Three Ways to Understand and Improve Your Sales Process

sales process

Your sales process is one of the key drivers of success for a business. So if you’re not seeing the results you’re looking for, now might be a good time to reassess your process.

In this post, we will take a deep dive into:

  • what the sales process looks like,
  • the stages of the sales cycle, and
  • different ways to visualize your sales process.

The Difference Between Your Sales Process and Your Sales Cycle

Before we get into the meat of this article, let’s define our terms. The terms “sales process” and “sales cycle” are not synonymous. Both terms play a vital role in selling, so it’s important to understand the differences.

Sales Process: The Steps Involved in Selling

The sales process refers to the series of steps that a salesperson takes to sell a product or service.

These steps usually start with the identification of a lead (prospecting). This might be done through website visitor identification software, cold calling, cold emailing, or another tactic.

Then, prospects go through stages like:

  • initial contact
  • qualification
  • presentation
  • objection handling
  • closing the sale
  • follow-up or customer retention

(More on this later.)

The sales process is typically standardized across a sales organization. This provides a consistent approach to selling. Executing each step effectively moves a potential customer through the sales funnel.

Sales Cycle: A Sales Timeline

The sales cycle refers to the length of time it takes to move a potential customer from the initial contact stage to the final sale. In other words, it’s the process timeline.

Sales cycles can vary significantly depending on:

  • the industry,
  • the nature of the product or service,
  • the customer’s readiness to buy, and
  • the effectiveness of the sales strategy.

For instance, a B2B sale often has a longer sales cycle than a B2C sale. This is due to the more complex decision-making processes and higher stakes involved.

Why Distinguishing Between Sales Process and Sales Cycle Matters

Understanding the difference between the sales process and sales cycle is essential. Each concept influences the way you refine your sales strategies.

Mapping out the sales process ensures that your team takes a consistent approach. That way if it works, it works every time. If it doesn’t work, you can more easily figure out what’s wrong.

You need to understand your sales cycle to track and evaluate your efficiency. It can help identify stages in the process that need work. For example, are potential customers dropping out at a certain point?

You can focus on these areas to improve your process. Ultimately, that will shorten the sales cycle and improve performance.

Understanding the Sales Process

As mentioned earlier, the sales process begins with prospecting. It ends with customer retention.

Let’s break down the sales process into its key steps:

  1. Prospecting. The salesperson identifies potential customers or leads. They can do this through research, networking events, referrals, and other activities.
  2. Initial Contact. The first interaction with the prospect.
  3. Qualification: The salesperson determines if the prospect is a viable customer. They assess the prospect’s needs, budget, decision-making ability, and other factors.
  4. Presentation. The salesperson presents the product or service. The goal of this step is to show how the product or service meets the prospect’s needs and brings value.
  5. Handling Objections. The prospect may have concerns or objections. The salesperson addresses these to ensure they don’t become deal-breakers.
  6. Closing the Sale. After handling any objections, the salesperson asks for the sale. This effectively closes the deal.
  7. Follow-up and Customer Retention. After the sale, the salesperson continues to maintain a relationship with the customer. This encourages repeat business and referrals.

The 5 A’s of the Customer Journey

So far, we’ve talked about the internal aspects of sales. But the customer’s view is the most important. A customer-centric approach is vital to an organization’s success.

Philip Kotler developed a comprehensive framework for understanding the customer journey. (He’s known as the father of modern marketing, so his recommendation holds some weight!)

The 5 A’s Framework

The framework is known as Kotler’s 5 A’s. The A’s are:

  1. Awareness. This is the first point of contact between the customer and the brand. If customers don’t know about your product or service, they won’t consider it. So you need to generate awareness through marketing.
  2. Appeal. Once customers are aware of your brand, the next step is to appeal to their needs and wants. This stage is where you show why you’re better than your competitors. This stage is about making your offering attractive to potential customers. Show them how you can solve their problems or enhance their lives.
  3. Ask. The ‘Ask’ stage is when the customer shows a deeper interest in your brand, product, or service. This stage involves understanding the customer’s needs, questions, and objections. It allows you to match your pitch to the customer’s needs. This deepens the relationship and builds trust.
  4. Act. This stage is about transforming interest into action. The easier you make this part process for the customer, the better. Make it as seamless as possible to encourage the completion of the purchase. That will also create a positive customer experience that leads to repeat business.
  5. Advocacy. The final stage is to turn customers into advocates. If customers have a positive experience, they will share that experience with others. In this way, your customers become free advertising. This leads to a loyal customer base. A satisfied customer is likely to leave positive reviews and make referrals.

Incorporating the Five A’s into Your Sales Process

Incorporating this framework into your sales process creates a more holistic, customer-centric approach. It’s not just about making the sale, but about creating long-term relationships with customers.

