The sales process is very dynamic and can vary depending on customer segment, product, and several other factors. However, it typically consists of the following key steps.
- Prospecting: The process of generating sales opportunities from potential customers.
- Closing: The process of generating revenues from sales opportunities.
- Customer Success: The process of helping customers successfully use your product.
A well-structured sales process is an integral part of a successful sales effort. This process guides your sales reps on what to do at each stage and helps them to close more deals.
In addition, it can help junior sales reps or new hires onboard with shorter ramp time with a well-organized sales process by guiding them with best practices in each stage.
In this post, we'll discuss each stage of the sales process and the actions required to move to the next stage.
Prospecting plays a vital role in increasing sales efficiency by identifying opportunities among many potential customers, often referred to as leads.
Prospecting responsibility falls on Sales Development Representative (SDR) or Business Development Representative (BDR). Once the SDR/BDR has identified a sales opportunity through prospecting, they pass it on to an Account Executive (AE) whose sole responsibility is to close the deal.
The prospecting stage is broken down into two steps.
- Lead Generation: Generating interest in your product among prospects.
- Lead Qualification: Determining whether the prospect fits the qualification criteria or fits into the Ideal Customer Profile.
Lead Generation: Generating interest in your product among prospects.
To successfully generate interest in your product, you must define your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). For any sales team, having a clear ICP is very important.
That way, if you're making inbound sales, you can create content your ICP will be interested in. If you're doing outbound sales, you can target your ICP and increase your sales efficiency.
Lead Qualification: Determining if the prospect fits the qualification criteria or fits into the Ideal Customer Profile.
Only some prospects have an immediate sales opportunity. Lead qualification helps you prioritize your sales efforts among multiple leads. This can be done through various methods, i.e., calls, meetings, product demos, etc.
Three Types of Leads
There are three types of leads typically generated during the prospecting process.
1/ Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
These leads are qualified through your company's marketing efforts. They might not be ready to make an immediate purchase, but they're interested and may have done one or more of the following:
- Subscribed to your company blog
- Provided their contact details for downloading content/materials
- Attended fairs, tradeshows, webinars, and conferences
- Visited your company's site frequently or spent a lot of time there
- Signed up for a product demo or use a demo version
MQLs need to be further qualified by SDR/BDR before being passed to AE.
2/ Product Qualified Lead (PQL)
While MQLs are the leads qualified through marketing efforts, PQLs are leads qualified through your product. This is particularly relevant in self-serve or product-led sales processes, where customers can independently purchase and use your product without the help of a sales rep.
The definition of a PQL will vary by team and product. However, a common definition of a PQL is a user who has experienced the value of your product offers. For example, if a prospect using the free version of Slack hits 2,000 messages, the prospect is a PQL.
So just because someone starts using the free version of your product or has multiple users within an organization utilizing the free version doesn't necessarily mean they're a PQL. The key is to define the signals that indicate they've experienced the value of your product.
Like MQLs, PQLs need to be further qualified by SDR/BDR before being passed to AE.
3/ Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
SQLs are leads the SDR/BDR has qualified from either MQLs or PQLs. Also, SQLs include the qualified leads that the SDR/BDR generated through outbound prospecting.
In other words, SQLs can be viewed as prospects with sales opportunities, and they are handed off to AEs as described above.
If the SDR/BDR finds a lead that doesn't have an immediate sales opportunity but has the potential to become one in the future, the SDR/BDR nurtures the lead with appropriate sales and marketing activities over time. The goal is to create future sales opportunities.
The closing stage aims to close the sales opportunity (SQL) successfully, transitioning from the SDRs/BDRs phase and generating revenues.
An AE typically handles closing; however, sales reps conduct all sales activities from prospecting to closing in sales teams where the roles are not split between SDR/BDR and AE.
During the closing phase, the AE identifies the decision makers, conducts product demos, makes proposals, and handles objections. Once they've convinced the decision-makers, they'll proceed with the contract through the procurement process. If necessary, price negotiations are also done here.
