effective sales process

How to Create a Winning Sales Process: 7 Essential Steps

Warren Buffet famously said, “It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.”

At first glance, that quote might seem counterintuitive. 

But think about it for a little and it starts to make sense. Outstanding wins in any field are almost always the result of lots of small and apparently unremarkable actions, repeated again and again. 

Whether it’s the one-hundred meter runner perfecting his starting position for the umpteenth time or the award-winning novelist that reliably churns out 1,000 words a day, extraordinary results are invariably preceded by many ordinary steps. 

And the same is true of sales. An effective process is essential to consistent sales revenue. It doesn’t matter if you have the best sales reps in the world and a value proposition that turns your competitors green with envy. Without the right process, you’ll only work at a fraction of your potential.

But get it right and you’ll close more deals, achieve higher revenue, and boost client satisfaction, all while saving time and money.

So, here’s how to create a winning sales process in seven steps. 

1. Lay the groundwork for an effective process

Most salespeople dive into prospecting without doing any initial research. They’ll start gathering potential leads without a clear picture of the clients they want to attract. 

Constructing a customer avatar – which represents your ideal customer persona – is an essential part of this stage. You should account for important factors like willingness and ability to buy, industry, use of competitor products, pain-points, and so on. 

Your customer avatar will serve two critical functions. First, it enables you to target audiences that fit your criteria. Second, it provides you with the information you need to build a relationship going forward based on a full understanding of the needs and pains of your leads. 

It’s equally important to conduct competitor research prior to prospecting. The customers of your competitors are a rich source of potential leads and you may wish to target them directly. Equally, good competitor research will highlight inadequacies in what’s currently offered in the market and provide you with the information you need to differentiate yourself. 

Finally, don’t forget to think about sales tools. Salespeople now have access to more tech than ever (ex. The PandaDoc tech stack utilizes more than 30 tools for daily tasks). Build your tech stack before you start prospecting. Many tools can streamline the process of finding, researching, and qualifying leads, and should be used right from the start. 

2. Analyze your current data to achieve results

Prospecting is the process of finding early-stage leads that are likely to convert into customers. 42% of salespeople rank prospecting as the most difficult part of the sales cycle. 

Testing is of paramount importance in this phase. Most sales and marketing teams gather leads from a wide variety of sources, encompassing competitor research, referrals, industry events, social media, search advertising, inbound sign-ups, and more. You should hone in on the best acquisition methods by consistently evaluating which avenues generate the best-converting leads. 

Your ideal customer profile (ICP) comes into play during prospecting. The interests, traits, and affiliations outlined in your ICP will guide you to the best places to find high-quality potential customers. 

It’s also important to have close alignment between marketing and sales, thus reducing the gap between marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) and sales-qualified leads (SQLs) as much as possible. Having congruent processes across both departments can significantly reduce the average cost-per-lead by limiting drop-off in the sales qualification phase. 

3. Assess new leads

Once you have a list of interested leads, it’s time to segment them.

There are usually two stages of this process. The first stage involves evaluating leads in the context of your whole ideal customer profile (ICP).

During the prospecting stage, leads were likely filtered using only one or two features of your ICP. For example, marketing campaigns may have targeted companies by revenue and industry. Or individuals may have engaged with an ad in a magazine or on a website that was highlighted as being popular among your target market. 

Now, it’s time to see which marketing-qualified leads fit more broadly with your ICP. 

Often, it is best to use software to enrich prospect profiles and help conduct research to gather more details about companies. It’s likely that some leads will fail to meet important criteria like revenue, size, or industry. 

Once you’ve filled out the picture, you’re ready to reach out. It’s common to start by asking certain questions to gauge whether or not it’s worth moving forward. This is called the “connect” phase and is usually conducted over email. Questions like “What are you struggling with in your business” and “What are your key business priorities at the moment” work well. 

