Forgive me for asking an obvious question, but: Do you have a sales process for your business or agency? Here’s another three, straight off the bat: If you do have a sales process, what does it look like? Does it work? Is it scalable?
The reason I ask these questions is twofold. Firstly, not every salesperson does actually have a scalable sales process in place, and secondly, modern consumer behavior has changed the way we have to go about reaching our sales goals, so that sales process may be in need of some major reworking.
Sure, you may be Old Skool and use a process that’s a little obsolete, but feel confident it can be dusted off and revamped, and for the most part this is true. However, there are several major points to consider that require taking a fresh new look at it.
However, let’s take a look at that traditional sales process first. If you work in sales, or in a related department, you presumably know this five-to-ten step process off by heart. You’ve been trained and coached for many years, you know the process you have to follow, and if well-managed, you’ll be measured against it.
You should at least have an outline of some basic steps and have a black book of tricks related to moving from one step to the next along the customer conversion path, or more importantly, knowing when to qualify out. You also presumably know that you don’t get to the next stage without concrete data gathered from the prior stage.
Let’s see how this classic process, meaning the repeatable set of steps a sales team takes to transform leads into prospects and move them from a stage to another to a closed customer, works (and the tools and techniques I use to help it along):
- Product Knowledge – If you don’t know your stuff, how will your prospect?
The acquiring of product knowledge for a salesperson means learning how the product features will bring the customer a benefit, and not how this features work. When discussing the product in Stage 6: Presentation, for example, the obsessive question a salesperson should think of is: ‘So what?’ All salespeople should re-learn the product features from this perspective and present them as such. You’ve got to know the need your offering fulfills and position that need, but we will come to that later.
- Prospecting and Lead Generation
Prospecting means searching for new customers. In some companies the salespeople do the prospecting, while in others they receive a list of prospects from another department in the organisation. Today, in a world of ‘Inbound Marketing’, the power lies with your potential customer, so you’ll need to work on a plan to make your online presence attractive. However, that a whole other fight for another day!
Like product knowledge, this step may seem fairly straightforward, but upon closer examination it becomes more complex. The key thing in prospecting is: what to look for. This means knowing the profile of your customers and where to dig for those people/companies than can turn into customers with a good success rate.
- Setting the appointment / Approaching the prospect – qualifying the prospect
This is the step where you begin to build a relationship with your potential customer. The approach chosen is very important. It can be a phone call, web conference, skype or if you are Captain Old Skool, a good old-fashioned visit to the prospect’s premises.
If it isn’t documented, it may as well never have happened. Calendar discipline and an active CRM here require detailed note taking, regardless of the results obtained. One thing I like to do is to have an online call and record it, but you’ll need permission for this in most States and European countries. Often I’ll say: ‘Do you mind if I record the call so I can concentrate on the conversation and take notes later?’ I’ll then farm out this video to a service like Rev or a freelancer to transcribe and summarise the prospect’s challenges and articulate next steps. This can cost as little as $5! While this may be considered best practice, the reality is that salespeople hate taking notes, which is why this hack has saved me literally hundreds of hours.
This stage is not common to all sales processes but it’s an essential component for social selling. For me it’s all about being armed with value-adding data and context before you ever speak to someone. Imagine knowing that your prospect has only just landed in their current role. That tells me that they probably want to make an impact, which is why you should be talking to them in the first place. Help them to help themselves be successful.
In addition, what if you knew that they had just launched a new product or have announced a series of new open roles that scream challenges around growth? Your focus now needs to be how to help them meet this expected growth. If they’ve posted on social media recently, read about it, comment, and take an opinion right into your meeting with them. It’s up to you to know as much as you can about their business ahead of time.
When you actually think about it, people are selfish and love talking about themselves, so knowing these elements is a great starting point to kickstart the conversation. While I have no formal affiliation with LinkedIn Sales Navigator, I literally live on this tool and at $80/ month it’s a real no-brainer.
- Meeting - Needs assessment – qualifying the prospect
This is considered by most specialists to be the most important step of the sales process because it allows the salesperson to determine how you can truly help and, as a consequence, sell to the prospect’s needs. This step requires asking lots of good questions and listening carefully. You also complete your research mentioned at Step 4. Beyond intelligence gathering, it will be important to find out who’s who in the prospect’s company and how decisions are taken.
Any sales coaching worth its salt stipulates that if you have done a good job at Stage 5, you can prepare a tailored presentation to your audience and make it interactive, but the bottom line is it’s got to be tailored and highly-relevant to their problem set and thus map out your unique solution to this.
The input from Step 1 also becomes crucial here for, in this presentation, salespeople don’t have to be very technical and just talk about features, but can help the prospect find a solution to his/her problems or their company’s problems.
