The five steps in the sales process that turn prospects into customers
Help sales reps to stay organised and move prospects effectively through the sales process to a deal.
By Liz Bauer
Last updated September 28, 2021
When you set off on a road trip, you have a vehicle and a map. On this map, you’ll mark places to stop at along the way.
Think of your sales process in the same way: The vehicle is your CRM and the map is your sales process. The steps along the way are the sales stages within your pipeline and CRM. Your final destination? Converting a lead into a customer.
Your sales team should receive this standardised map on day one to keep sales reps from jumping haphazardly from one step to another. With a map, your reps will know each of the sales process steps along the route to their destination and how they’re each expected to reach it.A step-by-step sales cycle helps sales managers to track rep performance more effectively and determine which areas need support.
Step 1: Prospecting
Prospecting is the first stage of your selling process. You’re finding potential deals and entering them into your B2B sales funnel. The goal here is to engage with qualified leads who would most enjoy the benefits of your product or service.
Think of this first step as a vetting process at your end. You need to determine whether the potential client is the right match for your product, whether they have the budget, whether you can provide the value they need and more.
Look for an answer to this question: Is this deal worth it?
You can answer this question with customer-centric lead-generation strategies:
- Offer answers to specific problems on Quora. Quora queries can help you identify companies or individuals who struggle with specific pain points that your product can solve.
- Interact with potential customers in LinkedIn groups. Similar to interacting on Quora, LinkedIn Groups make it easy to make contact with ideal customers who struggle with key problems common to your target market.It’s a good idea to utilise the power of social media when you’re in the process of selling to find potential customers that match your buyer persona.
- Create videos with a built-in lead-generation form. Video content helps attract interested, inbound potential leads. Include an optional lead-generation form following the video to capture leads with a baseline level of engagement.
- Source leads from support-ticket conversations. Conversations with your support team offer information that you can use to upsell existing customers. Repeat business from your customer base is an easier climb than converting brand-new customers.
- Offer a helpful email course. Educational email courses are a perfect way to nurture interested top-of-funnel leads until they become qualified enough to enter your sales pipeline and move on to step 2.
This first step has an outsized impact on the success of the rest of your sales strategy. Build clear customer profiles for your reps so that they know how to assess leads and determine whether they’re interested in what you’re selling.
Step 2: Qualified
The next stage is all about pulling in information about the potential customer. You’ll use this information to personalise your sales pitch and present a tailored case for buying your product or service.
In this stage, you’ll gather more details about what the potential customer specifically requires in a solution. You’ll identify key decision makers, confirm whether they can actually purchase or not and then present the value of your product or service.
Set up an initial appointment or sales meeting. Find out whether the point of contact in the passenger seat is the one who is able to actually make the purchase. If they’re not, find out who is and ask to meet them as well.
After the initial meeting (or during, depending on what makes sense), present a demo of your product or service to the key decision makers. Sell the potential customer on what you’re offering:
- What are you doing better than your competitors? Explain in detail how your product is better suited to the customer’s requirements than anyone else’s is.
- How does your product or service add specific value to this particular customer? Show how and where your product will save them money or time. Explain how it will help them bring in more revenue. Wherever possible, include specific monetary or time measurements to help with handling objections.
- Which features of your product or service match customers’ requirements? Connect each feature to the specific problem that it solves for the customer.
Once you’ve finished presenting your case, the final key is to show the potential customer clearly what they should do next.Conclude with a compelling call to action (such as signing up for a free trial or getting a time-limited discount). A good CTA gives leads a concrete way in which to move along in the buying process.
Step 3: Quote
Your customer relationship should be good enough to discuss terms and prices seriously at this step in a good sales process.
In your discussions, make sure that you clearly outline which features the potential customer will receive and at what price. Your quote will be based on these discussions and should include the following terms, among other details:
- Contract length: How long will the potential customer be locked into your product or service?
- Payment terms: How often will the customer pay you, and how much? What payment methods can they use?
- Access: Which features, support and other details will the customer gain access to?
Send a quote to the potential customer and then wait for a confirmation. Remember that the quote serves as a starting point for negotiations. Nothing is set in stone until the next step, when you furnish a contract and close the deal.
If the client agrees to the terms of your quote, you can move to ‘closure’ and draw up the contract. If they say no, the sales journey is over – for the moment.
This step along the way of your sales process also helps sales managers to gauge reps’ performance. Are reps actually sending quotes? Are quote opportunities being missed? Do sales reps follow up with potential customers often enough?
Step 4: Closure
Once a potential customer has agreed to the terms of your quote, it’s time to negotiate final terms and close the deal officially with a contract.
This is the step at which success (or failure) affects revenue most directly. If you don’t close deals, you won’t make money for your company.
Present an agreement that is mutually beneficial to both you and the customer. This contract should outline the terms of the deal (pricing and payment terms, features and access), as well as reiterating the value of your product and the problems that it will solve for the lead.
It is during this critical juncture that you’ll find out whether:
- You’ve reached the true decision maker(s)
- Reps have communicated value adequately
- The customer will move forward with closure and a deal
It’s important for sales professionals to view closing the sale as being as much a part of the sales process as the first three. Until you have a signed agreement in your hand, you’re still selling and communicating value to the potential customer.
Step 5: Won/Lost
Ideally, reaching step 5 means that you’ve won the deal and the lead is now a bona fide customer. If that’s the case, this is the time for sales management and reps to identify what went well in each of the previous steps. From there, you can extrapolate what you’ve learned to help make every sales process go as smoothly.
At this stage, you’ll also want to communicate the terms of the deal to Customer Support so that they can ensure the buyer’s journey continues smoothly.
If the deal is lost, step 5 is still important. Losing deals is a major opportunity to review the steps in your sales process. Determine where a step was missed or poorly executed and plan how you’ll make improvements for the next deal.
Bear in mind that a lost deal doesn’t have to be lost forever – you can always restart or continue the sales process later.
Perhaps you just need to make a detour. If a key factor changes – such as the lead’s budget expanding – you can move the deal back to either ‘qualified’ or ‘quote’ and continue to work on winning the project. Don’t abandon the journey until you’re absolutely certain that you can’t make it to the final destination.
Tailor the steps in your sales process for your customers
The next step in your sales process is to monitor how it works for your team and your customers. If required, you can tinker with each step or the process as a whole from there.
To do this, review data regularly to find at which sales steps deals get stuck or where you lose potential customers. Choosing a CRM that allows you to customise your sales pipeline stages is also beneficial. For example, you may need a stop or stage at which to move ‘unqualified’ deals. Or you may need to reorder some stages, depending on your business.
A good CRM will give you the flexibility to reorder, rename and add or delete stages. That way, you can review the stages of the sales process or map every few months and make changes as required.
Gain a deeper understanding of your audience’s path to purchase so you can improve your sales and marketing efforts.