Design a sales process for todays challenging B2B prospects and increase conversion, get bigger deals and spend less time on the wrong prospects.
The original article was published at Daniel Nilsson's blog.
Google “challenges in B2B sales process” and you will be served with 14,500,000 results. That’s 14.5 million!
In the era of innovation and creativity in business, business models are changing fast. Each business has its unique challenges and opportunities.
The sales process, for instance, is no longer a linear development. Businesses are adapting to inbound marketing methodologies. Sales strategies that seemed set in stone in the past are being transformed thanks to technology, which has enabled businesses to reach and engage with customers in so many different ways. Similarly, the walls between sales and marketing have fallen; these teams now work closely together to close deals with customers.
Essentially, the traditional sales process has not only changed forever, it also needs constant innovation.
It is therefore extremely important for any business to find a robust and sustainable sales process design.
In this blog post, I will use my years of experience, insights based on research I have done, and reviews from sales experts to help you design a fail-safe sales process for yourself.
We will see how you can grow and develop your sales pipe by making sense of what you’re doing. Then we will see how you can craft a B2B sales process that increases conversion rate, helps you get bigger deals, and helps you close deals in lesser time.
By the end of my article, I will also share a useful template, some amazing sales tools, and tips and tricks to make your sales process efficient.
What is a sales process?
A sales process is the typical series of predictable events, or phases, required to sell a product or a service.
A general sales process goes through some general steps: Prospecting, initiating contact, identifying needs, presenting offers, managing objections, and closing the deal. This process is repeated in a cycle.
Having said that, sales processes are not static. The amount of change varies in degrees among organisations, products, and services.
But wait! Why should I define a sales process at all?
Why define a sales process?
Your conversion rate depends upon how you have designed and engineered your sales process. By understanding the process in detail, you can make it more efficient and add tools that will help your sales team close more deals from your prospects and leads. A well-engineered sales process will remove sales objections before the customer flags them, and create trust that will make the prospective customer feel safe enough to make a deal with you.
Tip: Make sure your salespeople make an effort to get to know the prospect's business better than your competitors do. When you understand your prospect's business, you are able to discuss and pitch a value proposition that is interesting and valuable to them.
Your sales team must understand your company's sales process well as that will enable them to identify which leads to nurture and which to ignore. This will help them work on leads and opportunities that can generate more value and revenue for the company. In addition, a well engineered sales process is able to attract the bigger and more important deals because it equips everyone with the tools to manage these high-value deals.
Tips: It is important for the salesperson to find out why, when and how bigger companies buy, and execute a proactive plan to tap them. Make sure this is a step in your sales process.
Sales people waste a lot of their time trying to sign deals that will never close. A great sales process will help salespeople and management to recognise a lost deal early. To qualify prospects – when you determine whether a prospect is a good fit as a customer, whether they are worth your time and effort – is one of the most important tasks your sales team can do.
Tips: Make sure that your salespeople are aware of the decision-making process of the company that buys from you, to make sure you don’t waste time.
Before you start
The creation of a sales process is not a straight line. It’s a lovely mess that gets more clear and straight, the more you learn from experience and develop it. The world or your business can change suddenly, forcing you to start over. If you did a good job the first time. This time you will do it faster.
Steps involved in designing a great sales process
Many entrepreneurs and new businesses make the mistake of thinking from the company’s perspective. Modern marketing principles lay down different ideas.
It says it all starts with customers. This is not only applicable to the marketing and sales department of your company, but also to the product development department. This may seem obvious, but in practice this is a big issue. We are generally egocentric and most companies forget who they are supposed to serve. Instead of talking about the customer, companies talk about processes and internal issues.
Creating a great sales process starts from the right perspective: the perspective of the customer. And while you do it, you need to answer the following questions:
- Who is my customer?
- What jobs are the customer trying to get done?
- What are their pain points?
- What are their gains for which they would be ready to pay?
- Does my value proposition solve their pain points?
- Does my product also offer features that will add value to their lives?
- What stories do my customers love to hear?
Answering some of these questions will give you a good benchmark to kick-off the sales design engineering process.
Now we will dive into the actual steps that would lead to creating an effective B2B sales process.
