Beginner's Guide to Sales Processes (Plus Free Templates)
It takes a great deal of talent (or at least acquired skills) to be a good salesperson.
It takes a solid strategy to become a great one.
The best sales teams don’t rely on their gut feeling to win a deal. They don’t just work tirelessly in hopes to reach their quota - they know exactly how to deliver on the requirements, month after month.
To build a consistent revenue stream, you need to take all the guesswork out of your sales. You need a plan, you need a process - a sales process.
A formal, structured, repeatable sales process is what sets the top-performing organizations apart from the rest. It’s what helps them generate 28% more revenue on average and grow, on average, 15% faster.
In this post, we’ll talk about the sales process description in general and provide actionable guidance on how to build one from scratch (along with the free process templates to get you started).
First, let’s figure out what is a sales cycle vs process.
What is a sales process?
There are many ways to describe a sales process. Most organizations define it as a standardized, repeatable set of steps and the corresponding actions a sales team goes through to convert a prospect to a paying customer.
While the sales process steps usually repeat the buyer’s journey - from the first contact to conversion and repeat purchase - it is a common mistake to confuse the sales process and a sales cycle. Being tightly connected, they still refer to slightly different concepts.
- The business sales cycle is just a set of steps that replicates a buyer’s journey.
- The sales process, on the other hand, is a much broader concept that tells you exactly what to do to turn leads into loyal customers, including activities, methods, and tools you should use.
In other words, a structured sales process is a framework, manual for generating new business.
The default sales process steps
Sales cycles may differ depending on the type of business and product you’re selling. A B2B sales process cycle is nothing like the one used by B2C and the SaaS industry is in a league of its own due to a number of reasons (we’ll get to that). Similarly, an inside sales process flowchart will differ greatly from the one typically applied by retail organizations.
However, there are certain default, generic sales processes and procedures most teams follow to some extent. What are sales process steps? For example, here’s a typical 6-step sales process for B2B:
- Generate - whether it’s through inbound marketing or outbound outreach.
- Qualify - i.e. by offering prospects relevant content they would want to read/download or by directly reaching out to them and inquiring about business.
- Engage - presenting your offer, whether by showing them a pop-up with a product or conducting an in-person demo.
- Negotiate - handle objections and nurture the prospect into buying.
- Close - get the prospect to buy from you.
- Repeat business - upsell or generate referrals from your customers.
Many would also talk about the 5-step sales cycle, considering the repeat business stage a part of the post-sales process.
It’s important to understand that the steps within each sales process don’t always occur in the same order and might have a different duration. After all, you can’t expect every lead to act the same way regardless of what they are buying.
For example, if we’re talking about a single low-price purchase, a warm lead can skip most of the typical stages of the sales cycle and go straight to closing (and do so pretty fast!). So you won’t need to put any effort into engaging them or negotiating the terms.
High-ticket outbound sales, as in case of a complex IT sales cycle, typically require more effort and negotiations and can take months to finalize the terms and actually convert. SaaS business model offers another example of a sales process that has its specifics.
How is SaaS sales process different?
As mentioned above, the SaaS sales process has several distinctive features compared to other businesses:
- Freemium or free trial options (which make it easier to convert leads into the users, but harder to turn them into paying customers).
- Flexible pricing options, depending on product type and business model.
- Subscription-based model - as opposed to a one-time sale.
As a result, the SaaS sales process typically has a longer and more complex sales cycle and involves more touchpoints and decision-makers along the way. It mostly refers to the consultative sales cycle model - the one that prioritizes engagement and nurturing as a means of building a long-term relationship with the customer.
Yet, even if we’re talking specifically about the SaaS sales cycle stages, there might be serious differences depending on various aspects. For example, inbound leads might purchase after a simple nurturing flow while outbound ones might require up to 5 extra SaaS sales process steps before getting to that.
