How to create a sales process and make it effective
Organization and planning: the success of every company, startups included, comes from these two factors, especially when it comes to sales. This is precisely why you absolutely must know what the sales process is, what it is for, and how it works.
Instinct can be a valuable ally when it comes to starting and running a business, but improvisation is, always and in every case, an enemy to be fought. Often, when it comes to launching a new startup and developing the business plan , people underestimate this aspect, in the belief that their idea is brilliant and, therefore, certainly successful and that it is enough to have the best products or services available on the market.
Do not make this mistake yourself: no matter how excellent they may be, products and services certainly do not sell themselves. You must, therefore, study the sales process to perfection and build the most suitable model for your business, taking care to improve it as you go along if necessary.
What is the sales process
The sales process, also known as the sales cycle, represents the set of repeatable steps that make up the entire sales negotiation, starting from its conception and identification of the potential customer to his or her purchase of the product or service, and then moving on to post-sale customer retention.
Having a clear understanding of all the distinct steps that make up the sales process allows you and your sales team to have a leg up on concluding negotiations with customers more quickly and efficiently, without making mistakes or getting lost in unnecessary efforts. Keep in mind, in this regard, that the steps in the sales process can vary in number from one industry to another, but also from one startup or company to another, while remaining within the same scope. It is important, however, to set some key points.
The key points for implementing an effective sales model
Whatever the operational scope of your startup, you can refer to a few key points that can enable you to implement an effective sales model.
You will not be pleased to know that the first basic principle is not exactly good news: at different stages of the sales process you will encounter problems and missteps and interruptions. Don’t panic: this is precisely why it is important to study the sales process as best you can because it is what will enable you to overcome every possible obstacle in the most correct way. The “secret” is to be flexible: remember to always be open to the various possibilities or opportunities that lie behind every crisis.
Now it is time to analyze, more specifically, the best strategies to make your startup’s sales process effective. Be specific: targeting niche markets will make it easier for you to get to “checkers” in the sales negotiation with your customers.
Even in defining your customer base, you need to be as specific as possible: you can’t launch a startup if you don’t know who you’re targeting (or rather you can, if you want to go into certain failure). Remember: market research and buyer personas are your valuable allies.
Finding your typical customer, however, is not enough. Be even more specific with lead scoring: score each contact in your database so that you can assess each one’s predisposition to purchase and avoid unnecessary waste of time and financial resources.
Another useful tip to avoid ineffective efforts is to always talk to the final decision-maker, that is, the person who can actually decide whether or not to complete the purchase of your product or service. This may not be easy at first when it comes to making your way in the market with your startup, but it is critical if you want to succeed. A strong sales process also allows you to bring to the sales stage only the people who are really ready to buy.
There is a question for you now: are you familiar with the PAS strategy? PAS stands for “Problem“, “Agitate“, and “Solution” (or “Solve” according to other interpretations) and this strategy is to identify a problem dear to your customer base, shine a spotlight on it (this is the “agitation” phase) and then propose a solution to the problem through your products or services. Make “PAS” your mantra.
The sales process, as has been said over and over again by now, begins at the moment of lead generation and ends with the closing of the sale and post-sale retention. The precise moment of negotiation with the customer, however, is crucial, which is why you should assess whether you are negotiating in the right way or whether you are being too aggressive or, conversely, not aggressive enough. To connect with your audience, use the evocative power of stories but also the far more practical power of demos: demonstrating how your product or service works on a practical level is more effective than any words you can use in negotiating with the customer.
Finally, don’t be afraid to use software. We will address this particular aspect in a bit; right now, suffice it to know that you can (and should) automate all your Email and Mobile Marketing activity, which is also very useful for customer retention once the sale is completed. Customer retention, however, also deserves a closer look.
Customer retention: after-sales services
One of the key moments in the sales process is, precisely, customer loyalty. Let’s make this clear right away: customer loyalty means keeping alive and strengthening the bond with the customer who has concluded the purchase of a product or service, through ad hoc after-sales services that also aim to reward his or her loyalty to the brand.
A customer who is happy and satisfied with his purchase does not need to look elsewhere for what he needs and knows he can find from you. Not only that, a loyal customer is willing to leave positive feedback and recommend the brand within his network of acquaintances, thus promoting the brand “at no cost” to the company.
One mistake you absolutely must not make, therefore, is to consider your sales process finished once the customer has completed the purchase.
There are many ways to build customer loyalty. First, be sure to offer adequate after-sales service, so as to neutralize any possible complaints but also to understand what is important to consider in selling and in what you can and should improve. Remember Bill Gates‘ famous quote:
“Your most dissatisfied customers are your greatest source of learning”.
