Vice President of Sales at Copper
Be honest: when’s the last time you reviewed your sales process?
Sure, you should have the freedom to take advantage of your individual strengths and incorporate those into your style of selling.
However, totally freestyling your sales process is a recipe for chaos.
Why? Because sales requires structure.
Consider that the average salesperson only spends one-third of their time on activities that actually result in revenue.
There’s a lot of room for lost deals and wasted time in your schedule if you don’t have a game plan to stick to.
That’s exactly why it’s important to have a well-defined sales process for your company that’s focused on consistently closing deals and building relationships.
And in this step-by-step guide, we’ll show you what that process looks like from A to Z.
What is a sales process?
Whether you realize it or not, you probably already have some sort of sales process in place already.
You spend your time prospecting, reaching out to leads, and closing deals, right?
And you have your daily sales activities such as calls, follow-up emails, and meetings to make those deals happen.
A sales process is simply a defined roadmap of those big-picture tasks and day-to-day activities.
Rather than wonder what your next steps are to close a deal, having a sales process guides you from Point A to Point B with every prospect, lead, and customer. This helps you focus on the tasks and deadlines coming up, and empowers you to spend your time more productively—and close more deals.
Why your sales process matters so much
Listen: the purpose of your sales process isn’t to stifle your creativity or put yourself into a box when it comes to selling.
After all, no two salespeople or prospects are the same. Selling is dynamic.
That’s why having a sales process is so important.
Every prospect wants different things, and having a sales process helps you figure out what your prospects want and work toward that, from prospecting and qualifying to meeting and closing.
And again, a sales process is key to reining in your schedule.
By knowing exactly what your customer journey and sales cycle look like, you can spend less time with tire-kickers and more time having meaningful conversations with potential customers.
This also leaves fewer question marks in your schedule as you can prioritize leads, follow-ups, and other sales tasks more confidently.
If nothing else, having a sales process makes it much easier to onboard new employees. Rather than let your fresh hires fly blindly when trying to sell your product or service, they’ll know exactly what they need to do to close someone.
6 steps of an effective sales process
If your sales process feels like a free-for-all—or doesn’t seem to exist at all—don’t panic.
Below is a breakdown of the six key steps in an effective sales process and the specific tasks required to move your future customers forward in each step.
This process can be adapted for any type of business or any size sales team (regardless of what you’re selling).
1. Prospecting (identifying potential customers)
Figuring out the right people to sell to is the first step of any sales process.
It’s also a huge hurdle for most salespeople.
According to a recent Richardson report, prospecting is the number one sales challenge—grabbing the attention of potential customers is getting tougher and tougher.
Meanwhile, data from Salesforce says that the average salesperson spends up to one-third of their time researching prospects when they’re not actively selling. The thing is, this research is absolutely necessary for personalizing the sales experience and getting to know your customers.
So, how can you get around this?
Much of the struggle behind prospecting comes down to time management. In other words, you need to stick to prospecting activities that are actually useful.
So, where should you start your hunt for prospects to kick off your sales process?
The Salesforce report we mentioned earlier notes that social media, networking events, and referrals represent the top three prospecting channels today. In terms of your day-to-day sales activities, that means you might want to focus on:
- Social selling, or reaching out to and researching prospects via social media channels like LinkedIn or Twitter
- Following up with in-person leads, such as those from a recent trade show or conference
- Asking for referrals, or reaching out to current customers to uncover new customers
In our guide to prospecting best practices, we suggest dedicating a portion of your day to identifying and reaching out to prospects. Doing so guarantees that you keep your pipeline full of leads and consistently hones your selling skills.
There are also tons of prospecting tools out there to speed up tedious tasks like finding a prospect’s email address or identifying potential candidates for cold outreach.
One of the most important tools for prospecting and your sales process is your CRM.
For example, tools like Copper can help you identify the behaviors and demographics of your current customers. If you have these data points, identifying sales targets becomes much less of a guessing game.
CRM data also allows you to clearly define what real-life customers look like at a glance, making it easier to build out your customer personas as you research your prospects.
