Map a sales process to find and keep your best customers

Kyle Jepson
August 16, 2022
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The importance of defining your sales process

Steve Bookbinder, CEO and Lead Trainer at DM Training, said, “Everybody becomes scientific and clinical, analyzing somebody else's sale. So I ask them to show me their own sales. Of the 50,000 people I've met, I have gone through their pipelines with them. Fifty thousand. I've heard every story there is. Every story. Most of the stories start with these words, ‘Well this one's different. Well this one's different.’ Tell me about that one. ‘Oh, this one's different. See normally the selling takes two weeks but this one's going four months.’"

So, is it possible that each sale is different? As soon as you hear, "This one's different," it's an incomplete sentence. Think… how would that sentence conclude? It would conclude by saying, "This one's different from the stories of sales that close," therefore making it very similar to the stories of sales that won't close.

Now ask yourself, do you want a collection of sales stories about why your sales are different, or do you want a consistent process to close sales?

“I want every sale I'm working on to be boringly similar to the stories of sales that close,” said Steve Bookbinder. It’s probably true that you want all of your sales to close, too.

What is the most important task for a sales leader?

The most important thing you can do is make sure your team is following an effective sales process. 

What is a sales process?

Cory Bray and Hilmon Sorey, in The Sales Enablement Playbook, define a sales process as “a set of clearly defined steps and methods of communication between a company and its prospects.”

"The sales process needs to be defined, and it's essentially the steps that a company takes, from the minute that a buyer realizes that they exist, to probably the point where they renew their contract. The customer isn’t really an established customer until they become a returning customer.”  

-Cory Bray and Hilmon Sorey

There is a difference between a customer and a client.

What is the difference between a customer and a client? A customer must become a returning customer before they are considered a client.

Defining a sales process is essential for the ability to establish metrics; to establish a repeatable process by which you can bring individuals into the organization and create scale. Holding people accountable to specific metrics internally, as well as training metrics, allows for an organization to grow effectively and to hit its measurable sales objectives.

A Sales process establishes metrics. Metrics hold people accountable and allow your sales organization to scale.

an illustration of two people from different worlds shaking hands.

Establishing sales metrics defines your strategy

Defining sales metrics is a hard thing for a lot of sales teams, especially if they’re part of an early-stage company:

“Initially, many face a challenge in beginning an organization and finding a product-market fit. Then, you have a couple good or stellar sales performers and even people who become sales leaders – often this could be the founders of an organization. And then it comes time to – 'how do I scale?' And the challenge is they have mastery around what they've done. They may not have a process around it though, and it's just kind of flying by the seat of their pants.”  

-Cory Bray and Hilmon Sorey

Your sales process is the foundation of everything your team does

An illustration of a man working on laying bricks for a foundation

You need a strong sales process that guides your hiring decisions, training efforts, and coaching strategies, because your sales process is the foundation of everything your team does.

The Sales Process Paradox

Too much process kills sales teams, but sales teams die without process.

There is a balance for sales processes, which Hilmon and Cory call the “The Sales Process Paradox”: “Too much process kills sales teams, but sales teams die without process.”

 “The process is very important. It doesn't mean we have a whole bunch of automatons, or robots, out there delivering sales. I think everyone has their own unique way and approach. You have to nurture that, but not to the point where you've broken the process. I think that's the key.”

-Dave Casey, Principal of Calvus Consulting

If that sounds like a hard balance to strike, don’t worry. There are a few, critical principles and strategies that’ll help you define your sales process and will help you unlock the full potential of your sales team. Create enough structure to support your long-term growth, while also allowing your salespeople enough freedom to thrive individually.

Defining your sales process with the buyer's journey

Who are you selling to?

Before you can define your sales process, you must understand who you’re selling to.

Understand who your buyer is

"I think the buyer acumen is absolutely critical and very often missing. So, understanding who the buyer is. What are their challenges? What's their role? Who do they play within their decision process? All of the things necessary to understand their world. But especially, what are the challenges that they have? How are they measured? What are the metrics and measures that matter? The KPIs, the Key Performance Indicators, are the critical success factors for them."

- Mike Kunkle

What is your prospect’s perspective?

Once you know who you’re selling to, you need to understand the sales process from their perspective.

An illustration of a women sitting on a bridge holding a tablet and a stylus. She's staring at the tablet thinking,

Start with the buyer’s journey

“You really need to start with the buyer’s journey. And the buyer’s journey acting as that framework that you work off of, where you align product, marketing, sales. Marketing and your training program to the actual customer itself... that's vital. Now, in doing this, you can really create this shared vision, how the customer buys. And effectively anticipate those milestones, how their sales rep actually engages with the buyer at every stage of the sales cycle.”

-Walter Pollard, Founding member of Sales Enablement Society (SES)

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What is the buyer’s journey?

Illustrations of the buyer's journey. A person looking through a microscope then two people connecting puzzle pieces, and then two people shaking hands

The buyer’s journey is the active research process someone goes through leading up to a purchase.

The Buyer’s Journey consists of three stages:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Decision

What is a sales leader’s perspective on the buyer’s journey? To bring the buyer’s journey to life, remember that selling is about buying.