Maintaining a bond with the customer, for example by scheduling a series of communications via phone or email, allows you, in addition, to get to know their specific needs perfectly and to be able to offer new solutions over time, adapted to their preferences, such as additional products (have you ever heard of cross selling?) or premium versions of the product already purchased (in this case we talk about up selling).
How to optimize the sales process
Up to this point we have focused on the key aspects of the sales process. Knowing theoretically what it is and how it works, however, is not enough: if you really want to make your sales process effective, you need to know how to take some specific actions. The success of your startup depends on these; remember the words we began with? Organization and planning. You are about to find out now why organizing customer data is, critical.
Organizing customer data
We spoke earlier about the importance of knowing the needs and desires of customers perfectly. Without organization, this is an almost impossible feat: customers are many and different from each other, just as the sources from which information about their preferences can be obtained are the most varied. It is very important, therefore, that the data of each individual customer be collected, organized and stored within a single space, easily accessible at all times by all salespeople, who in this way can be put in the optimal conditions to successfully complete the negotiation with the customer.
An effective salesperson not only has at his or her disposal all the information needed to touch the “right chords” of the customer but also knows how to use it in the best way. For this reason, it is always a good rule of thumb to allocate a portion of your startup’s budget to training your sales team.
Having so much information available about customers and being able to organize it in the right way also means being able to evaluate the results of the sales process and its timing (how long did the entire sales process take? How much time elapsed between steps?) and to take action on any weaknesses found.
Provide personalized support to customers
The strength of the sales process lies in the replicability of its steps, but this strength hides a huge pitfall: there is a risk of developing overly generic sales strategies.
Although the goal is to build a replicable model, the sales process should in fact be understood not as a set of standard procedures, but rather as a set of customizable best practices that can be used to guide each potential customer through the various stages of the sales cycle.
Optimizing the sales process, then, means knowing where, when, and how to change the approach so as to provide highly personalized support to the customer, at every stage of the sales cycle. The more information you can get about the customer, of course, the more you will be able to offer him or her an experience tailored to his or her needs and desires, including those that may emerge post-sale.
Contacting the customer and maintaining a relationship with him allows you to understand his needs and desires and to propose personalized offers. Likewise, observing his online behavior (how much time does he spend on your site or app? What elements does his attention focus on most?) can provide you with equally valuable information.
Tailoring the sales process to the customer’s profile
By now it must be clear to you: it is necessary to tailor the sales process to the customer’s profile. This means not only building customized sales strategies, but also proposing content, pages and fields tailored to each customer, on the communication channels and in the ways he or she prefers, so as to ensure greater engagement and build a stronger relationship.
The answer to the need to organize a large amount of information and to adopt highly customizable solutions is one and can be summarized in two words, which we have mentioned before: CRM software.
Sales process management software (CRM)
Before understanding how you can use CRM software to optimize your sales process, it is good to clarify what we are talking about.
The acronym CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. Basically, it means the process by which companies organize and manage their interactions with customers, existing and potential, generally using data analysis to study the wealth of information available to them.
Even startups now have increasingly sophisticated business relationships from the get-go. A CRM software is a tool that, by taking advantage of new technologies, helps them collect all their contacts (and information about them) within one space, monitor every stage of the sales process, and build longer-lasting and more effective relationships with customers. Not only that: a CRM software also allows them to deepen relationships with partners and suppliers.
CRM software, in practice, collects, stores, and links customer information from a wide variety of sources (from the website to social networks, via telephone and email) in order to provide as complete a picture as possible, so that sales strategies can be tailored to seize every opportunity.
Based on the data collected and organized through CRM software you can, more concretely, organize and classify customers and leads, increase turnover with up-selling and cross-selling activities to propose to your existing customers, provide better customer support, and improve products and services based on the feedback you receive.
Many CRM software take advantage of cloud technology, which means that the information collected within them can be accessed at any time and from anywhere (given a connection). By using CRM software, then, your sales team can stay up-to-date on the status of the customer by being able to consult his or her most recent data. Having all the information always available in one place also minimizes the risk of facing internal company communication problems.
You now have all the tools, theoretical and practical, to create a sales process tailored to your startup and adapt it to the specific needs of your customers.
We began by mentioning the importance of organization and planning. It is time, now, to mention a third fundamental activity: measurement. Remember, in fact, that there is no such thing as a procedure that is always valid and effective in every sales situation: you must take care to improve your sales process as you go along, based on your customers’ new solicitations.
The market is constantly changing, and new problems may be on the horizon, perhaps precisely because you underestimated a particular aspect that came up during the sales process. Not only that, but customers’ needs and desires are also constantly changing very quickly. To anticipate potential risks and catch your customers’ new needs and desires in a timely manner, you need to remember to measure your performance by analyzing your sales metrics (KPIs) so you can understand what is going well and what is not and make your sales process even more effective.
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