Unless your product literally sells itself, you’ve likely broken your sales process down into a number of segments. While your particular sales cycle may vary depending on your firm’s needs and offerings, the six basic elements are:
- Getting the appointment
- Answering objections
- Follow up
Creating templates and checklists for your sales representatives can streamline their sales process. Realistically, a sales cycle consisting of 5 or 6 steps such as the one above can leave a lot of questions unanswered, and ultimately leads to underperformance from your sales force. Additionally, when it comes time to answer objections, is your sales force trained to also listen to a client’s needs and watch for opportunities? Conduct some research among your team, and find their pressure points or what most leads complain about, and develop answers to those complaints. If your prospects see your sales force as confident problem solvers, they’re more likely to keep the conversation going.
During the follow-up process, are there different activities assigned to closing an account versus putting the client back in the funnel for further sales contact? Some Sales processes include activities like a thank you gift or promotional packet in the final steps to seal the deal.
A ten-step sales process
You can add more opportunities for your team to excel and outpace the competition by adding extra steps to your overall sales plan.
A ten-step sales plan creates more opportunities for your sales team to engage with clients competitively.
- Research your target audience
- Create awareness
- Prospect for leads
- Get an appointment
- Deliver a presentation
- Handling objections
- Follow up and get referrals
Creating a more detailed, ten-step sales plan provides several benefits:
- Dovetail Sales with Marketing, creating opportunities for communication and idea generation.
- It expands your to-do’s and checklists so that salespeople are reminded to follow through with activities they might otherwise forget or skip.
- Develop critical projects like audience research and preparation, which are often conducted hastily to a company’s detriment.
- It helps you create more tools for your sales force, allowing them to respond to sales signals and customize activities for clients appropriately.
Now let’s take each of these ten steps and look for ways to refine the process even further.
Qualify your Audience. Who’s really in your market?
Typically, audience research is done by the sales team as they prepare to conduct lead generation. But it’s actually much more effective done as a joint project with both the sales and marketing teams. While a sales team is probably eager to dive right into a large pool of contacts, a good marketing team will be aware that identifying more specific traits—like age, gender, and personal preferences—will actually help focus everyone on the most likely prospects for your brand.
Grant Leboff, over at The Marketing Donut, suggests, “It is a more effective strategy to be a big fish in a small pond rather than the other way round. It will be easier to build your reputation and gain referrals.” Leboff suggests breaking down your market into segments – individually addressing each problem or complaint your product solves, and then painting a picture of your ideal customer from those segments.
As an example, a startup chocolate franchise knew that kids and birthday parties were a very large target market for their colorful, printed chocolates. They were spending all their marketing and franchising efforts on getting sales of 20-30 printed chocolates at a time, and an occasional gift basket order. It took a lot of time and effort to eke out enough income to even pay the monthly overhead for the retail store, the franchise team, the printing facility and marketing.
Fortunately they soon realized that children and parties were really a secondary target. The moms hosting the parties for their children were their core market. By studying Facebook advertising statistics, they learned that their typical customer was female, age 25 to 55, mid to high income level , physically active, and interested in healthy food.
The company created custom chocolates for breast cancer awareness activities, marathons and other sporting events. They courted businesses and corporations, and began touting the health benefits of dark chocolate. Almost immediately, they received an order from the Boston Globe for 1,000 chocolate coins imprinted with the Globe’s QR code. Ever since they re-evaluated their market position, they’ve become a successfully growing company with franchise locations in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
By getting really, really specific about who your audience is, your team will waste less time on marginally interested prospects. As you get to know your audience better, you may even see opportunities to create new products or services specific to their needs, and ways to position yourself ahead of the competition before you even make that first call.
Good branding helps your sales team
The chocolate franchise example illustrates how marketing and brand awareness can be an important input for your sales team. You should encourage regular communication between Sales and marketing. It works both ways, too—marketing people are often eager to hear exactly what the sales teams are getting back from prospects and leads in the way of feedback. Marketing wants to know: what are the most frequently asked questions? Do leads and prospects readily understand what differentiates the company? The more information and feedback the sales force can provide, the more specific and targeted marketing efforts become. And this is important, as 57% of the buyer’s journey is completed before the buyer even talks to sales!
Encourage regular communication between sales and marketing.
As Marisa Smith at The Whole Brain Group says:
“Make sure your branding and messaging are designed to attract the right people to your business, and that you’re giving them the information they need at each stage of the buying cycle.”
