Sales managers with companies of just about any size have one primary focus with their sales team: to move the needle forward with potential customers into a closed deal. Whether the sales team is selling office products, software as a service (SaaS) or anything else, the sales process steps are ultimately the same. As sales reps build up potential customers in their sales pipeline, the inevitable question of how to move prospects towards closing the sales cycle remains.
Sales Workflow: Natural or Learned?
Going from initial contact to closed business can be challenging for your sales team. For a few sales reps, it’s almost second nature to skillfully move through the sales cycle. They can snag prospects almost effortlessly, identifying their needs and value as a customer rapidly, artfully closing deals. Other sales reps get bogged down in the process, moving slowly or missing opportunities with prospects. They may close deals slowly or not at all. But for most sales managers, a rep who can glide through the sales process easier, not missing key components or losing track of customers without a structured guideline, is few and far between. Most sales managers know that a well-trained salesperson will need to follow an effective, organized sales process workflow to end up with quality customers and sales that will be beneficial for both businesses. Let’s look at what a sales process workflow is, the stages of a sales cycle and best practices on managing a sales pipeline that will all lead to creating an effective and productive sales cycle for every company.
Defining it: Sales Pipeline
The visual connection of a pipeline is a perfect analogy for the sales process. The pipeline is effectively the pathway that must be traveled from one place to another, passing by every last twist and turn on its way to the final, predetermined destination. In sales, the pipeline is a way to visualize exactly where a prospect or customer is in the sales process. Companies may rank their pipeline in a few scant terms or levels while others may have a detailed, descriptive list of stages within their pipeline terminology.
What a Pipeline Brings to the Sales Team
A pipeline will show where a sales rep’s potential deals are, detailing the value or dollar amount of each potentially closed deal for the day, week, month, quarter or year. This transparency allows management and sales team members to analyze potential prospects as well as see where the missed opportunities were and at what stage they dropped out of viability. This analysis allows sales reps to see how to effectively move prospects to the next stages in their pipelines and will help managers to effectively coach their sales team to increased success and, ultimately, bigger revenue for the company. Business to business (B2B) sales pipelines are especially important because they can assist in the allocation of funds and resources into converting sales, help forecast future sales or needs as well as define yearly progress and goal achievement.
Sales Cycle Stages
When creating a pipeline for any sales team, every step of the selling process is important. Multiple parts of the cycle may end up inside of a given pipeline stage, or each of these may warrant their own staging description, depending on the size of the company, the type of sales, and the length of the cycle itself.
Prospecting – The method of finding and contacting new leads is called prospecting. This stage of the sales cycle is usually constantly ongoing, as prospecting is needed to constantly fill the pipeline with potential new customer leads. Usually, prospecting takes up a standardized portion of any given weekly workflow plan. Companies may determine an ideal customer profile when curating potential prospect lists for sales teams to pursue. Prospecting may involve research, attending industry events, contacting colleagues or clients for referrals, sending out customized email templates to potential companies as well as visiting known companies in person.
Qualification - For some sales teams, qualifying a prospect takes place during research, but many times a lead must be qualified either in person or through a variety of checks and questions. Qualification simply entails determining if the prospect is a good fit for both companies and if they will likely move forward in the cycle with the sales rep. Sometimes qualification determines that a prospect is not likely to be viable now, but instead may be put on hold for a future date removing them from the current pipeline but keeping them on a “warm” lead list. Some of the beneficial qualification questions a salesperson might use are:
- What problem(s) are you trying to solve?
- What other solutions are you considering?
- What has worked in the past? What has not?
Needs Analysis – One of the jobs of the sales rep is to understand what value his company product brings to a prospect. Through a carefully lead discussion, the sales professional must determine what is working, not working and missing from the prospect’s business. This will reveal how to approach the prospect and what product or service solutions would be valuable to the customer. Once analyzed, the needs of the prospect will drive the sale.
