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Sales Process: How to Design and Manage a Process That Will Scale

According to TOPO’s 2018 Sales Benchmark, 60% of companies lack a well-designed sales process. That’s a remarkable statistic given that the sales process provides sales reps with a specific, prescriptive framework to manage opportunities from prospect to close. Without a standard process, individual sellers are on their own and the organization simply cannot scale. Moreover, a standard sales process is backed by data and experience which will result in higher close rates, larger average deal sizes, and shorter sales cycles.

What is a Sales Process

The sales process is a step-by-step roadmap for how a salesperson should manage a buyer’s evaluation of a product or solution. The process covers every stage from initial interest to final purchasing decision. It tells individual sales reps “where they are” and “what to do next.” It also provides sales leadership with a common foundation or standard that can be used to scale sales across multiple reps. In a growing sales organization, this is critical – reps need a standard that they can adhere to and sales managers need a framework that they can use to manage multiple reps.

A well-designed sales process has a number of attributes, including:

Buyer centric – The process should account for how the buyer wants to engage when evaluating a product or service.

Business objectives – It should support business objectives such as annual contract value, customer acquisition costs, and sales cycle length.

Simple – The sales process must be simple and straightforward so that sales reps can easily understand where they are in the process and how to follow it.

Prescriptive – The process should prescribe in specific details what salespeople should do at certain points in the sales cycle to advance deals.

Repeatable – The purpose of a sales process is to establish a repeatable standard that the entire sales organization will adhere to.

Visible – To ensure that the sales process will scale, it must be visible and understandable to sales reps and sales leaders.

Measurable – You should be able to instrument the process so that you can capture key metrics such as conversion rates and sales cycle length.

Automated – While you shouldn’t confuse your CRM for your sales process, you should use your CRM (and other sales technologies) to support the process.

Different Types of Sales Processes

There is no “one size fits all” sales process. In fact, every company should design a sales process that fits its business model and meets the buyer’s requirements. While every company’s sales process may have unique attributes, most sales processes can be grouped into one of three categories.

SMB sales process – Selling to small businesses with lower annual contract values (ACVs) generally requires a sales process that prioritizes speed, efficiency, and lower customer acquisition costs (CAC), as dozens of small transactional deals are typically being worked simultaneously. SMB sales usually rely on an inside sales team selling to smaller organizations where individuals can quickly make decisions. The SMB sales process is also highly repeatable, with every sales rep running the same plays and rarely deviating from the standard sales process.

Midmarket sales process – In the midmarket process, which is more complex than SMB, purchasing authority at the low end of ACV typically lies within one functional group. At the high end of ACV, purchasing authority is distributed across multiple functional groups. Sales cycles are longer and sellers often customize the official sales process in response to buyer demands. A midmarket sales process may involve inside sales or field sales, which is usually determined by the economics of the business, namely what customer acquisition costs the business can support.

Mid-Market Sales Process

Enterprise sales process – The enterprise sales process is the most complex, comprising many stages with multiple meetings (such as business meetings and technical demos) at each stage. Long sales cycles often require multiple resources from the sales organization and significant deviation from the standard sales process is common. Even so, it’s important for companies to still have a standard sales process that meets buyer requirements and drives sales people to achieve certain metrics.

Sales Process Best Practices

As you think about designing a sales process for your organization, consider the following best practices.

Make sure that your sales process provides clarity to sales reps and managers alike. A well-designed sales process provides visibility into the quality of opportunities and the state of the pipeline. Clearly stated process steps and exit criteria take individual opinions off the table, enabling managers and reps to communicate effectively on the best course of action for each opportunity. The sales process also enables more effective management and coaching.

The sales process should match how customers buy from you, also known as the buyer’s journey. While documenting the buyer’s journey has become table stakes over the last few years, very few companies match the design of their sales process with the reality of the buyer’s journey. Once you understand how customers want to buy from you, you can design and optimize the sales process to meet their needs and drive higher conversion rates.

Your sales process should also account for key business objectives such as conversion rates, sales cycle length, customer acquisition costs (CAC), and annual contract value (ACV). For example, a sales process that is too long will likely spike CAC, while a sales process that is too short will likely reduce ACV.

