Take the guesswork out of sales by building a consistent process

Sales and marketing alignment

by Margery Murphy on May 10, 2021

The goal of your sales process is to keep prospects moving along toward closing. Some companies use a flowchart or other visual tool to map out their sales process. For others it’s more of an intuitive process, based on a rep’s sense of what will work best with each lead. 

In any case, my questions for you are:

  • Does your current sales process allow you to predict the outcome with any accuracy? 
  • If something goes wrong, do you know what to do to salvage the situation?
  • What happens if a prospect is interested but not quite ready to buy yet?

It might feel like it at times, but sales isn’t about luck. Let’s look at three critical steps for building a more consistent sales process so you have a reliable roadmap no matter what twists and turns arise.

1. Start at the beginning

Start by identifying where your strong leads come from. Try not to make assumptions! Look back through sales records, spreadsheets, email, or your CRM database. Sometimes the best sources are different than expected. 

Knowing where leads originate gives you a clue into how much they probably know about your product (and your competitors’ products), what type of information resonates with them, and how close they are to making a commitment. Tally up your list, including: your website (e.g. downloads of ebooks, “contact us” forms), webinars, trade shows, referrals, social media, replies to marketing email, etc.

Keep in mind that 70-80 percent of all buyers are doing research online, and even discovering you before you know who they are. So, definitely consider these anonymous prospects and what kinds of information they are looking for, even if you’ve not been in direct contact yet.

These sources are where your sales process starts: make it the first box in your flow chart or the first step in your list. Use paper, CRM software, a whiteboard, or whatever works best for your team. 

2. Qualify (and take notes!)

We know some leads are more promising than others and that’s why qualifying leads is so important. So the next step is to determine if each lead in question is qualified based on specific criteria. It can’t be just a “gut feeling,” it really should be something you can measure, such as they replied to a marketing email, they took your phone call, they downloaded a white paper, they called the rep for their geographic region, etc.

While you’re gathering the qualification information, be sure to document it (no, you won’t remember the details). You never know when you might need to look something up later on. It’s also useful for looking at the big picture over time – if you end up disqualifying many people, maybe you’re doing something to attract the wrong leads! How will you know unless the evidence is there to review?

The lead qualification process is all about figuring out exactly what you will do with each lead to help them progress through the buying journey. It may be necessary to take different actions depending on where they’re coming from, their application or industry, or how easy they are to get hold of. 

You can build these qualification questions into your flow chart or process list, as we’ll see in step 3.

3. Nurture strategically

Some leads become closed deals with relative ease – they have a need, you have a matching capability, and a deal is made. In other cases, they may never need your services – maybe you specialize in additive manufacturing solutions and they are strictly sheet-metal oriented, or maybe we manufacture paperboard cartons and they need shrink wrap. Still others might be a good fit, but they’re just not ready to buy yet. 

These are the leads that we don’t want to forget about (actually, we don’t want them to forget about us). We must directly address them in our sales flow chart or procedures so we nurture them and keep them engaged until they are ready to buy. 

An effective way to nurture prospects is to keep giving them relevant information: educate them about how your solutions can solve their challenge or make their business better. Do this by adding them to distribution list for marketing emails and newsletters, adding compelling and educational content to your website, and direct interaction in the form of phone calls or individual emails. 

In our experience we’ve found this step, the sales nurturing process, sometimes get shortchanged. It’s not that reps don’t think about nurturing or don’t try to keep track of these potentials. More often there simply isn’t a lead nurturing strategy in place that directs how we respond to what prospects do. Nurturing isn’t one size fits all, so you need to have multiple if/then plans for multiple scenarios written into your process, for example:

  • They download your ROI calculator – you email asking if they have questions
  • They attend a webinar – you call them to follow up and invite them to the next one
  • You learn in a phone call that they won’t make their new budget for six months – you set an automatic reminder in the CRM to call them in four months
  • They don’t reply to a direct email or return your call – you move them to your marketing email campaign list and make a note in their CRM record to call them in six months (or sooner if the situation warrants moving more quickly)

In each of these situations, the prospect shows a different level of interest, so your responses should change accordingly. Consistent responses help you see what works and what needs to be adjusted. The bottom line is there are many factors at play in lead nurturing and your plan should spell out each one.

Think about your own sales process – how much of it is charted out and follows a strategy? In stead of leaving sales to chance, take some time to talk through different sales scenarios with your sales team – you may discover discrepancies, new ideas, or more questions. And be sure to get in touch with us if you need assistance getting started – we’re always here to help!

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