“One of the things that we teach at Harvard Business School is a very simple phrase, which is 'Selling is about buying.' I want to bring that to life. 

Usually, when I see small businesses start to build up their sales playbook, they start with their product offering; or if they're a consulting business, what their service offering is. They sit in a room and say, ‘Here's what we do. We offer this ... These are our features and benefits. This is how much it costs. Here are all our great case studies.’ They assemble that in this beautiful 10-slide PowerPoint deck. They see their codified sales process as, ‘Let's go out and give that pitch to as many people as possible.’

In the industry, we call that ‘Show up and throw up.’ We also call it Alligator Selling, which is a big mouth, little ears. Anecdotally, for a century, if you talked to the best salespeople in the world, you wouldn't see that they go out and just give the same pitch to everybody. It really comes down to an acute awareness of the buyer and personalizing the pitch to the buyer. And fortunately, today, we actually have some data to prove that this is a higher-performing sales process.” -Mark Roberge of Harvard Business School

That's the starting point of what we mean by "selling is about buying," is in any sales playbook codification, we have to start with an intimate understanding of who our buyer is. Once we understand who our buyer is, we have to build a buyer journey. Let me introduce to you a really simple buyer journey framework. The point of the buyer journey is to look at purchasing your product or offering from the perspective of the buyer. 

First, the Awareness stage. Here are the different problems and challenges and opportunities that a buyer's thinking about and prioritizing in the next quarter or next few months for their business. How do they talk about those things? 

Second, the Consideration stage. These are the different categories of ways to solve their challenges. Hire someone? Engage with a consulting firm? Buy a product? What to do to solve this problem? 

Third, the Decision stage. This phase means they've chosen a category. THey’ve answered the questions, found the solutions to challenges. They’re going to hire someone. They’re going to buy a product. They ask additional questions: How do I make that decision? What am I looking for in the person I'm hiring? What am I looking for in the consulting firm I'm engaging with? What am I looking for in the product I'm going to buy? Am I looking for the cheapest one? Am I looking for the most extensible? Am I looking for the market leader? We need to understand those perspectives.

How do you understand the buyer’s perspective?

It really comes down to an acute awareness of the buyer and personalizing your pitch to their need(s).

Illustration of a man holding

Look at the buyer’s sales journey from a HubSpot customer

TINYpulse is a HubSpot customer. TINYpulse, as an example, measures and quantifies the culture of your organization. Every week, they send out a question to all employees, and staff, saying, "Are you happy? Why or why not?" And that's a simplistic view but that's part of what they do.

At the Awareness stage, there are different problems and opportunities that they solve. Sometimes people have a bad culture. That's a great fit for TINYpulse. Sometimes they have attrition. Sometimes they need to hire people rapidly. These are all problems and challenges that are different, but TINYpulse solves them very well. Then there are problems and challenges that they don't solve well, like, "I have a boring office. I think I need to hire a better architect." That's not anything TINYpulse can solve, however, it introduces a reframing opportunity for TINYpulse to convince them that maybe the problem isn't your office is boring, maybe there are some cultural issues that we need to uncover, that we can reorient the buyer around an offering that we can deliver.

At the Consideration stage, you identify that you've got a bad culture.

Or, you've got a high turnover. How are you thinking about addressing that or how have you addressed that? One option, is "Let's throw a pizza party. That'll make everyone happy." Right? Or, "Let's hire a consultant," or, "Let's buy some software that measures where we're at and gives us some insight as to exactly what the problem is." Assuming we get them into that box, great. Here are all these players. Here are five competitors in that space. How are you gonna make that decision? The cheapest one? That's not TINYpulse. Right? The market leader? That also isn't TINYpulse, but they happen to have a differentiation on bringing many elements of the culture together and also having insight as to how to implement and respond to the findings that you have. If a buyer says that, they're a home run.

The interesting thing about this buyer journey is how we look at it. If we navigate the early stages of a sales process properly, the first goal is to understand where the buyer is on this journey? Do they think they have a boring office? Or, do they think that they have an attrition issue and they're going to hire a consultant to help them solve it? Or, do they think that they have a cultural issue and they are going to buy some software to assess it, and they want to buy the software that can give them the most impressive best practices? Every single one of those buyers is a qualified prospect for TINYpulse, but as you think about the ideal sales pitch and sales process for each of those buyers, it's way different.

That brings to life, "selling is about buying."

And that's the reason why, if we go back to our sales machine, the target market and the buyer journey is at the bottom. Now, we're in a position to build a sales process that assists the buyer through that journey, that supports the buyer through that journey. That's one of the most important lessons, in my opinion, on building and codifying a successful sales machine.

Start by defining your target persona and their buyer journey

If you start with defining the buyer journey of your target person, you’ll have a great starting point for building a customer-centric sales process.

Define the steps of your sales process

If you're interested in learning more, check out the Sales Enablement Certification. Once you have the buyer’s journey mapped out, it’s time to take a hard look at your sales process and define your steps.

Clearly define your sales process
Once you've successfully mapped your process and you know who you’re selling to, you need to understand the sales process from their perspective and base the process on that.
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