During this stage, a salesperson is also selling themselves and their own company as a trustworthy partner, so everything you say matters.
- Close the sale – Ask for the business
You shouldn’t be here unless you’ve done a good job of Steps 1-6, because if you don’t effectively qualify, you’ll never close. However, decades of sales literature teach us that 80% of sales are lost because the salesperson fails to close in the first place. Closing the sales means advancing the sales process to ultimately get a contract, or an order in the case of a physical product.
Other experts consider that at each stage of the sales process you have a closing in and of itself, i.e. you close out each stage to its ultimate conclusion. For example, you sell the appointment and you close by getting the appointment to discuss your product/service.
In large part, closing is about discovering obstacles and concerns. Again, here the sales process gives salespeople a valuable lesson: concerns and objections can be a positive sign because they mean the prospect is at least considering buying the product or service.
Some specialists consider dealing with objections and concerns as a separate step, prior to closing. Separate step or not, when objections are raised, you have to answer them. So, what a salesperson should do when she/he hears things like: ‘I’ll need to sleep on it,’ ‘It’s too expensive,’ ‘I have to run it buy some other people,’ or ‘It all sounds good but we are already working with…’ is to answer these concerns and advance the sale to the final order.
- Ask for referrals – If you don’t ask you don’t get
This is commonly the neglected step, so neglected that even some specialists don’t consider it a separate step in the sales process. Plain and simple, it means that the salesperson should ask new customers if they know of anyone else who might need their excellent service or products. Think about the cost: you’ve no marketing to do to generate the interest in the first place, and you’ve already built trust, so here you are simply asking your new customer to have their friends, colleagues and associates also trust you.
In a services business, when you ask for this will depend on when you’ve delivered value, but document it and schedule a note in your calendar as to when to do this.
- Follow up / post sales services
Usually, after the sale, the customer needs more care and the salesperson is less interested in giving it. The sale occurred, so the job is over, isn’t it? In reality, now is the moment the client might need you more. This doesn’t mean overwhelming the customer with your presence, it means be the salesperson you should be, the client’s single point of contact for all issues that might appear. It’s about providing customer satisfaction.
What do you think about this process? Looks like the solid sales process you know and love. So, what’s wrong with it? Why are we even questioning it? Well, because of the Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing.
As Google and CEB research shows, the average B2B buyer is already 57% of the way through their buyer journey or purchase decision before they go anywhere near a salesperson, and this happens regardless of the industry or price point. What that effectively means when it comes to the traditional sales process is that you actually don’t need 57% of it.
Consumers are now traversing the internet to identify and qualify vendors from their own town or from all over the world. They research for hours to learn via social media, or by accessing digital content available at a simple click, how to solve their problems.
This has resulted in two major paradigm shifts:
- Salespeople do not qualify prospects anymore, because buyers are qualifying vendors
- Information is not uniquely the property of the salespeople and the selling company, it is available via the internet to anybody interested
What does the shift in consumer behaviour mean for sales and marketing?
It means that the role of the salesperson has changed and efforts should be made to improve integration between marketing and sales. The buzzword for this today is, not surprisingly, smarketing, and this involves a bit of background work.
A content strategy will be necessary for clients to learn about your experience and expertise, and to become acquainted with your approach. Within your business or agency, a decision should be made on what content is available on the net and what is not in the public domain, but used only by the sales force. Content marketing is also needed, and this includes optimising the company’s website, blogs, vlogs, presence on social media and more.
Each company should:
- Share Content to Build Comfort: If you don’t do it, the interested consumer will get it from the competition. During the sales process, your prospect continues to get information, and if you don’t have great content to share, they will find it elsewhere, and you may as well kiss that sale goodbye. If you do have it and share it, your potential customer gets used to your approach and recognises you as being in a position of authority.
- Open Customer’s Eyes. Offer content that talks about the way you helped others address similar issues.
- Match the changes in buying behaviour with appropriate sales and marketing efforts. Knowing that buyers know so much more about your company via digital information, have you changed your marketing and sales process accordingly?
- Take social media seriously. Don’t bury your head in the sand if customers can read good and bad comments about your products, services or about your company. Your sales reps should know what others think about the organisation, good or bad.
In conclusion, our traditional sales process is now obsolete, since 57% of it is now performed by the customer before requiring the presence of a sales rep. Companies and their salespeople have to follow the buyer’s journey in order to be successful in this new environment.
Each company has to adapt to these changes because in the world of modern marketing, when everything has turned inbound and consumers look for the content that points towards finding a solution to their challenges or needs,A we are still talking about the survival of the fittest.
The good news is that the average consumer’s attention span is shorter today, and while they tend to be more informed, the new sales process is shorter and less expensive, and so, if worked properly, your bottom line stands to benefit.
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