A sales team can implement Kotler’s 5 A’s by following these steps:

  1. Awareness. Your marketing team is primarily responsible for this step. But there are many things a sales team can do to complement their marketing team. Here are some examples:
    • Network at industry events, trade shows, and conferences.
    • Conduct cold calls, emails, or social media outreach.
    • Establish and nurture partnerships with complementary businesses.
    • Engage in social selling on platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter.
  2. Appeal. Your sales team needs to effectively communicate its value proposition. Be able to articulate how your offering meets the needs or solves the problems of your target market. You can do this with compelling sales presentations, demos, and marketing collateral.
  3. Ask. Engage customers in meaningful conversations to understand their needs, desires, and concerns. This could involve direct communication, customer surveys, or social listening strategies. Analyze the data to personalize your sales approach.
  4. Act. Make the sales process should be as smooth and convenient as possible. Here are some examples of how to do that:
    • Be responsive to customer queries and ensure a seamless sales process.
    • Tailor your sales approach based on customer needs for a more personalized experience.
    • Create a sense of urgency through time-limited discounts or special offers.
    • Encourage a purchase decision with regular, tactful follow-ups with interested yet undecided customers.
    • Address any customer objections or concerns with understanding and clear, persuasive responses.
  5. Advocate. Focus on after-sales service and customer satisfaction. Follow up with customers to ensure they’re happy with their purchase. Point them in the right direction to resolve issues promptly. Invite customers to share their experiences in reviews or testimonials.

Visualize Your Sales Process with a Sales Process Flowchart

A sales process flowchart is a visual representation of the sales process. It helps to make the process more tangible, making it easier for sales teams to understand and follow. It also helps identify bottlenecks and areas for improvement.

Your flowchart should include all the steps from prospecting to customer retention. Include every decision point. And remember, not every prospect will follow the same path. Some may skip steps or go back and forth between them. Your flowchart should account for this variability.

Visualize Your Sales Process with the Blueprinting Technique

Another way to visualize your process is with a sales process blueprint. The blueprinting technique covers everything from initial customer interactions to behind-the-scenes operations. This method is often used in the realm of service design and quality management.

The term ‘blueprint’ comes from the construction industry, of course. In sales, a blueprint serves as a diagram that captures the entire delivery process. It provides a clear view of the customer journey, staff actions, and support processes.

Components of a Blueprint

Divide your sales process blueprint into five components:

  1. Customer Actions. These are the steps that customers take as part of the service process.
  2. Frontstage Employee Actions. These are the activities staff members perform that are visible to the customer.
  3. Backstage Employee Actions. These are the activities staff members perform that happen behind the scenes.
  4. Support Processes. These actions or systems support service delivery but don’t involve direct interaction with customers.
  5. Physical Evidence. These are the tangible elements that customers interact with during the service process.

Benefits of the Blueprinting Technique

The blueprinting technique can yield many benefits, including:

  • Identifying bottlenecks or inefficiencies in the sales or service process.
  • Enhancing customer experience by highlighting touchpoints that might need improvement.
  • Facilitating better understanding and communication within the team about process workflow.
  • Offering a basis for process innovation and service redesign.

Implementing the Blueprinting Technique

To create a service blueprint, detail each of the components above in a sequential manner. Start at the customer’s first point of interaction with your brand and end with the final outcome. It’s crucial to involve different team members to make sure you don’t miss anything.

The blueprinting technique is iterative. Update it as your services, processes, or customer expectations evolve. With regular review and optimization, your service blueprint serves as a living document. It guides your team toward more effective and efficient service delivery. This enhances your sales process and customer satisfaction.

Flowcharts vs. Blueprints: What’s the Difference? Unveiling the Differences

The terms “sales process flowchart” and “sales blueprint” are not interchangeable. They each have distinctive purposes, complexity, and details involved.

Sales Process Flowchart

The primary purpose of a sales process flowchart is to visualize the sequence of actions that lead to a sale.

Sales process flowcharts are often simple, linear diagrams that show a high-level view of the process. They help salespeople understand the steps they need to take to move a prospect from one stage of the to the next. It can also help identify bottlenecks or areas where you can optimize your process.

Sales Process Blueprint

A sales process blueprint is a more comprehensive and detailed map of the process. It goes beyond outlining the steps in the process. It incorporates various facets of the process, such as behind-the-scenes activities.

Key Differences

In summary, while both tools to map the sales process, the key differences are:

  • Level of Detail. A sales process flowchart provides a high-level overview of the sales steps. A sales blueprint provides a more detailed view of the sales and service process.
  • Focus. The flowchart focuses on the sequence of sales steps. The blueprint includes greater detail on customer touchpoints and interactions.
  • Purpose. A flowchart is primarily used for understanding and improving the sales process. A blueprint provides a deeper understanding of the entire customer experience.

Master the Sales Process

Mastery of the sales process can determine the success or failure of any business. From prospecting to follow-up, every stage offers unique challenges and opportunities for growth. Leverage each step in the process to create a seamless journey for your customers. Adapting and evolving is the key to staying competitive and relevant.