Putting together a comprehensive audience profile is a great exercise not only for yourself, but also for anyone else in your company who’s responsible for talking to customers.
We actually have our own template to define your ideal customer persona based on your company’s target audience.
Once you’ve identified a prospect, the next step in your sales process is to make contact.
Connecting (reaching out)
The outreach stage is often a stressful one.
Salespeople obviously want to make the most of their valuable time and resources, not wasting them on people who have no interest in buying.
And then there’s the anticipation of whether or not your prospects will actually respond to your messages.
The key to conducting effective outreach is personalization. Note that 75% of buyers expect businesses to anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before making contact.
Translation? Your emails, phone calls, and social media messages all require context that signals why you’re reaching out and what you can do to solve your prospects’ problems.
That’s why doing your homework and researching your prospects is critical for figuring who’s worth reaching out to and how to craft your sales pitch.
By using a CRM that’s integrated with your inbox, you can easily personalize and streamline your outreach without having to waste valuable time. This means reaching out to more prospects without having to do any extra, unnecessary work.
For starters, email templates are a great way to save yourself from having to type emails from scratch over and over again.
You can create them in Gmail yourself, or you could use a CRM that’s integrated with an email platform, like Copper (which allows you to create and save email templates directly in Gmail).
Let’s say you have an outreach pitch that’s gotten a lot of responses in the past. Rather than type it again or copy-and-pasting it into a new message, you can instantly pull it up and personalize it based on your previous interactions with the prospect you’re sending it to:
Since Copper automatically detects and logs the key details of your contacts (think: company name and role), the details you need to personalize your outreach are automatically filled in.
Within the Copper app, you can quickly personalize your outreach messages and send them in bulk to prospects who are in the same stage of your pipeline (like if these are all prospects who you’re in danger of losing). This helps you avoid the time trap of writing tens (or hundreds) of messages one-by-one.
Learn more about how Copper can save you hours on sending emails!
When reaching out to prospects, it helps to have a bird’s view of your relationships and past interactions. Juggling dozens of contacts at various stages in your sales process is downright overwhelming if your outreach isn’t organized. That means knowing who’s who and what needs to be done to move each of your individual contacts closer to closing.
This is where Copper’s activity log and note-taking come in handy. Based on your prospects’ replies (or lack thereof), you can determine your next steps in terms of outreach. Built-in notifications and reminders in Copper ensure that you never miss a valuable touchpoint during the outreach process.
These reminders are a must-have for organizing your outreach, especially if you’re juggling multiple leads. This also makes it easier to establish an effective sales cadence, (essentially your pattern of calls and emails).
For example, let’s say a prospect doesn’t respond to your initial outreach email (because hey, many of them don’t). You might decide to move to social media to get in front of them instead.
Logging your outreach attempts within your CRM allows you to keep track of your sales cadence as you move from platform to platform. This serves as a reminder of what has worked, what hasn’t, and what you should try next in terms of outreach.
Your CRM data can likewise clue you in on how many times you need to reach out to get in touch with a typical prospect. Then, you can make those touchpoints manually.
In short, establishing this sales cadence helps determine whether or not someone is realistically going to become a customer or not.
For example, you should spend your time with people who acknowledge your outreach versus people who ignore you after multiple attempts. With an established outreach process, you can more quickly identify who’s a legitimate lead and who’s not.
That leads us to the next step of the sales process.
3. Qualifying (figuring out who’s ready to be sold to)
Food for thought: two-thirds of sales are lost when leads aren’t properly qualified.
Qualifying leads goes hand in hand with your outreach process—as your prospects respond, you’re tasked with figuring out whether or not they’re likely to become customers.
And ideally, you’ll want to figure this out sooner rather than later.
As you make contact and have conversations with your prospects, you should have an idea of who’s a marketing qualified lead (MQL) and who isn’t. Typically, MQLs are prospects who respond enthusiastically, request more information about your product, or want to move forward with a demo or meeting.
On the flip side, those who fail to follow up, seem indifferent, or have lots of initial objections (think: “Now’s not a great time”) might need some warming up before they’re ready to be sold to.
