Improving Performance at Every Stage of Your Sales Process
There is absolutely no doubt about the fact that all businesses around the world are trying to improve their sales so as to see more cash in-flow and gain more profits. The overall success of an organization primarily depends upon how and how much sales is made. In order to ensure profitability, a procedure called the ‘Sales Process’ is adopted and followed. But besides observing each step of the process, how can a company or seller improve performance?
This article shall help throw light on 1) an introduction to the sales process, 2) a description of the eight steps of the sales process, and 3) how to improve the sales process along the eight steps.
SALES PROCESS: AN INTRODUCTION
Sales Process is a term that is used to refer to the method or approach of selling a product or a service to the customers. This process includes not only a plan of making sales but also the interaction between the buyers, the salespersons and the company that has hired the salespersons. Sales Process can either be the simple process of selling but is also a proper and structured technique starting from identifying potential customers to delivering the products after receiving payment.
For every business around the world, sales is one of the most important aspects upon which depends on the likelihood of profits and profitability. This is why it is important to have a standardized and well-planned process to make sales. This is why, sales process is also defined as the systematic series of steps that are followed to chart out and monitor the interaction with potential buyers from the very first step of communication to the last step of closing the deal. The entire process involves efforts and engagement of not just sales reps but also strategy makers, decision makers and other professionals of the sales department.
THE EIGHT STEPS OF THE SALES PROCESS
Since the Sales Process is a step-by-step procedure that eventually leads to closing the deal, it is divided into 8 main steps that almost all businesses follow. The main benefit of dividing the process into these steps is the easy execution and understanding as well as division of responsibilities among various sales professionals. Also, by dividing the process into parts, one aims to achieve one small goal at a time, thus making the process easier to achieve.
Step #1: Prospecting
Prospecting is the first and one of the most important steps or parts of the sales process. Prospecting basically means and involves looking for new prospects or potential buyers and the key to this step is to know where to look. One way in which this can be done is by making a list of the existing customers and then figure out the best strategies of approach for each type or category of the customers. It is important that you know what the differences are between leads, qualified prospects, and prospects. Make sure you don’t waste your time in searching those who may not give in or buy.
Step #2: Pre-approach – Planning of the sale
Now that you have searched for prospects or possible buyers, it is time to plan the method to approach these prospects with a deal or sales pitch that they may be interested in. This is an important step as this involves your first interaction or communication with your possible long-term customers, and you do not want to mess it up here. It is the beginning of a new association or relationship, and there must be a proper plan or strategy of approach. Planning is a process that can sometimes take time, high-level expertise and experience from established sales experts.
Step #3: Cross questioning and identification
The next step in the sales process is to find out what the needs of your prospects are. Without knowing or analyzing their needs, you may not be able to provide them with the product or service they are looking for. Identification of what the requirements of the customer base is usually involves asking questions, noting down answers and then evaluating those answers to come up with customized solutions. From here, you may be able to qualify your prospects so that you know whether you have to pursue them further or not.
Step #4: Assessing the needs
Once the identification of those potential buyers who are suitable for your product type has been done, the next step is to analyze and assess their needs and what their expectations are from the products that you are offering. Needs assessments can be done in many ways like asking questions, conducting surveys, using polls, making sales calls and through online quizzes, etc. This step helps to identify the main requirements of most people so that efforts can be made to fulfill those needs.
Step #5: Presentating the sales pitch
The focus of a business or seller must be to focus on the benefits of the product or service to the customers rather than focusing on the features. This will help the business to create a presentation that highlights the benefits of the product to the customers rather than putting stress on the features possessed. This step involves the making of an excellent sales presentation which is made from the perspective of the customers rather than the business. The previous step of needs assessment must be fully incorporated within this step to engage and intrigue the audiences.
Step #6: Addressing concerns
When you go on the path of the sales process, then you may definitely interact and communicate with prospective buyers, and this will let you know about customer objections, concerns, and grievances. As a seller who is trying to satisfy the consumers in the best possible way, it becomes your responsibility to address these concerns and offer a solution accordingly. The product or service thus offered must be free of any problems that might bother the customer. Doing so will not only improve the trust that your prospects have on you but will allow encourage them to buy from you immediately.
Step #7: Closing the sales
If a salesperson fails to close the deal, then the sales opportunity will most definitely be lost, and this is what happens in 80% of the sales of failing to close the deal. Closing is the process of furthering the sales process and finalizing the deal. This is the step when the prospect agrees to purchase the product or service or makes the payment. This is the part of the sales process when all obstacles have been overcome, and results finally begin to show. Closing may, however, mean different things in different scenarios and parts of the sales process. For example, for some closing may mean when a salesperson manages to get an appointment or when the customer asks ‘what is the price’ and so on.
Step #8: Following up
One of the most neglected yet important parts of the sales process is the part that follows the close, and it is called follow-up. When a salesperson has managed to close the sale, he/she must definitely follow up with the prospect or customer in order to nurture the relationship further and with the aim of not letting the prospect change his/her mind. This is a good way to remain in the mind of the prospect and may even require some amount of persistence. This is a way to ensure that those who have already converted continue shopping from you and those who haven’t are given more reasons to convert.