When used appropriately, analyzing social media can reveal a goldmine of information. In real time, it can indicate which messages and illustrations readers find most appealing, which website pages are visited most often and longest, even what time of day people are most likely to be looking for your solutions.
This is information that should be shared with the sales force—you can use it to find out if your leads are more receptive to calls or emails, what time of day to call, what problems they are hoping to solve.
Part of building a great presentation is developing trust and credibility. Much of the ground work for this needs to be done by your advance team, aka the marketing department. It’s really important for the sales and prospecting team to share what your leads require in the way of advance information.
Fishing for leads requires the right bait
Now that your marketing team has done much of your work for you, it’s time to put the filters on your CRM software to work and find contacts that fit your ideal customer profile. This is where you’ll experiment with different approaches to find what works for your customer base. Your first contact may prefer a phone call, an email, or even snail mail. You may want to do some A/B testing and see which method attracts the most responses.
Give your team some great evergreen material to share with leads—informational articles, how-to tips, maybe a newsletter. This is another place where your marketing team can step in and really boost sales success by working directly with your sales team.
Historically, sales funnel advice includes a step called “qualifying” right around this time. This is where your salespeople would determine whether or not a lead can afford your product or service, and whether they’re likely to buy it. But with today’s sales tools and powerful CRM programs, you should have already applied as many filters as you can think of to narrow your leads down to viable purchasers.
Instead, this is a good time to invest in learning the decision processes and timing of all your largest leads, so your team can plan a proactive process that catches decision makers at the right time. You’ll make bigger deals in less time.
Prepare for anything your prospects will ask. Remember, you are the face of your company!
Once you’ve got your candidate pool in place, it’s time for your individual salespeople to prepare for an in-person demo or presentation. This should be done before cold calling, so your people are prepared in case a lead has questions. Who knows? Maybe a CEO will have time for a chat, has a current need, and would prefer to make a decision right now while you’re on the phone with him.
It’s important for each salesperson to develop a “concierge mindset.” They should be prepared to answer any question with a positive, informed answer—or at least promise to deliver one soon. Salespeople should be trained to spot various buying signals and recognize what stage of the buying funnel the client is in. Are they price shopping? Narrowing the pool? Making a final determination?
This is a good time to make sure that your junior and senior sales staff are working together in harmony. Communication styles can vary so widely between these two groups that often there’s a disconnect unless you’re aware of it and make an effort to bridge the gap. Juniors will be umbilically connected to their smartphones and up on recent news and gossip. Seniors may move more slowly and be digital Luddites, but they often know the real dirt on companies and corporations—stuff you won’t find on the customer’s ‘About Us’ page.
This is also a good time to request practice performances. If your employees balk at presenting to bosses and associates, then you know they’re not ready for prime time. Ask your experienced salespeople to participate in practice evaluations as well. After all, what worked for the last ten years may not be pertinent anymore. And juniors doing ride-alongs may not have an opportunity to ask questions and bang around suggestions as comfortably as they would in a practice meeting.
Getting an appointment
Securing that all important meeting is probably the riskiest stage of the sales process. After all, your people have their lead lists, know their presentation material backwards and forwards, and are armed with every conceivable weapon that marketing can devise. But this is the stage where the sales team must make instant shifts in direction based on subtle clues during a phone call or networking event.
“Much will depend on how willing this particular lead is to speak with you at length during the cold call,” says Wendy Connick, an author for the National Association of Sales Professionals. “Some people will be brusque and eager to get you off the phone, so asking a series of probing questions will likely cost you the appointment. If the lead seems fairly open, try asking at least a few qualifying questions during the first call—that way you can avoid wasting your time on someone who isn’t a prospect.”
While qualification is important, this is also a key time to ask the prospects about their concerns and problems. Be proactive in seeking out ways you can help—not next week or next month or at a presentation, but right now. Even if the prospect is dubious that a meeting would be of value to them, find out if there’s anything in your armory of sales material or online links that would be valuable to them right now, and offer to send it along.
Keep your prospects engaged in your presentations
This phase of the sales cycle is critical. By this point, your salespeople should be well rehearsed and provided with plenty of powerful sales collateral. Connick advises, “Remember that the goal of the presentation is not to trot out your company’s credentials and finish with lots of technical information about your product. If the prospect’s eyes start to glaze over, you are in trouble. Usually the more interactive your presentation is, the more interest you’ll generate.”