Remember that there’s also unspoken behavior that influences someone’s probability of becoming a customer. This includes repeat visits to your website, asking for lots of information, and otherwise engaging with your business online (think: social “likes” or blog comments).
There are obviously a lot of variables involved in determining whether or not somebody is considered a qualified lead. It’s important to keep track of these variables and follow up consistently. This allows you to qualify your leads faster while moving them along the path toward becoming a customer.
And when it comes to following up, a CRM is probably your best weapon. Again, you can create automated reminders and notifications so you never forget to get in touch with your prospects.
Meanwhile, the ability to keep notes on your leads can help you prioritize your relationships with those who are most likely to become a customer in the near future.
According to LinkedIn’s State of Sales 2019 report, 96% of decision-makers note that they’re more likely to buy from a brand that clearly understands their problems.
This speaks to the importance of keeping detailed records of your leads and considering how your product can address their specific concerns when it comes time to pitch them.
4. Pitching (getting your product in front of your leads)
We get it: coming up with a sales pitch can be daunting.
That said, doing so is much less of a guessing game when you’ve fully qualified a lead and know exactly what they’re looking for—and that they’re ready to buy.
You have plenty of options on how you want to present your pitch based on your own style of selling and the type of product you’re offering. As noted in our guide to sales pitch examples, most salespeople rely on a combination of channels and tactics to pitch their leads:
The takeaway here is that there often isn’t a “silver bullet” in terms of your sales pitch.
That’s why it’s important to review both existing and potential sales objections to give yourself a sense of confidence when talking through your pitch. Even if you’re in retail and don’t often get to have long conversations with shoppers about their objections, you should still understand them in case these questions ever come up on the floor.
Below is a quick breakdown of the most common sales objections that you’ll likely face:
- Pricing problems, including not seeing the value in your product, a lack of budget, or concerns over your product’s pricing versus a competitor’s
- Lack of trust, either due to pushing too hard or not taking enough time to understand your prospect’s needs
- Poor timing, such as reaching out during a busy time or an inability to decide on a date
- Competitor concerns, such as switching from a competing product or showing interest in one of your competitors
- Approval issues, specifically their inability to make a buying decision themselves (maybe they need to convince their boss—or mom, or dad, or supervisor)
- Product limitations, such as a competing product having a built-in feature which your own product lacks (for example, a competitor’s tool doing something automatically which your tool requires users to do manually)
Once you’re able to identify and come up with solutions to these concerns, the pitching process seems like much less of a pain.
Use your CRM to help figure out the best way to pitch your product or service.
For example, reporting in Copper can identify everything from how long it takes to pitch a typical customer to what sort of activities or deliverables resulted in successful pitches (think: demos, follow-up calls, etc).
Actually scheduling a pitch can also be a hassle. You haven’t even gotten to the pitch yet—don’t make this part harder than it has to be. If you’re using a tool that has a meeting scheduler, like in Copper, you can let your contacts book meetings right in your calendar without emailing back and forth to choose a time:
And as is the case with every step of your sales process, logging notes and interactions is essential. Remember what we said earlier about some deals taking months?
Don’t lose track of your most valuable interactions with potential customers. Use a tool that puts them front and center for you. This is especially valuable in the case that you need to work with someone else on your team or have multiple people involved with closing a deal:
5. Closing (turning your lead into a customer)
This is arguably the most important step in your sales process.
Because whether or not you’re able to close deals determines whether or not you get paid.
And although some people might see prospecting as the top challenge in sales, 36% of salespeople say that closing is their kryptonite.
As noted by the previously mentioned LinkedIn report, trust is the number one factor in closing a deal. If your leads have any sense of doubt or mistrust, you’re fighting an uphill battle.
That means being upfront when it comes to payment, specific features, and discounts behind what you’re offering. If you’ve been managing your relationships with a CRM, keeping track of these details makes it much easier, say, when you’re putting together a proposal:
Consider that once you’ve gained someone’s trust and they’re ready to be sold to, you can’t sleep on your final proposal.