Alternatively, “inbound” leads might have passed on their information to you directly. The purpose of this initial engagement is to gauge interest before pushing leads further down the sales pipeline. From here, you can move to book a pitch or product demonstration. 

Remember, it takes an average of 18 calls to connect with a buyer, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. 

4. Conduct research and make the pitch

Once you have a solid list of sales-qualified leads, it’s time to conduct further research to pitch them. 

Proper research at this stage allows you to tailor the sales process and create a compelling, tightly-focused presentation. Initial correspondence with your point-of-contact at a company or an individual prospect is extremely valuable during the information-gathering process. 

When making the pitch, it’s important to connect your value proposition with the specific pain-points and desires of your lead. It’s common for salespeople to over-focus on the technical aspects of their products at this stage. 

While it is necessary to explain a product’s feature-set – with more than half of prospects eager to see how a product works on the first sales call – it’s equally essential to pay attention to the deeper needs of the person or company you’re addressing. You may wish to bring a technical specialist to accurately answer specific product questions. 

Finally, it’s also vital to understand when full demonstrations aren’t viable. It can be a waste of resources to give every prospect a practical run-through of a product. Focus on the highest-value leads for in-person demonstrations if resources are limited. 

5. Handle objections and obstacles

There are a handful of common objections that salespeople should be aware of. More often than not, stock responses are enough to mitigate them. 

Here are a few of the main ones to watch out for: 

    • Objection: It’s too expensive. Solution: Free trial or discount. 
    • Objection: I don’t want to be tied into a contract. Solution: Offer a monthly or quarterly rolling contract. 
    • Objection: I need more time to make a decision. Solution: Free trial along with a time-limited discount or additional features. 
    • Objection: I’m worried about the work required to transition from my current provider. Solution: We’ll handle everything. 

The ability to overcome objections is a fundamental part of what makes a great salesperson. Having a stockpile of proven responses will mean that you can close deals more efficiently. 

6. Close the deal

So a potential client has responded well to your pitch and agreed to a deal. Time to uncork the champagne, right?

Think again. 

The “closing” stage, which usually involves sending a contract or proposal, is only complete once a lead has signed on the dotted line. You’re on the home straight now but there’s also a high risk of leads “dropping off”. 

Closing is a relatively straightforward task. Even so, there are numerous steps you can take to boost your conversions. 

First, you should opt for paperless proposals and include electronic signature fields to eliminate the cumbersome task of printing, hand-signing, and scanning documents. Furthermore, it’s good practice to add payment buttons so clients don’t need to make time-consuming bank transfers.

Also, consider using proposal software to keep on top of what’s going on with your documents and to streamline writing and creation. With document analytics, you can track opens (along with other metrics) and send follow-up emails accordingly. 

7. Test and optimize going forward

Testing is the key to creating sales processes that stand head-and-shoulders above your competition. What’s more, it’s easier than ever before to implement different scenarios with the use of modern software, whether you want to trial a new phone script, experiment with different types of follow-up emails, or A/B test opt-in forms. 

Once you’ve mapped out your sales process according to best practices, you should improve it going forward by testing different iterations and strategies. This approach will enable you to make consistent changes, incrementally increasing your overall sales conversion rate indefinitely. 

Closing thoughts

Well-designed processes leverage a sales team’s talents while shoring up any shortcomings it might have. But the reality is that most businesses don’t implement sales processes. They stumble along with half-formed strategies. And their deals and revenue suffer as a result. 

It’s already been said numerous times in this post but it’s worth re-emphasizing: the key to sales success is to create a specific process, stick to it, and test going forward. If you do that, you’ll instantly be miles ahead of your competitors.

Bethany Fagan

Bethany is the Content Marketing Manager at PandaDoc. She has over 10 years in the sales and marketing industry and loves crafting new stories and discovering new distribution channels. Outside of the office, she spends her time reading, working out at Orangetheory or trying a new Brooklyn brewery with her husband and two French Bulldogs, Tater Tot and Pork Chop.