You can use frameworks, such as the BANT and MEDDIC frameworks, to do the activities above successfully.
The Key to the Closing Phase: Finding Champions
While it's essential to utilize the frameworks above to get the customer information you need for your sales activities, the essential part of the closing stage is identifying a champion.
The champion is the individual within the customer's organization who best understands the need for the product and can work inside the organization with your sales team to persuade other stakeholders. They can provide insight to your sales team about the decision-making process, the goals and concerns of the decision-makers, and what it takes to close the deal, which is often challenging for salespeople on the outside to understand.
The more complex the product, the more expensive the product, and the harder it is to sell without a champion. Hence, the AE needs to find a champion at the closing stage.
Finally, AEs can also enlist the support of their team when they need help to sell individually. For example, if they're selling a technically complex product, they can bring a sales engineer to meetings and have the sales engineer answer technical questions.
3. Customer Success
The primary objective of customer success is to ensure customer satisfaction and churn prevention. Typically, onboarding and customer care are handled by a Customer Success Manager (CSM) and an Account Manager (AM). CSMs and AMs continue to manage the relationship by providing technical and emotional support while the customer uses the product.
There are four critical approaches to onboarding and managing customers effectively.
1) Provide Onboarding and Training
Onboarding is all about helping customers get started using their purchased products. Often, the product requires customers to change how they work, so it takes a bit of time for a new workflow to impact the organization.
It may also require training because not all users have the same level of product understanding and technical savviness.
The CSM should help customers by providing the necessary materials and training during the onboarding process so that customers experience the product’s value as quickly as possible.
2) Leverage a Champion to Increase Product Adoption and Find Additional Champions
In the early stages, all users will rarely be able to use the product proficiently, so giving champions the support they need to increase product adoption is important. Increased utilization of your product means it becomes harder to replace it, which is critical in ensuring that customers don't churn.
You should also find other champions besides the one you worked with during the sales process. If you only have one champion, any turnover/leave can harm your customer's product utilization. In the worst-case scenario, you could lose customers as their product utilization lowers after the champion leaves the organization.
3) Prevent Problems by Monitoring Product Usage Data
As a CSM, monitoring your customer's product usage data and preventing problems before they occur is important.
For example, if you see that certain users aren't using your product or are misusing it, you can communicate and provide them the support they need before the problem grows.
Of course, it's impossible to predict and prevent all issues, so it's also important to respond quickly when they do occur. For frequently recurring problems, you can speed up your response by documenting the resolution in the FAQ.
4) Generate New Sales Opportunities
AMs can generate new sales opportunities by understanding how customers use your products.
This information can be leveraged to cross-sell by introducing customers to a product they aren't using yet or upsell by getting them to buy a higher version of the product they are using and generate more revenues.
The goal of customer success is customer satisfaction and churn prevention. It's easier to satisfy and retain existing customers than acquire new ones, and it's a more efficient way to generate revenue.
Although the sales process can be broken down into a three-step, it can also be categorized into inbound and outbound sales based on how the relationship with the customer begins.
If a customer reaches out to your sales team first, it can be considered inbound sales, and if your sales team reaches out to a potential customer, it can be considered outbound sales.
Sales processes can also vary depending on whether the customer is a small and medium business (SMB) or an enterprise, and more recently, there's the self-serve sales process or the product-led sales process, which leverages products to allow customers to go from purchase to onboarding with no or minimal sales rep involvement.
Creating and Managing an Organized Sales Process is an Essential Part of Any Successful Sales Effort.
Various sales activities are required to go from prospecting to acquiring customers to satisfying and retaining those customers.
The more complex the sales process, the more people need to be able to collaborate effectively, and this is predicated on managing and easily sharing customer information that you acquired during sales activities.
It's important to diligently record and manage what you learn through your interactions with customers to build your sales strategy and persuade them. It's also important to share best practices and easily share the customer information you need to collaborate.
A customer relationship management (CRM) solution is essential for managing and sharing customer information. We recommend using a CRM to organize your sales process and increase efficiency.