Value Proposition – This stage of the cycle describes when the solution to the needs analysis is presented to the potential customer. In other words, the sales professional’s job at this stage is to clarify how and why their product or service is needed and will solve the stated problem or need of the prospect.
Identification of Decision Makers – For some companies, the identification of the decision-maker(s) may come before any needs analysis or value proposition. But for others, this comes later in the sales process because customer relationships must be built during this process and multiple levels within an organization must be addressed during the sales process.
Perception Analysis – Whether completed alone or with a team or manager, an evaluation of how the value proposition or sales pitch went must be made. This is based on concrete evidence, like verbal or written feedback given post-pitch, or it may be more subjective in nature as a judgment of how the proposition was received and perceived by the prospective customer. This analysis may be used to determine the likelihood of the sales process moving forward as well as reflecting on lost or missed sales.
Proposal/Price Quote – Once the process has proceeded to this stage of the customer journey, the sales representative should understand how to approach the prospect with the initial sales proposal and pricing.
Negotiation/Objection Handling – For every negative response or objection raised, a sales team member should already have a counterpoint or answer in mind as a response. This portion of the sales cycle may be contentious or even non-existent, depending on the size and complexity of the sale, type of business and ability of the salesperson to accurately anticipate potential problems or obstacles that could hinder the sale.
Closing/Deal Signing – Once the verbal commitment is sealed, effective salespeople get it all in writing. Closing the deal with a contract validates the salesperson’s hard work and confirms that the new customer’s needs will be met as promised. Moving a prospect to a closed-won deal stage means that the salesperson has met the needs of the prospect and the prospect is now a closed customer.
Referrals/Upselling – This final stage is all about increasing revenue and repeating the cycle. Upselling is a perfect way to add in additional extras once the deal has been closed. Sales professionals should know what other customer problems may need to be solved from the needs analysis stage of the sales cycle. Once the primary need is met, reps may offer or upsell other products or services. In addition, referrals are a part of this final stage. Often forgotten, the other part of this stage of the cycle makes this a circular path: asking a customer for referrals. Using a referral from a closed customer, sales teams can leverage a positive customer experience into a connection to a new prospect.
How Do You Manage your Sales Process and Keep it Organized?
Managing sales through the steps from prospecting through closing the deal really depends on a few factors, but all management strategies must include standardizing the pattern or path expected for salespeople to follow. This pre-determined organization should be part of sales team training and should specify which activities should be happening, when, and with whom.
This sales process workflow template gives you a solid foundation to build on and customize for your team.
Prospecting and Lead Generation
Based on the ideal customer profile, sales management should set up best practices on prospecting and lead generation for sales teams to follow. For some teams, this sales methodology may include standardized email templates to use along with sales scripts for follow-up discussions sourced from company marketing content or other creation of content specific to this stage of the process.
Excellent process organization will provide specific task management opportunities for sales and admin teams. Sales reps should know exactly what steps to take with a potential customer as outlined in individual tasks connected to each step of the process.
Probably the most valuable way to keep a salesperson motivated and their processes of selling organized are to structure and track their sales pipeline.
Opportunity for Reflection
One of the key aspects of management is setting up methods of accountability for performance. Tracking and reflecting on little wins or improvements as reps move through the cycle should be a part of the process as well since sales reps can learn from these experiences and become stronger, more effective salespeople as a result.
How Do You Effectively Manage a Sales Pipeline?
When the sales team knows where they stand on prospective customers on a regular basis, they are more able to manage their pipeline effectively. Effectively managing the pipeline should include a detailed, regular reporting system by each salesperson. This reporting should include verifiable, quantifiable metrics for valuable insights into each rep’s current status on
- prospects – number, how the lead was obtained, value or the likelihood they will move through the cycle to a sale
- deal size – average, lowest and highest
- close ratio – how many sales are closed won vs closed lost
- sales velocity – average deal lifetime