Step 1: Define customer buying process
Here’s a general overview from Gartner on how a general customer buying process looks like.
If you look at all the points, they are being driven by a customer-centric approach. You can use this Gartner idea as a template and think through your customers’ buying attitudes and define the main decision points.
It is important to do ideation at this stage. Involving your sales team is a plus. This will help you get valuable inputs and perspectives. You may also call some of your best customers to verify your ideas.
When you are thinking about the buying process make sure you ask yourself:
- What other decision makers are involved in this process?
- Are there several departments involved in the process?
- How do I reach the different individuals in the process? Some you may never reach directly and you will have to try to convince them via the people you talk to.
- How do we build trust and credibility?
- What are the different customer touch points?
Once you have identified the buying steps, create in detail what a customer does at each stage. Below are some questions you can ask yourself for inspiration.
- What functional jobs are you helping your customer get done? (eg perform or complete a specific task, solve a specific problem, …)
- What social jobs are you helping your customer get done? (eg trying to look good, gain power or status, …)
- What emotional jobs are you helping your customer get done? (eg aesthetics, feel good, security, …)
- Customer gains: Describe the benefits your customer expects, desires or would be surprised by. This includes functional utility, social gains, positive emotions, and cost savings.
- Customer pains: Describe negative emotions, undesired costs and situations, and risks that your customer experiences or could experience before, during, and after getting the job done.
Step 2: Define sales stages
Having mapped the customer buying stages, define corresponding sales stages. In this process as well, it is important to include people who are an active part of the sales process. Their inputs are often valuable at this step.
The sales process can have a variety of components. Here’s an example of the sales process for a technology company:
The process outlined above, however, is focused on the product and there is a risk that it has ignored the needs of the customer.
The second example given below is how a consultative sales process would look like for a company that offers solutions for other companies in a B2B environment. As you can see, there are six stages where a lot of time and energy is spent on qualifying prospects.
The third example below takes into consideration the prospect research phase and has added steps for how marketing can attract leads into the sales funnel. This is an interesting approach, which attracts strangers to the website. It is something that Hubspot has taken the lead in as seen in the inbound marketing strategy it has perfected.
My perspective is that sales and marketing teams need to work very closely together and really engineer and design the entire sales experience.
My critique of the process in example three is that the actual sales process has too many steps and it's not clear exactly what each step means. Sales people will find it hard to follow.
The fourth example given below is a sales process for a SaaS solution. The first step (to the left), Inbound/Outbound is to identify prospects. This is done by marketing through campaigns like SEO, email send outs, advertisements, collaborations, etc. Sales is also responsible in this step by doing growth hacking based outbound sales activities.
The second step, Education is customer centric, where sales people educate the prospective customer on how they can be successful in their business, tell them about latest trends and use storytelling to create interest. The purpose of this step is to create an interest and a longing within the customer for the solution.
Interest & Value, Details, Quote and Payment are steps taken to move the opportunity forward and to solve insecurities, answer questions and address objections.
The final step is Success Team, when the sales person, together with the customer success team, works to make sure that the customer will experience the values promised. This step is connected with the commission sales persons receive. If the customer does not continue to use the solution, the sales person does not get commission for the sale. This drives a behaviour where a sales person will qualify a prospect harder to ensure that the prospect is worth their time and effort. The objective of this step is to convert the customer to a fan that recommends the solution to others and helps generate new sales.
The fifth and final example is an instance of a sales process in which we have a partner that we want to create a revenue share deal with.
The process outlined below is one of the most successful I have designed. It worked really well internally as well as with partners. At the end of this sales process, the company had commercial deals with over 100 of the world's biggest mobile operators (click here to read more).
This sales process was short, to the point, and one that allowed sales people to easily understand where in the process the deal needed to be placed.
In addition to having a well-designed sales process, we had created tools for each stage that helped partners and the sales team to close big deals fast in record time.
Once you have created your sales process, go back to Step 1 and make sure it is truly aligned to your customer buying process.
Second, make sure your process is not overly complicated with too many steps. If you are reading this to redesign your current process or create a new one, make sure to make it simple and easy to understand. Once you have used the process for a while you can make it more complex if you see it fit.