While a strategic sales process is critical, most sales reps think more tactically. That’s why you should develop tactical plays for each stage in the sales process that tell reps how to execute each stage in the process. For example, the discovery stage should include specific instructions on how sellers should conduct discovery, namely the questions they should ask prospects.

Clearly defined exit criteria for each stage are required for the sales process to be effective. Exit criteria are the things that must be completed before a seller can move an opportunity from one sales process stage to another. These criteria are essentially an enforcement mechanism that allow the process to scale across multiple sales reps.

Use your sales process as the foundation for training and enablement. The best sales organizations base their onboarding and ongoing training and enablement around the sales process. In terms of ongoing enablement, front-line managers must adhere to the process and must use the process terminology when working with sales reps.

A standard sales process is measurable and can be optimized over time. This is a critical point of leverage as sales leaders look to optimize key metrics such as ACV, CAC, sales cycle length, and conversion rates.

Manifest the sales process in your CRM, as well as other sales technologies. Many organizations confuse the sales process with the CRM – the platform for tracking, managing, and enforcing that process. In reality, the CRM and other sales tech is just a way to manifest, enforce, and track the sales process. This is incredibly useful, but is not the sales process in and of itself.

Sales Process Design

The best sales organizations design their own sales process, rather than adopting an off-the-shelf methodology. Common inputs include the buyer’s journey and the business objectives that a company wants to achieve. To design your sales process, think about the sales stages that sellers need to execute to:

  1. Meet critical business objectives such as annual contract value (ACV), sales cycle length, and conversion rates.
  2. Satisfy buyers as they move through the buyer’s journey from initial consideration to final purchase.

Common sales stages to consider including in your sales process are:

Qualification – The qualification stage requires the seller to qualify that the buyer is a good fit to buy the product or service being sold. Most companies have defined qualification criteria that the buyer must meet to advance to the next stage.

Discovery – The discovery stage requires salespeople to determine whether the product or service can solve their problems and positively impact their business. For many businesses, effective discovery is the most powerful stage in the sales process because the seller is able to learn so much about the buyer.

Discovery Methodology by ACV

Pitch – The pitch involves introducing the buyer to the product or service you’re offering. The best pitches also show the buyer that you understand their business and objectives. Put it all together and the buyer should have an initial understanding of how you can solve their problems.

Demo – The demo provides the buyer with specific understanding of what your product’s capabilities. Some sales processes require the seller to deliver a personalized or customized demo, while others are standard, off-the-shelf versions.

Consensus – In this sales stage, salespeople engage various stakeholders across the organization to influence the buying decision. The objective is to drive consensus among decision-makers, stakeholders, and influencers.

Trial – The trial stage is an effort to provide the buyer with some type of product experience (e.g. a free 30 day trial or a paid proof of concept) that is designed to prove that the product or service will meet the buyer’s objectives.

Proposal – The proposal stage requires the seller to present a solution to the buyer and get commitment on the primary business terms such as price. In many sales processes, this is the riskiest stage because buyers now understand the true commitment, namely money, required to adopt the product.

Procurement – Often regarded as a perfunctory step in the sales process, procurement involves the negotiation of less important terms and conditions and managing the procurement process. This can be quite complex, particularly in enterprise sales processes.

Close – The close stage is somewhat of a formality, but the best sales organizations carefully manage this sales stage to ensure that the customer is successfully handed off for a successful implementation or kick off. The best sellers use this stage to prep the buyer for cross sell and upsell opportunities as well.

For each of the aforementioned stages, you should provide sales reps with guidance on the following elements:

  • A detailed description of the stage
  • Buyer priorities at that point in the process
  • Specific plays that reps should run at that stage
  • Exit criteria that allow an opportunity to move to the next stage
  • The probability forecast for each stage

Taken together, these elements can provide sales reps with a sales process map that provides all the information they need to adhere to the process. This map becomes a canonical reference that drives seller tactics, the CRM, and sales enablement. It becomes the core foundation of how the sales organization.

An effective sales process provides the sales organization with a standard foundation that it can scale on top of. A data-driven process represents a proven way for sellers to manage buyers as they evaluate a product or service. It also provides sales managers with a way to manage a large number of sales reps. In either case, your sales process can be a key driver of revenue as it impacts key metrics such as deal size, sales cycle length, and conversion rates.

Questions about your sales process? Email our analyst team at analyst@topohq.com.

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