5 steps to build a sales process from scratch (plus templates)
If you’ve closed at least one deal, you should already have some understanding of what your typical sales process looks like. All you need to do now is finalize and document it into a replicable, hands-on manual, a flowchart for your team to follow.
Here’s the action plan to build your sales process from scratch:
- Analyze your current sales processes and their performance
The best sales process isn’t the one that is enforced but the one that comes naturally and is built around the way your business works. To start, try to understand the current sales department process flow and how effective it is.
- Map the buyer’s journey for every target persona
At the same time, take a closer look at the typical path your prospects follow to become your customers and match it to the existing sales process workflow template you’ve outlined earlier. Having the two aligned is vital for building an effective sales process.
Note: for every business, there are usually several customer personas that might have slightly different buyer journeys. This means you will need to document several different sales processes to cover all the possible scenarios.
- Plan the activities for each process stage
Once you’ve figured out your typical sales cycle, list all the activities that go along with each one of its stages. In addition to listing your current efforts within your sales planning process template, leave some room for experimentation, i.e. emerging sales methods or alternative engagement channels.
- Set goals for each step of the sales process
To make your sales process predictable, establish consistent KPIs for each step, including the conditions for advancing the prospect to the next step of the customer sales cycle. This will add clarity to your process and make sure all of your team members are working toward the same goal. Just make sure your goals are measurable and the KPIs are realistic.
- Allocate responsibilities within your team
Closing a sale isn’t solely the sales team’s responsibility. At different stages of the process, there might be other departments involved, from marketing and sales development to customer support/success and account management.
So make sure each involved party knows their role and works together with the others, understanding the sales process in general and their role in it.
Lastly, when creating a sales process, you can also include the sales tools you’re using - anything that can be used to orchestrate the activities at every step of your sales process - in the document. This will help you make sure your team members (especially the new ones) are aware of the available resources and can make the best use of them.
To help you build your own process, we’ve put together 4 sales process map templates (two of which are for SaaS sales process).
Tips for an effective sales process
There’s no denying that a solid sales process has a positive impact on your overall sales productivity and business success.
Yet, having and closely following a sample sales process isn’t enough to crush your quota every time. You need to make sure it is effective and fits your sales strategy and business needs in general. After all, a poor process can do more harm than the lack thereof.
But how do you know if your sales process is any good?
Here are some of the qualities of an effective sales process (along with the tips to improve it):
- Clearly defined and documented
If you want your sales process to be effective, make sure it is well understood and followed by all involved parties. To avoid any confusion, it’s best to have the flowchart for sales process formally documented and stored in your company knowledge base, where every team member can access it.
Make sure all of the involved parties - Marketing, Sales, and Success teams - know their responsibilities and strictly follow the process. Ensure seamless collaboration between them (as in case of lead hand-off) within your marketing and sales process flow.
Keep an eye on your metrics at each step of the process so you can pinpoint any issues ASAP and adjust your process for better results. Using the data on your performance over time, you will be able to distill the sales process best practices within your team and gradually improve it over time.
- Up to date
Don’t let your process get stale - regularly review your strategy and enrich your toolset. Always keep an eye on your buyer journey (considering your personas) so you can adjust and improve sales process once you see any changes.
Pro tip: automating at least some aspects of your sales process is a great way to increase its effectiveness too. For example, you can use Reply to streamline both your prospecting outreach and lead nurturing sales flow process. As a result, you won’t risk losing qualified leads to negligence, i.e. just because your SDR forgot to follow up or failed to engage them, and will have more time to focus on qualification and closing.
Sure, sales isn’t rocket science. But there’s still a great deal of science in it - from calculating your KPIs and measuring your performance to following best practices and proven techniques.
That is why having a solid sales process in place and closely following it throughout your organization is a must. After all, it’s impossible to build a predictable and scalable pipeline with an ad-hoc approach to sales.
Hopefully, these tips along with the sales manual templates we’ve shared can help you build your own sales management process template and win more business.
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