Every startup should create a structured sales process. Maintaining a consistent, scalable, and repeatable sales methodology is essential for sustainable sales performance and growth. However, there is more than one effective way to sell. 

Creating a sales process begins with understanding sales cycle stages, as each stage requires a different approach. Create a foundational sales process that works for your business. Align your sales process with your buying process. Then adapt the sales process to meet the needs and motivations of different buyer personas and solutions. 

Let’s dive into creating a structured sales process for your startup. 

Quick takeaways: 

  • The two main phases of the sales process are lead qualification and the sales deal pipeline
  • Lead qualification includes research, introduction, qualification, and learning
  • The sales deal pipeline involves presentation, proposal, resolution, and agreement

The 8-Step Sales Process for Your Startup

Every sales process will differ but should match the sales cycle stages for your business or industry.  The following process consists of eight steps, which are divided into two main phases:

Lead qualification

    1. Research
    2. Introduction
    3. Qualification
    4. Learning

Sales pipeline

    1. Present
    2. Propose
    3. Resolve
    4. Agree

Step 1: Do Your Research

Before attempting to sell a product or service, understand your target audience, market, and industry. Do as much research as you can to understand buyer motivations and where they fit into the buying process. You will have to make some educated presumptions. Fill in the gaps by asking questions. 

Before speaking with a prospect, be as prepared and informed as possible to ask educated questions. Make sure you know:

  • Whom you are speaking with
  • Why you are speaking with them
  • Why they might be a buyer
  • What you want them to do 

Step 2: Introduce Yourself with Transparency

A successful introduction begins with transparency and authenticity. The goal is to establish trust and credibility. Honesty should form the foundation of the relationship. Focus on the prospect — their situation and needs should take precedence over your pitch and your product.

When engaging in an introductory sales conversation:

  • State why you are calling and explain what you know about their business, industry, and situation
  • Ask informed questions — about their role, needs, problem points, and reasons for wanting to improve their situation
  • Focus on the prospect — demonstrate interest and keep the conversation going

Step 3: Qualify Before Proceeding

Throughout the conversation, determine if the prospect is a good fit for your solution. Ask questions at every opportunity to learn more about them, their company, and their issues. This will save your time and theirs if they are not an ideal fit, and will help with framing the solution if there is a good fit. Reflective listening will enable you to collect more information and confirm what the prospect is saying. 

Qualification should include verifying whether:

  • The prospect is part of the buying process
  • Their business issues are aligned with your solution
  • The prospect can move the process to a decision point
  • There is room for improvement in their current solutions 
  • They have the timeline and budget to match what you can deliver

Step 4: Learn More About the Prospect

If the prospect has passed the qualification process, the next step is to learn more about them, their organization, and their operations. Ask open-ended questions (i.e., the person must answer with more than a “Yes” or “No”). Pay attention to visual, verbal, and tonal cues to understand how the prospect reacts to your questions so you can respond accordingly.

To learn more during your conversation:

  • Ask “who,” “what,” “when,” and “how” questions to uncover their goals and issues, as well as identify opportunities and risks
  • Ask “why” questions to uncover their motivations for making specific decisions

Step 5: Present Your Solution

Present your solution to decision-makers and stakeholders, framing how it will solve their needs. Position yourself as the buyer’s partner, showing how you understand their needs, challenges, and goals. Demonstrate your value proposition to show how your offering will uniquely solve their problems.

One strategy is to position the buyer as the one actually solving the problem:

  • The buyer has an issue or challenge
  • With your help, they find the ideal solution to the issue or challenge
  • The buyer and their business realize the benefits of the solution

Step 6: Propose Your Offer

Present your offer to the buyer by addressing the identified needs, motivations, and challenges within their budget and timeline. Explain how you will provide value.

Your offer should also:

  • Focus on the most relevant benefits and features
  • Demonstrate how it will help the buyer to achieve their desired goals
  • Include a contract, terms, and conditions that works for both parties
  • Lead the conversation to a “Yes,” “No,” “Later” and “Why” resolution

Step 7: Resolve Any Objections

You might think you’ve presented the perfection solution but the buyer might disagree. Address the buyer’s objections or issues with honesty and transparency. Listen to their concerns and motivations. If the buyer is asking questions, then they are interested in your solution — they need your guidance and expertise to move forward.

Resolve the buyer’s objections and concerns by:

  • Answering questions about your solution
  • Addressing their concerns
  • Presenting a situation where they can use your solution
  • Laying the groundwork for a positive result

Step 8: Make an Agreement 

Get agreement on what specific next steps are to be taken, and which party will take them, to progress the deal to a final decision. Ask the buyer to agree on participation and commitment. If they cannot do this or express concerns, return to the resolution step as necessary.

At this point, you should:

  • Manage both parties’ expectations about what will happen next
  • Confirm the buyer’s commitment and action to proceed

Creating a Structured Sales Process

Every startup should develop a structured sales process that works for their business and their target buyer. The process should match the sales cycle stages, and should also adapt to meet the needs of different buyer personas and solutions. The key is to create a repeatable, effective sales process that enables sustainable sales growth.

Download the sales process playbook for your startup.