Step 3: Define objectives for each stage
At this point, you have two important parts of your B2B sales process: customer buying process and corresponding sales stages. Now define the objective of each sales stage.
You need to answer the following questions:
- What is the targeted outcome of each stage?
- What is the goal and objective of each stage?
- What is a salesperson supposed to achieve during this stage?
For your sales strategy team or yourself you can make it as deep as you want. Once you have to communicate the sales process to the sales team, make sure it is easy and simple to understand.
Step 4: Define actions
Once you have defined what objectives a salesperson is supposed to achieve at each stage, you must define the actions suitable for each step. Clearly define the series of actions you need to take at each step to promote the customer to the next stage in the buying process.
Step 5: Define sales tools
Modern sales processes are not self-sufficient. Apart from a salesperson, they also need tools, tips, and tricks to hit the target.
For each of the stages, you need to identify the tools your salespeople would need to achieve goals. They must be equipped with amazing value propositions, referrals, discovery questions, success stories, demos, and presentations. Plus, it is also advisable to use automated sales tools as much as possible.
Here are some examples of sales tools:
- Qualification questions.
- Pre-written emails or email templates.
- Automated emails for new leads.
- Amazing sales presentations (If you want to know how to create one click here.)
- Product demo with scripts on how to do the perfect demo.
- Customer profile and persona guide.
- Competitor information.
- Customer references.
- Customer case studies.
- Conversation guides.
- Analysts statements.
- ROI calculations.
- Guides on how to meet customer objections.
- How-to guides.
- Email signature.
- Price list.
Step 6: Define marketing tools
If you are into marketing and sales, you surely have heard about Smarketing. It is a modern process of aligning and integrating sales and marketing process of a business. According to a 2010 study, this can lead to growth of up to 20% in annual sales.
That is why, while you’re creating a thorough sales process, you cannot choose to ignore the marketing part.
You also need to equip your sales team with some, if not all, of the marketing tools relevant for their day-to-day operations.
Here are examples of some marketing tools that are crucial for your sales team success:
- White papers.
- Blog articles.
- Publicly available presentations.
- Business cards.
- How-to guides.
- Customer Resource Centre.
- Online customer case studies.
- Company awards.
- Really good "About" page on company website.
- List of partners and vendors.
- Testimonials and reviews.
- Vertical/Industry Pages.
- Offline Marketing Collateral.
- Events both online and offline.
- Direct mail.
- Company/Product/Service Fact Sheet.
- Company folder.
- Branded Envelopes.
- Point-of-Sale Displays.
- Product catalogs.
- Digital reports.
- Customer magazines.
- Member magazines.
This tip can earn you millions – It’s all about speed
The key to great sales and marketing tools is that they should speed up your sales cycle.
They remove uncertainty, answer questions, makes salespeople more professional, etc. Make sure your tools do this.
Step 7: Continue to improve
Like any other organizational process, the sales process is another area that needs to be improved consistently to improve efficiency and enhance results.
As your sales team interacts with prospects, leads, and customers, they gain more insight into the target audience. Getting feedback from customers about all the factors important to the success of your business is also important.
Using all these insights and data points, you can optimize your sales process for efficiency and increase the conversion rate.
Example Sales Process - Complicated
Here is a great example of a complete sales process developed by SalesTechnik.
It shows how you can define your sales process and the pre-work milestones, customer buying process, targeted outcome, selling tools, and marketing tools around each step.
I think this graph is a good example of something only sales leaders will look at. Giving it to a sales person is likely to be counter-productive; it is too complicated and there is a high risk that it will not be followed or even understood. I speak from experience because I have made this mistake.
You can also download the PDF for a better view and reference.
Example Sales Process - Easy to understand
When we have a final result, we need to create material that makes it easy to train current and new sales people to understand our updated process. Below you have a clear image of a sales process that I have created as an example. I would educate sales people about our sales funnel and the different steps in it.
Below is another example of how to visualise and explain the same process. As you can see, it is very clear and to the point.
The image below shows the same sales process as that seen above, but it gives details of the core sales tools that should be used in each step.
You might think that the above sales process was created quickly. It wasn't. It was created after the first one was found to be too complicated to understand.