That’s why we recommend having a sales proposal template on hand that you can instantly personalize based on your individual customers.
Features in Copper and integrations such as PandaDoc allow you to speed up the process of putting together a compelling proposal that scores signatures.
For example, Copper allows you to measure the performance of your existing proposal templates and automatically follow up with decision-makers. Enabling electronic signatures and built-in payment options make the process of closing quick and easy for your customers, with no lengthy back-and-forth required.
Note that the longer you wait to close a deal, the more likely you are to lose out on your opportunities.
For more information on how to seal the deal faster and close more customers, check out our guide that we created with PandaDoc. This step-by-step breakdown teaches you how to do everything from overcoming objections to coming up with a winning proposal and more.
As a side note, bear in mind that even your lost opportunities can be valuable in the long-run.
For example, you might discover issues with your product or pricing structure that are turning customers away. Although you definitely want to win as many deals as possible, lost deals are useful learning experiences that can help you improve your sales process over time.
6. Growing (nurturing your relationship after the sale)
You might think that the sales process ends once you’ve closed a customer.
Your customer relationships are long-term commitments. Note that it costs less to retain customers than it does it seek out new ones.
Also, long-term customers are more likely to spend more money and refer new business to you if they’re satisfied with your product.
If you want to build customer loyalty while also generating more sales over time, here are a few ideas:
- Ask for referrals to give your prospecting efforts a boost (hint: back to step one of your sales process)
- Ask for customer feedback in the form of surveys or testimonials, and learn how to improve your customer experience
- Upsell and cross-sell with new offers and products based on your customer’s needs
- Provide support and interact with customers via social media
Again, all of these touchpoints and interactions can be stored in your CRM to uncover new opportunities and ensure that your customer relationships are healthy. For example, you can set automated reminders to follow up with customers you haven’t heard from within 90 days, six months, and so on.
How do you know if your sales process is working?
Good question! And a surprisingly straightforward one, too.
For the most part, figuring out the effectiveness of your sales process just requires a little digging into your data.
For example, how long does it typically take to close a customer? Which sales activities are best for moving leads through your funnel toward becoming a customer?
The good news is that your sales data is easy to come by if you’re using a CRM, and these reports are the best way to determine what’s working and what isn’t.
For example, if you’re getting tons of leads to the pitching stage but aren’t closing many of them, you might have an issue in the qualifying stage. As a result, it might make more sense to spend longer qualifying leads or rethink the questions you ask them to ensure that they’re actually ready to be pitched to.
Reporting can help you spot bottlenecks in your pipeline and see which parts of your sales process need to be tuned up.
They can also help you figure out your priorities instead of guessing what they should be. For example, Copper shows you which opportunities, deals, and sales activities are the most valuable based on your actual customer data:
Reporting also determines whether or not you’re meeting your sales quotas on a consistent basis. For example, let’s say you’re trying to achieve a goal such as a certain number of calls or emails sent per day by you and your team. Copper keeps track of that automatically:
As part of tracking sales performance, you can also dig into the individual data of how long you’re spending on projects and tasks.
If your time spent isn’t resulting in any sort of significant ROI, you might consider changing up your tasks. Here’s an example of time and productivity tracking in Hubstaff, a useful tool that monitors employee activities and reports on how individual team members spend their time.
Ultimately, the big-picture question you need answered is this: is my sales process resulting in consistent revenue and growth?
Close deals more efficiently by automating your sales process
Now that we’ve broken down the essential steps of a sales process, it’s time to consider the next step in scoring more sales.
As highlighted throughout our guide, so much of your sales process can be streamlined and automated with the help of CRM.
Perhaps the most important area where automation can be a game-changer is your lead management process.
From learning more about individual leads to moving them through your funnel, much of the heavy lifting can be done by automating tedious, time-consuming tasks. This includes data entry, manual replies, and then some.
In fact, we recently put together a guide that highlights how to automate your lead management process to win more deals and while building more meaningful relationships with your customers at the same time.
And regardless of what your current sales process looks like, you can use the steps above and tools such as Copper to make sure you’re effectively moving people through your funnel.