 1, 2020

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A sales process is a series of stages that consist of a set of repeatable steps that a salesperson will need to take to convert a potential client into a paying customer. The sales process will act as a framework for your team. Following this framework, they can carry on their tasks with minimal supervision.

Research shows that 40% of sales teams don’t have a sales playbook. Yet, businesses that follow a well-defined sales process are 33% more likely to have a high performance. Additionally, for two-thirds of companies with a well-defined sales process, the win rate exceeds 50%.

Having a sales process is vital in selling successfully, no matter what the product or service is. For this reason, it pays to understand the basics of sales processes.

The Main Stages of a Sales Process

There are several sales process stages that most companies with a sales playbook have. Some companies have fewer steps, while others have more. But generally speaking, there is a standard format that must follow. These steps include:

  • Prospecting/Lead sourcing and qualification
  • Preparation
  • Approach/Contacting
  • Presentation/Demo
  • Handling objections
  • Closing
  • Follow-up

1. Prospecting

Prospecting is the first step in any sales process. It involves identifying a potential customer that has a need, which your product or service can solve. 

You also need to ensure that the potential customers have the necessary budget required to purchase from you. Just because they show an interest in what you have to offer does not mean they automatically fit your buyer profile. 

There are many ways that sales reps can prospect. These include keeping a record of everyone who fills in the contact form on your website, finding leads from Q & A platforms like Quora, using social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, attending networking events and trade shows, etc.

Your odds of selling a product or service depend on the kind of prospects that you have. If you have done an excellent job prospecting, then you lay a good foundation for selling. It’s no wonder that 40% of sales representatives consider prospecting to be the most challenging part of the sales process. So, finding the right leads and qualifying them is a crucial step when prospecting.

2. Preparation

You must research your prospects. In doing so, you are better prepared to meet with them. You also need to research the market. Study the information about your product and or services as well as what the competition offers. You should also examine the market prices.

Did you know that 42% of sales reps feel they don’t have enough information before making a call? Ignorance can put you at a significant disadvantage. 

At the preparation stage, sales representatives can begin to prepare a series of questions to ask their prospects. These questions will help guide the conversations later on. Your sales team can also start the process of gathering and preparing the initial presentation material at this stage.

3. Approach

Once you have determined whether your potential customers have a need you can fulfill and the budget to afford your product and have completed your research and preparation, it’s time to approach them as a solutions provider.

You can cold call them. But do bear in mind that reports show that only 2% of cold calls result in an appointment. However, email marketing has a return on investment that is two times that of cold calling, networking, and trade shows. So, you may want to use that to try and establish contact. 

If your prospects respond, you could set up a face-to-face meeting with them. This could be done in-person or via teleconferencing platforms like Skype and Zoom. You could also contact them via phone using platforms like WhatsApp. There are many ways to meet, be ready to use any of these. 

Use that first meeting to understand the needs of your potential customers. It pays to learn what makes your potential customers tick. And identify their pain points as well as how your product best addresses their needs. What do they want in a solution like yours? How is it going to solve their problems? And why is your product the best fit for their needs?

Also, bear in mind that only 52% of salespeople can access critical players. So, find out the position that your prospects occupy in the grand scheme of things. Are they gatekeepers or decision-makers? Will they connect you to the people who make decisions, or will they be the ones to have the final say?

The goal is to try and get into the heads of your prospects and understand them better. Learn what they are thinking and feeling. Know what it is that motivates them. 

Are they operating under a deadline? Is it the loss of revenues that pushes them? Do they want to be market leaders? Is it how they view themselves? Do they care about what people say about them? This discovery process allows you to come up with a solution that is custom-tailored to their needs.

4. Presentation

The presentation stage of the sales process is your chance to wow your prospects. Using the information you have gathered and prepared in the previous steps, you must show it to your prospects. It is your chance to lay out a compelling case for why your product or service will solve the needs of your potential customer.

If presentations are done either face-to-face or via video conferencing platforms, what matters is you are fully prepared with the information your prospects need. You must come across as a trustworthy expert interested in helping them find solutions rather than a salesperson looking to make a quick buck.

You may also need to demonstrate how your product or service will work in reality. That will help prospects visualize themselves using it. So, be prepared to do that to ensure there are no hiccups that could cost you a sale.

Once you are done making a presentation, do consider issuing a proposal. The proposal helps to push the potential customer to decide whether to buy your product or consider buying it later.

5. Handling objections

Handling objections is a crucial stage of the sales process because it allows you to settle your prospects’ fears concerning your product. Objections may happen while you are presenting or right after.  They also occur afterward while the prospect is reviewing your proposal.

It is your job to ensure all questions or concerns your prospects ask are answered to their satisfaction. It pays to keep track of the frequently raised objects so that every member of the sales team can have the answers at their fingertips. Some of the objections may not come up often, but if the sales reps followed the previous sales process steps and did their research, they will be able to answer them satisfactorily.

Your entire sales team must learn how to listen to potential customers actively. Actively listening will help them show empathy when necessary. It will also help them address any unvoiced fears the prospects may have, without rushing or pressuring them to buy when they are not ready.

Your team may have to ask more questions to get to the root of that matter. But that is okay. A prospect with no more objections is more likely to buy your product or service than one who still has issues that you have not dealt with.

6. Closing

About 47% of salespeople fail to meet their quotas. Closing is an art form that every sales representative must master to be effective at selling. You must know what to say, how to say it, and when to say it to turn your potential customers into paying ones.

To move forward with a sale, you need to ensure that your team uses the right closing technique. There are several options you have in this regard:

  • You could try to close a deal by creating a sense of urgency. This is known as the standing room only close. You can do this by letting the prospect know that you are offering a special deal for a limited time only. For example: “This offer of $99 for the entire system only lasts for six days!”
  • You could offer an inducement for the prospect to push them to buy when you make the offer. This is known as the extra inducement close. This could be something free or on offer for a discount. For example: “Would you like to buy this subscription service today. It’s free for the first month!”
  • You could give the prospects two options, which both lead to a deal regardless of their choice. This is known as the alternative choice close. For example: “So, would you like to buy this elliptical machine for cash or in installments?”

Do what you need to sell your product or service. Sometimes, that may mean being open to negotiations on the final price. Try and find out beforehand how much leeway you have concerning the selling price. 

You should also discuss the terms and conditions of order fulfillment, product returns, and product delivery during the close. Everything should be included in your buyer-seller contract. Remember to thank prospects for their business.

Typically, it takes anywhere from 40-97 days to close a deal. Besides, it takes an average of five follow-ups before a salesperson can close a deal. So, be patient and continue to gently push your prospect towards a sale if your first few attempts to close don’t work.

7. Follow-up

A sale doesn’t mean the end of your relationship with a customer. You need to think of it as the beginning of a long-term relationship. Follow-up is the final stage of a sales process that marks the beginning of that relationship.

Stay in contact with your customer through emails, industry news, and social media posts as a way of nurturing your relationships. That makes it easier for you to resell a product, launch a new product, or get referrals. In return, you can appreciate those customers by periodically sending them early-bird offers at a discount and including them in your reward programs.

Your sales team can have fewer or more stages in the sales process. It depends on the ease of selling your product or service. But having the basic knowledge of what is expected of everyone at each stage of the selling process will ensure your sales team can close more deals. So, get started today on creating and refining your sales process.

Originally published Dec 1, 2020 1:00:00 PM, updated Dec 1, 2020