Do remember, it takes a lot of work to create a process that is totally connected to the customer purchase process and is also easy to understand at the same time.
Download FREE template Sales Process
As I mentioned earlier, here’s your FREE Template. I have created the template based on my research and experience in this area.
You can use this to create your own sales process and organize all the information and data that I had mentioned across the seven steps I have just outlined in this article.
Sales Tips & Tricks
Sales are never easy. Often, especially in Silicon Valley, many techies from product development teams assume constant meetings with clients and prospects are a way for the salesperson to have fun.
Entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel writes in his book Zero to One that sales look easy because the sales guys have worked hard to make it look easy.
For five emails sent to a prospect only one replies. And on average, it takes 21 meetings to close a deal. This means you need to attend a lot of meetings and send out a lot of emails. It is a numbers game and persistent hard work.
But with proper planning and organisation, you can make the process efficient. Here are some success factors on which your sales’ team success depends.
6 Success Factors Driving Successful Sales Processes
Factor 1: Assign a person responsible
Too many times I’ve seen management create sales processes that no one uses or actually understands. Assign someone who loves processes to constantly educate the sales team and improve the sales process. Make sure to constantly follow up, and help sales understand and use the process.
Factor 2: Implement IT tools to support the process
There are a lot of really bad CRM systems out there. Make sure you carefully select a really good CRM system and marketing system. Then add some great tools that help the sales team be efficient.
Factor 3: Find a sales manager or head of sales who is passionate about sales
A great salesperson is most likely not a great sales manager.
Why do some CEOs believe that a great salesperson can be a great sales manager? The skills required to be a great sales manager are not the same as that required to be a great sales person.
I have created a skills profile of a sales manager/head of sales below that you can use when recruiting. When you conduct hiring interviews, try to identify candidates who have these skills and shortlist them.
These are the tasks a great sales manager or head of sales should be proficient at:
Develop and execute strategies: The ideal candidate is expected to be able to create advanced and sophisticated sales strategies and execute them.
Coach team: Coaching the team is important to make a sales team successful and to extend a salesperson’s lifetime value. Better coaching = increased sales.
Train team: The Head of Sales must plan, build and execute training programs to help salespeople grow and develop their skills. Training should cover subjects such as sales skills, product, value propositions, storytelling, arguments, negotiation, etc.
Leadership: The ideal candidate should be a natural leader. They should not only be skilled at the tasks listed here, but able to encourage, motivate, and inspire the team to perform at the highest level.
Recruit people: Great at recruiting the right people for the team.
Sales process innovator: Understands the importance of a well-developed sales process, proper practices, and protocols, and continuously works to find ways to improve them.
Sales tools innovator: Understands the importance of sales tools in a more advanced B2B sales process and is a great developer of these.
Improve efficiency: Constantly finds ways to make things more efficient.
Understand customer requirements: Someone who has a great capacity to listen, understand, and empathise with customers and their requirements, and then work to find the best solutions to help them.
Cross-functional collaboration: Will deeply collaborate with marketing, support, development and partner teams.
Soft skills are personal attributes that make a person unique and help them succeed at work.
- Presentation and storytelling.
- Loves to learn.
- Helps people grow.
- Solid communicator.
- Creative problem solver.
- Relationship builder.
- Brings energy.
Factor 4: Teach everyone in Sales to create amazing value propositions
Shockingly, often salespeople don’t know how to create great value propositions. They’re too product focused or develop an egocentric pitch. But customers don’t care about egocentric pitches. They want to understand the outcome for them and don't care about the year the company was founded or its glorious history.
You can also learn how to create great value propositions using my value proposition course on Udemy. Use valueproposition coupon to get a 20% discount.
Factor 5: Turbo boost your process
If you take a hard look at your sales cycle and list all the ways you could save time, you’re sure to spot opportunities. The shorter the sales cycle, the higher the success rate.
Factor 6: Qualify ruthlessly
Being a startup, you are most likely wasting time on prospects who will never convert to customers. Create a rigorous internal qualification framework (be inspired by the BANT System) and dramatically improve the productivity of your sales team.
