How can properly defined sales process steps help to mitigate risk and improve revenue forecasting in your firm? This article aims to show you how creative management approaches can use a basic set of sales cycle steps can aid stage-gating of key sales decisions and improve predictability of your business and your sales staff.
Sales processes have nine basic steps. The real objectives of using well-defined sales process steps is as follows:
- It reduces the risk of long drawn out sales processes failing by keeping a clear understanding of the steps in sales process methodologies which hand-hold your buyer through the entire process.
- It defines a clear path for all sales staff from meeting the prospect right through to sealing a deal (and of course, subsequent maintenance sales/service).
- It helps to forecast revenue results based on what stage current sales are at. That is, previous forecasting data can start giving you projected percentages (probability of a final sale at each stage) that help make sales process management and your business development processes more predictable.
9 basic sales process steps
1 – Identify a new opportunity
The sales process steps begin with identifying new opportunities. This may be as a result of external sales lead generation, existing buyer contacts or cold calling.
2 – Make an initial communication
Make that first e-mail, phone call or face-to-face contact with your potential buyer. Establish what their current solutions are, if any. Always exude confidence – think of being more akin to famous motivational speakers when dealing with customers and use courtesy, assuredness and politeness in all your interactions.
3 – Do your research (i.e. find out all the facts)
Find all the facts about the company and person(s) in charge of purchases. Identify where there are commonalities between the buyer and your suite of product offerings.
4 – Develop an appropriate solution
Sales processes may come to a halt if you’re unable to develop a bespoke solution to target specific customers. The ideal scenario is that your off-the-shelf solutions are a good fit for the customer.
5 – Propose a solution
Put forward your plan and product solution to the buyer directly. Always have a plan-B solution in your back pocket. Weigh up all the various eventualities or possible factors which may put the customer off making a purchase. Have your answers ready with ready-made solutions. Of all the sales cycle steps this is where you should start to focus on the relationship building process.
6 – Let the customer/buyer evaluate the solution
Give the buyer time to try-out, prototype or evaluate one of your solutions for a set time. These steps in sales process methods are often more simply done in software sales where trial licenses can easily be provided.
7 – Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate!
Begin negotiations regarding discounts, bulk purchases, rent/sale options, etc. This part of sales process management will critically need to involve senior management if there are large financial decisions to be made regarding discount clearance/financial approval/etc.
8 – Administer the sales order
Once negotiations are complete, your sales process steps are nearly complete. All you need to do is write up your sales orders, review service level agreements/warranties, ensure all contracts are signed and start rolling out the product handover/delivery.
9 – And finally… Ongoing account maintenance
The very lifeblood of many sales processes is the recurring income streams generated from ongoing service agreements and account maintenance. Of all the sales cycle steps, this one ensures you build an ongoing relationship with your buyers, opens up the possibility of cross-selling new products and make their barriers to switching products more difficult to overcome. My article on customer loyalty and retention strategies goes into more details on various techniques for analyzing why you’re losing customers and how to hold onto a higher percentage (i.e. gain repeat sales).
These sales process steps are quite basic in their description. They can act as stage gates between each step where key decisions are made, risks and issues identified and opportunities and threats dealt with.
Similar forms of sales process management techniques are often employed in consultancy firms, large companies with complex sales cycles (e.g. selling products to government departments) and companies with major revenue risks (e.g. luxury yacht sales).