One of the best performances in the storied career of actor Alec Baldwin was his seven-minute cameo in Glengarry Glen Ross. His brief sales training included the A-B-C’s of selling -- “always be closing.” While many may disagree with the delivery of the message, the A-B-C credo left no question as to what the objective must be for anyone charged with selling. And while Baldwin’s character was memorable for barking “coffee’s for closers”, veteran sales professionals know that the A-B-C credo misses several critical elements of the sales process.
A sales process helps move prospects along a buyer’s journey. Qualified contacts are moved into a pipeline, where they become prospects who are moved toward a deal. Following a well-structured sales process can ensure that each prospect is guided along the buyer’s journey in a systematic and scalable way that builds trust, confidence, and commitment at each stage along the way. Research is invested. Questions are asked. Answers inform the next step of the buyer’s journey and progress is made toward a Yes, No or Later, and Why. A sales process can uncover new business opportunities and fuel revenue growth with measurable repeatability and scalability and a more efficient and predictable sales cycle.
Download the sales process checklist to help contacts become prospects and prospects become customers.
How A Sales Process Drives The Buyer’s Journey
Although there are different perspectives about what specific steps make up an effective B2B sales process, best practice involves guiding prospects through two distinctly different phases: the lead qualification phase (also known as 'discovery' or 'needs assessment') and the deal pipeline phase.
In this 2-phase sales process example, there are 8 steps of the sales cycle until the buyer’s journey is completed.
Phase 1: Lead Qualification. The lead qualification phase moves a contact or lead into a discovery mode with the goal of developing enough information and interest to advance that contact as a qualified prospect toward the deal pipeline phase. The key steps of the lead qualification phase include:
- Research – Find out who you’re talking to and the specifics about their market and industry.
- Introduce – Establish credibility, discuss their needs and what drives them, and offer information about how your solution can provide them value.
- Qualify – Determine where the contact fits into the buying process, and how they influence getting to a “Yes,” “No,” or “Later” decision.
- Learn – Ask open-ended questions that will provide information on goals, opportunities, risks, timelines, and budgets to determine deal readiness.
Think of the lead qualification phase as the opportunity to identify and nurture good prospects while diligently disqualifying those who are unlikely to find value in your solution. You don’t need to help everyone. You just need to help the right ones.
Phase 2: Deal Pipeline. The deal pipeline phase presents a solution to a specific need that has been identified in the pipeline stage and offers a resolution to the buyer’s issues.
- Present – Show decision-makers how your solution addresses their needs and delivers clear value, with an easy to understand presentation that can be shared with others.
- Propose – Craft an offer that moves the prospect toward achieving their goals with your solution, highlighting the most important features and benefits for their needs.
- Resolve – Answer questions and concerns about your solution and how you will work together, including pricing and service terms, to move them toward a positive outcome.
- Agree – Establish an understanding of and commitment to ‘next steps’ for both sides, and continue the cycle until the buyer’s journey is completed.
Think of the deal pipeline phase as an opportunity to engage and collaborate with prospects who are ready to explore the value of your solution for their business. Advance these prospects toward becoming customers. Reach an agreement that is beneficial to everyone, helping achieve business goals.
The sales process doesn’t always move in one direction. Eligible prospects can move from the lead qualification phase into the deal pipeline phase, gain knowledge through meaningful interactions that result in a decision of “later” (and “why”), and then move back into the lead qualification phase for further nurturing until the solution can provide value to solve the issues not resolved in the deal pipeline phase. This can be as simple as the need to push into the next fiscal year or waiting for a specific set of features to be released as part of the product roadmap. Always seeking to understand the “why” of a decision is a critical part of every sales process.
Improve Personas And Market Fit
Once a company has a product that can clearly deliver value, it must find the right target customers and the right place in the market. Implementing a structured sales process from the beginning can help to validate critical information and assumptions about your market fit. No matter how wonderful your solution may be, it is not for everyone. Understanding who is best served by your solution is an invaluable part of building your successful business. Rather than simply relying on instinct and assumptions, use a sales process to systematically gather data to inform your customer personas and market fit so you can shortcut your time to finding the right path to success.
The sales process will generate valuable data about market needs.
- How do your prospects make buying decisions?
- Who are the key decision-makers?
- What sales enablement strategy will help them better understand your value?
The reliable, repeatable steps of preparatory research and asking open-ended questions that invite meaningful feedback will quickly improve your understanding of who your customers are and what pain points you may be able to solve in their world.
Identify New Business Opportunities From The Voice Of The Customer
Incorporating a sales process as a cross-functional framework within your business enables collaboration around the valuable information salespeople will inevitably receive during their prospect and client interactions. This feedback from the sales process should be used to optimize your marketing strategies and messages, as well as inform your product development roadmap. A well-executed sales process can provide insights that identify potential for new business and new solutions that can open the door for a “yes” decision in the future instead of an endless series of “later” delays.
- Capture, track, validate, and share insights gathered from sales interactions with marketing and development teams.
- Create better messaging to resonate with target markets, based on relevant intelligence.
- Use customer communication to inspire the solution development roadmap.
Using the voice of the customer (VoC) to share communication between sales, marketing, and solutions teams can create efficiency and optimization for better outcomes and new business opportunities.
The book Never Be Closing presents the sales world dynamic known as The Stranger’s Dilemma, which breaks down how people are naturally conditioned to distrust strangers and resist attempts to be pulled into a conversation involving valuable information. Rather than building every sales interaction on getting the close, the authors suggest that the solution to the Stranger’s Dilemma is to provide value and be open about your sales objective from the very start. Rather than “always be closing,” the authors recommend “always be useful” as the new sales mantra.
Use a logical, forward-moving sales process that is grounded in meaningful conversations that produce intelligence and mutual value. By making every interaction specific to the needs of the buyer, and making sure the right buyers are being targeted, your company will have a scalable, repeatable framework to ensure reliable sales growth for years to come. Instead of living by Alec Baldwin’s advice of, “always be closing,” enjoy a cup of coffee while you practice the sales mantra, “always be useful,” as you work your sales process.