However, making a presentation involves so much more than just reciting a litany of facts and benefits. Your team should be prepared to:
- Cue in on subtle gestures and body language
- Know what questions to ask
- Listen carefully
- Uncover information
- Address previously undisclosed client problems and offer possible solutions
“Prospects will often show that they have a question or comment during the course of your presentation. It could be in the form of a verbal, gestural or facial expression. When this happens, immediately stop and let them interrupt you. What the prospect has to say is always more important than what you have to say.”
This is the stage where a client may voice questions, objections or doubts. It may happen during or immediately after a presentation, or it may occur gradually through follow up meetings and phone calls.
If your sales team has been fueling the sales funnel from their previous debriefings, then you’ll already be armed with answers to most of these questions. Still, every client’s needs are different and they will almost always surprise you. Practice sessions with your associates will prepare you to think quickly on your feet, because your associates are likely to spitwad you with every objection they’ve ever heard.
“When you get [a question] that you’ve never heard and aren’t sure how to respond,” says Connick, “just say something like, ‘That’s a great question. Let me do a little research and get back you to you.’ That honors the prospect’s concern while giving you a chance to think before you respond.”
This may be your first opportunity to discuss things like quantity prices and timing with your prospect. Some clients are not very forthcoming during presentations, so you should also be prepared with a checklist of questions about their needs.
Assertively seek out ways you can be of service to the client, even if it doesn’t result in a closure this go-round. If they’re not convinced they need you, offer an a la carte option, or a customized market survey that will provide them with a benefit but also give you another chance to demonstrate your company’s value.
Close with a smile
Closing a deal is an art form in itself and requires a lot of practice. There’s the alternative choice—would you like this bundle or that one? The extra inducement—if you sign today we can give you a significant discount or extra service. And the standing-room-only close—a time-specific window of opportunity.
Trying to offer three options at once just comes across as desperate, so make sure you’re tailoring your closing appropriately for the client. Generally a special offer—one that’s not already a part of the proposal and presentation—should be held back and only offered to the most difficult clients.
Grant Cardone, author of The Closer’s Survival Guide, stresses the importance of being positive:
“No matter how the buyer responds, keep it light and maintain a can-do attitude throughout the negotiations. When you go negative due to the buyer being negative there is only one outcome and it’s not good. Negativity always succumbs to positivity.”
Debrief and refuel the sales funnel
Several things should be happening during the debriefing process:
- Look at your top performers and find out exactly what they are doing so your team can replicate it
- Input and review your sales performance figures and key performance indicators
- Decide where the client goes next in the sales funnel—processing, re-contact, follow up, etc.
- Discuss the possibility of upselling to the client in the future or revising the proposal to solve a different need
- Pinpoint the moment the client moved toward or away the offer—what were the deciding factors?
This is the time to ask your sales team if some steps and actions are either needed or don’t make sense for them. Let them tell you if they want or need improvements to sales collateral like a stronger, more informative website, more trade show support, white papers, or success stories.
Follow up and get referrals
Your company should have a robust follow up process. Make sure you generously thank a new client for signing on. Your thank you gift can be anything from a significant discount on a collateral service, to an impressive tower of chocolates. Whatever it is, make sure it delivers impact and is something your client and his/her staff are likely to talk about. This is an excellent time to suggest that you would like to help their friends and colleagues, and ask if they would like to recommend anyone you could contact.
When reddit became a customer of Fileboard, we went to their office to delight their sales team with doughnuts. They really loved it and have been growing with us ever since.
Gifts that the entire office can enjoy are ideal—the CEO may move on to other things and be too busy to respond, but his staff will remember you and refer your company to their contacts at other firms.
Get your prospect into their proper niche in the sales funnel and scheduled for further development, whether you’re just adding them to the newsletter list or remembering to invite them to the company golf tournament. Make sure to stay in regular contact. Your CRM software should be able to handle much of this scheduling automatically.
Finally, reinforce your value to your client. Don’t be afraid to laud your accomplishments and remind them how much money you saved them.
And of course, this all comes full circle back to your sales team. Make sure they know all about everyone’s successes, both when you close the deal and when you’ve finished the job. Let the sales team know all about it and run with it. This helps build confidence and trust in the company and makes for an impactful, effective sales process.