WAYS TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE DURING THE SALES PROCESS
These days, the growth of an organization is not merely dependent upon the amount of profit it makes but also on the kind of customer experience it provides and the way the sales process is handled. Having a well-planned sales process cannot be considered equivalent to a good sales process. Most businesses work on a static sales and business model that stops working after a point or shows results only to a limited extent. In such a scenario, in order to improve sales and the way you serve your consumers, it is important to work upon refining and improving each step of the entire sales process. Working on the customer experience at each of the touch points here is the key to a better performance and long-term benefits. The following are some of the main ways to work on the sales performance at each of the steps:
At Step #1 (Prospecting)
Do you know that according to most sales representatives around the world, it is harder to acquire a new customer than selling to an existing one? If the first step of finding and acquiring new prospective buyers can be improved, this very thing can be made easier. There are many ways to improve upon the process or step of prospecting, and one of the first ways is to improve the referral system with existing customers. The better the referral system, the easier will it be to find potential customers. By making a list of the existing customers and dividing customers on the basis of approach needed to connect to them, you will be able to figure out the various ways there are to acquire prospects. This is not just a one-time effort or activity and must go on in the background at all times for best results. The more the potential buyers you can list down, the more will be the number of conversions and hence sales.
At step #2 (Planning the sale)
Now once you have worked on improving the way you list down potential customers, the next step is to work on the approach you follow to contact them or reach them. This is the step where you make the first contact with your potential buyers, and it must come across as impressive and convincing. If a wrong step is taken here, you may lose a valuable prospect. Your approach could either turn out to be highly effective or it may make you seem like a bothersome sales rep. At this stage, the guard of people is up and to bring it down, you will need to present yourself and your brand in such a way that the prospect feels like you really have something good to offer. One way to make the first communication is by making a highly effective and well-scripted sales call. If the needs of the customers are focused on more than the features of your service, then chances of success will be higher.
At step #3 (Cross-questioning and identification)
Once you have approached or contacted all potential customers, you may have got an idea of which prospects are unlikely to buy. The way in which you can identify the most likely customers and churn out the less likely ones can be termed as ‘identification’. Some ways in which you can improve the identification step is by asking a few questions from the prospects. Make sure you prepare a list of all possible questions that can help with this step. Some of these questions have been given below:
- Are they the decision makers? – The first thing that you must try to know is whether the person you are dealing with is the one who will make the ultimate decision or are others involved.
- Do they have a similar product? – Another thing that you must know is whether your prospect owns a product of the same category.
- Is your product better than theirs? – If the product being offered by you is not better than the one already owned, then most probably the prospect won’t buy from you. It is thus not advisable to waste your time and theirs by advancing further.
At step #4 (Assessing the needs)
Needs assessment enables you to know how you can be of use or service to the prospect. It is the responsibility of each salesperson to assess or evaluate the needs, requirements and expectations of the potential buyers so as to deliver them the solution closest to their needs. Again, the only way to know this is by asking several intelligently framed and well-planned questions. Asking these questions not only helps you to know what your customers want but also makes them feel that you genuinely care and thus builds trust as well. Getting answers also enables you to figure out certain issues that the prospect may have. The list of these questions must be made before hand and by taking the customer specifications in mind. The questions must be put forth politely and in a conversational tone rather than making them sound overbearing.
At step #5 (Presentating the sales pitch)
Making a presentation is the next step of the sales process and requires a lot of pre-planning and brainstorming. In order to improve upon your presentation, you can follow some of the following tips:
- Do your research – It is important to know the audiences beforehand so that the presentation can be tailor made according to them. This requires you to do a little bit of research beforehand. A well prepared and researched presentation will not only help to gain trust but also impress audiences.
- Work on your look – The presentation cannot be made casually, and it is important that you look both professional and serious. Wear formal clothes, look neat and tidy and make sure you are on time.
- Have a conversational tone – It is true that a presentation is usually not a two-way street but it is crucial that you have a conversational tone and engage your audiences as much as possible. This helps to build a rapport and also keeps the prospect interested.
- Set a time limit – It is important to have a time limit and not go beyond that time in your presentation. It must not be too long as lengthy ones tend to get boring.
At step #6 (Addressing concerns)
If you think that objections are a bad thing, then you probably aren’t seeing the whole picture. It is important to know and address the objections and concerns of the prospects as this is a good sign that he/she is actually interested in buying from you. To improve this step, you can follow some of the following tips:
- Listen patiently – The first tip to address the concerns is to listen patiently to the objections of the prospects. Give the prospects a chance to explain themselves and don’t cut them in between.
- Show concern – The prospect will know that you truly care if you show some concern and repeat in short what he/she has just said. This shows that you have been listening intently and genuinely plan to do something about it.
- Check back with a solution – Offer the prospect a solution either by reaching back or figuring out the answer there and then.
- Get back to the conversation – After concerns have been addressed, make it a point to get back to the conversion and move again to the sales process.
At step #7 (Closing)
Most salespersons avoid closing as this process may seem hard to them. But this is an essential part of the sales process that truly guarantees sales and hence profits. The first step to improving this step is to make sure you do follow it. The next is to ensure you get a definitely an answer before pausing or breaking communication with the prospect. Broadly speaking, closing is a lot about finding out the obstacles and overcoming them. There are many ways in which you can close but to improve the process, you can follow the below tips below:
- Make sure if the prospect shows any negative signs, you convert the negative into a positive and set up a date for the next appointment.
- If the customer asks for the price of the product or service, then make sure you make advancements in the process and quickly close the deal after that.
At step #8 (Following up)
Following up is a process in which many salespersons tend to go wrong since they tend to become bothersome or too persistent. There is an art to follow up and maintain a constant communication with the prospects or those who have been converted. Make sure you stay on the forefront of the prospects mind but in a subtle way. Following up should never really end, even if the pace slows up after a while and if sometime between this and the last conversation has passed. Some ways to follow up is to send promotional messages, emails, follow up calls and another way to send across information and make way for communication. This helps to gauge the willingness of the prospects to buy from you or to pick up the conversation or communication from where it was last left off.