A funnel, representing the sales process
A funnel, representing the sales process

What Is a Sales Process?

Always. Be. Closing. That’s the old-school approach to getting more sales. But nowadays prospects are inundated with content, notifications, and requests from any number of sources. That’s why your approach to closing deals needs subtlety, expertise, and team collaboration. A sales process helps get you there.

But what is a sales process? What are the benefits of building one and how do you go about it?

Sales process definition

A sales process is a predetermined, defined sequence of steps taken to turn a potential lead into a customer. It encompasses every step of the potential customer’s sales journey, from initial contact to the closed deal. Every organization that sells a product or service can benefit from defining its sales process. While there are many ways to build your own, here are the steps it’ll usually follow:

  • Prospecting: This stage of the process covers all the different methods your organization finds leads — potential customers.
  • Preparation: How do you make sure a lead has a good chance of converting? How do you get them ready for an initial conversation with your sales team? Usually, this step will involve marketing content.
  • Approach: How does your sales team initially contact a potential customer?
  • Presentation: This step covers your sales team’s initial pitch to a lead. Creating collateral and slide decks would be an example of an initiative supporting this step of the sales process.
  • Handling objections: Research into a customer’s potential objections and drafting common responses are covered by this step.
  • Closing: What’s involved in closing a potential deal? Maybe a security review needs to happen or an external team has to take care of drafting the contract.
  • Follow-up: The sales process does not end when you successfully close a deal. What can your sales team do to prevent their newest customer from becoming an ex-customer? Better yet, is there a referral process to turn one new customer into many? Have you implemented efficient referral tracking for this?

A sales process, no matter how robust, may not cover the journey of every single potential lead. That said, it gives your sales team something they can rely on when they engage with a new lead.

Benefits of the sales process

Now that you know what a sales process is, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth all the hassle. After all, while a good salesperson can follow a script, a great salesperson knows how to improvise when a lead throws them a curveball, right? While that’s definitely the case, a sales process gives your entire sales team something they can fall back on, and it gives their leaders a roadmap for building goals and initiatives.

Here are just some of the rewards you’ll get when building a sales process:

A more cohesive team

Whether you’re a small startup, a remote-first company, or a multinational enterprise, your salespeople can sometimes feel like they’re on their own island. They might reach out to others when they need help, but generally, they’ll rely on pre-existing collateral and strategies. This can also make it hard for leaders to get an overview of how their team works. With a consistent sales process, getting an update on a deal can be as simple as asking “which stage is it at?” Then, you’ll know where you’re starting from if you need to draft up a new strategy for a specific deal.

A better starting point for initiatives

Crowd your salespeople into a single room — or Zoom call — and ask them how they think the team can improve its success rate. You’re likely to get a whole list of ideas and initiatives, probably each starting with something to the effect of “well when I won deal X…” Each deal is different. Each prospect is different, and sometimes they’ll surprise you with an objection you’d never even heard before. But this does not invalidate the advantages of a defined sales process. With your sales process hammered out, new initiatives and ideas are can be classed under each step. Maybe you’ll even find that you have experts on each stage of your process.

Get better data

How do you know if a new strategy is working out? You find a way to objectively measure its performance, usually with Key Performance Indicators. These can reflect a whole host of metrics, from pure conversion to churn rate and costs for lead acquisition. Without a defined sales process, where would you even start? With a sales process, you can use data to clearly identify your strengths and weaknesses and hone in on where to test new initiatives.

Better collaboration across teams

Talk to someone from HR or a product team about what it takes to close a deal, and you might get a polite nod at best, bewildered looks at worst. When you live and breathe sales, you have an inherent knowledge of the craft that most people in your organization simply don’t. This can make it difficult to get their support when needed. A defined sales process is the first step to making the work of your sales team more communicable. Represent it visually, and you suddenly have a way of charting the progress of a lead from prospecting to the final handshake. You might even get killer suggestions for improvements from people you’d have never expected.

How to build your own sales process

Are you sold on the sales process? You’re probably going to want to build your own. Here’s a step-by-step guide for doing just that.

Gather some intel

Who are your potential customers? If you work in an office supplies company, your sales process will probably look pretty different from a SaaS company’s. Put some time into finding out who your ideal customer is. By building customer personas, you’ll know how to tailor your process to them. Before they became the huge platform they are today, Airbnb interviewed property owners to find out what their expectations were from a short-term rental platform. That allowed them to improve their sales process.

Talk to your teams

Who better to ask? Your salespeople probably already have a decent idea of what’s working and what isn’t. They also know what they’ve been doing to get a contact from lead to paying customer. That’s why you can’t really start building your sales process without consulting your sales team. You can even ask them to try and map out the sales process, from their perspective, which can serve as a basis for the final process.

Check in with other teams

Think the sales team is the only team that can contribute to your sales process? Think again. Because they don’t have an intimate knowledge of your pipeline, other teams can bring insights you’d otherwise miss. That’s because of a little thing called the curse of knowledge. The more you know about something, the harder it is to communicate it to people who know less. And guess what? Your salespeople probably know your product way better than their leads do.

Another advantage of doing this is getting the perspective of teams that aren’t necessarily involved in the sales process, but who support it indirectly.

Map out your sales process

Now that you’ve got input from all these sources, it’s time to approach the actual mapping work. You don’t need to be an artist or designer to do this. Stick to simple graphics that you can replicate across a number of platforms without any help from a designer. Isolate the steps that are essential to your process and plot them out in sequential order. Add bullet points to represent some of the aspects unique to your process.

Throughout this work, remember to focus on what a sales process should be about: building relationships. You don’t want to use a “close-at-any-cost” approach. Take the perspective of your lead. What do they need to feel welcome, informed, and appreciated?

A rock-solid process helps you close

Building your first sales process takes some work. But all that effort you put in now will save your salespeople the frustration of deals slipping away when they could have been won. With this in place, your sales team can work as one, and everyone else in the organization can get a better idea of how you go about bringing in new business.

How to save time on sales reporting

You can use Unito to automate sales reporting in Google Sheets and save everyone time and effort.

Here's how