7 amazing sales tools I use every day
Tool 1: Hubspot Sales
Use Hubspot sales: www.hubspot.com
HubSpot Sales empowers you to take control of your emails. Have you ever sent a message to a prospect and never knew what happened to your email? Hubspot tells you if the email you sent was opened or not by sending you an instant notification. This means you can follow up the moment your client demonstrates any interest in your email.
Here are some cool benefits of using Hubspot Sales:
- See who opens your emails.
- Instant notification.
- Profiles in your inbox.
- Schedule emails.
Tool 2: Calendly
Use Calendly: calendly.com
While scheduling meetings with clients, numerous issues can crop up. For instance, you check your availability and create three time slots. You send it to the client, but the client doesn’t respond for two weeks. When they do reply, you have already booked the time slot they want with someone else!
Calendly solves this issue for both of you smartly. It allows clients to view your calendar live and book slots that are available without much back and forth between you.
I have added a Calendly meeting link at the end of all my emails to allow clients to easily book meetings with me. Also, when I suggest meetings with my contacts, I ask people to go to my Calendly link and see what time slots are available so that they can book a slot that is convenient to them.
Here are some of its cool features:
- Your client can see your available and booked slots.
- Syncs automatically with your Google Calendar or Microsoft Office 365.
- Automatic booking with a single click.
Tool 3: Zoom
Use Zoom: zoom.us
Apart from all these tools, you can also use Zoom to conduct web meetings. I love using this web meeting tool as it is really easy to use and connect with customers.
Why you should use Zoom too:
- You don’t need an app and can connect using your browser.
- Work on mobile too with the mobile screen-sharing feature.
- A prospect can call using international numbers as well.
Tool 4: Qualifier.ai
Use Qualifier: Qualifier.ai
Why is it so good? Prospecting and outreach can be really boring and time consuming. Qualifier.ai automates prospecting, finding emails and outreach, so you can focus on closing deals.
What do I get?
Qualifier.ai allows me to:
- Access a database of emails.
- Reach people both globally and locally.
- Automatic follow up.
- They also have a service where they offer a personal copywriter.
Tool 5: GetAccept
Get this tool: getaccept.com
Why is it so good? There are two reasons. First, if you have issues with your sales process where deals get stuck, you can use this tool to track prospect interaction and identify issues. Second, if you have a lot of customers and low margins you can use this tool to increase efficiency.
What do I get?
GetAccept allows me to:
- Send sales documents and track prospect interaction.
- Chat and hold video call with prospect.
- Edit contracts in real time.
- Sign contracts using e-signature.
Tool 6: Mailchimp
Get this tool: Mailchimp.com
Why is it so good? Mailchimp is super easy to use and offers beautiful templates for email send outs, landing pages and sign up pages for joining a newsletter list. I use Mailchimp to send content to all my followers. The best part is the automation – once a person signs up, an automated email flow starts sending them articles I have written.
What do I get?
Mailchimp allows me to:
- Easily create, design and send email newsletters.
- Add a sign up box to my homepage.
- Create beautiful landing pages.
- Set up and manage ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram.
Tool 7: Zapier
Get this tool: zapier.com
Why is it so good? This tool is the best invention since the creation of the car and airplane. It allows you to link your web apps so that they can share information, allowing you to automate workflows. I use it for automated social media posts, to get leads into Slack, for automated email replies and so on.
What do I get?
Zapier allows me to:
- Create automation for any app and multiple apps.
- Send automated emails.
- Set up task in CRM automatically.
- Create social media posts automatically.
- Send information into Slack.
- Update Google Sheets automatically.
The challenges in B2B sales are numerous, but by using the techniques I discussed in this article, you can create a robust sales process.
Of all the seven steps, it is really important to keep in mind the last one: Continue to improve.
While your product or services might not change, the rest of the world –markets, consumer behaviour, their demands, etc – keep changing and may affect your sales process. So, it is really important for you to keep updating the sales process.
I am sure you would have received a lot of valuable information in this article. If you have anything to add or any suggestions, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Presentation How to Design a Sales Process for B2B Sales
This article is based on my extremely popular SlideShare presentation on how to design a sales process for B2B Sales. Check it out below.