Sales Process – How to Create Your Own

Having a clearly defined sales process can make all the difference in improving your pitches and proposals with clients. It may take a few attempts to get it down, but creating your own process is essential to your sale. What works for other consultants may not work for you, so it’s important to find your own way.

The goal of having a winning sales process is to reliably find your perfect client, and know when you’ve found them. When you’re talking to people who you can’t help or shouldn’t do business with, you’re able to determine that much faster with a sales process.

In this episode, I’ll be covering:

  1. How to create your own sales process
  2. Guiding principles of your process
  3. How to structure it for continuous improvement

You know that you need it, but you don’t know where to start to create your sales process. Identifying the need for it is the first step. You’ll then need to answer these three questions: what sales methodology will you follow, what your overall process will look like, and what happens in each step, and why?

Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ll need to be sure your process checks these items: it’s documented, repeatable, teachable, and able to be measured. If you don’t understand your own process, how will your client? How will you show them your process is effective, as well as the solution your client is looking for?

In addition to the criteria your process should follow, it needs to be able to be improved on. To make sure your process is always on par, you should (1) choose what steps will stay and which ones will go, (2) decide on a product offering each time, (3) abstract the typical conditions, and (4) define what you need to know with each individual client. Based on their problems and needs, you’ll be able to adjust your process accordingly and successfully.


Full Episode Transcription

Say what you will about McDonald’s food or the societal impact of their restaurant, but their first groundbreaking innovation was applying a rigorous process to their restaurants. Specifically, they brought an assembly line to food production and restaurant design. This enabled them to consistently deliver a level of quality and speed that met the expectations of their customers. Without that rigorous process, there would be no fast food because it wouldn’t be fast.

McDonald’s had a playbook for how to make it’s hamburgers and fries and each process was defined down to the second, they told their franchisees how to lay out their stores and how to make every single item on the menu. All of it had to be done quickly with complete precision and presented nicely to leave customers with a positive impression every time. They even name their process for food preparation and called it the Speedee system with two E’s at the end. I’m not making that up.

Now, if you’ve ever seen the movie The Founder where Michael Keaton depicts Ray Kroc, the man credited and most responsible for the expansion of McDonald’s, you know all of this already. But what you probably don’t know is another process that McDonald’s has developed with little fanfare. It’s the process that’s allowed them to continue to innovate and create products even as traditional fast food has lost some of its popularity in the United States.

A process to answer the question, how do we evolve our menu as consumer tastes change? Some of their most popular items like the Egg McMuffin were created by individual franchisees, then adopted by a few other restaurants and eventually made their way on to every McDonald’s menu. But with thousands of locations, this process was extremely inefficient and difficult to manage. Now they have three guiding principles for any new menu item.

Tastes good, is inexpensive and is easy to prepare. Now McDonald’s relies on chefs to create new products that fit the criteria, ask consumers for their feedback and continue to iterate until they have a winning product, sometimes hundreds of times just to get one new product on the menu. This is the power of process. It’s repeatable, you can teach it to others and it has the inbuilt opportunity for continuous improvement.

Your sales process won’t be designed to deliver hundreds of billions of hamburgers. Yes, that is a real stat, but you do get the other benefits that I just mentioned. A repeatable, teachable and improvable sales process. In today’s episode i’ll define the criteria you need to set out for your sales process, how to create your own and how to structure it for teachability and continuous improvement.

Welcome to modern sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and sales people looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics and sales studies to help you create win, win relationships. I’m your host Liston Witherill and I’m pleased to welcome you to modern sales. You know you can improve your sales process at your company, especially if you don’t have one documented.

That’s a strong sign that there’s room for improvement, but maybe you’re not sure exactly how to do it or you’re looking for some guidance because you know that you and other people on your team may not follow the same process every time meaning you’re leaving quite a bit to chance. Now the solution is simple, you need to implement a process and you need to document it.

In similar to the McDonald’s example above, you need some guiding principles to your sales process and I suggest that they are, number one, it’s documented. Two, it’s repeatable. Three, you can teach it and four you can measure it. Now, of course, underpinning all of this is taking actions that actually help your clients. Now, the goal of having a great sales process isn’t to win every time.

The goal of having a winning sales process is to more reliably create your perfect clients and to accelerate it so that when you’re talking to people who you can’t help or you shouldn’t do business with, you’re able to determine that much faster. I’ve worked on projects where clients will brag that they have such a high win percentage. They’ll say, we win 50% of our proposals or we win 80% of our proposals or we win 80% of the leads that come our way, which tells me two things.

One, you probably aren’t getting enough leads and two, you’re probably not having enough sales activity. It may be tempting when you go into this thinking our goal is to win 100% of everything we do, but truth be told you’re probably not taking enough risk if that’s the case. Now, when it comes to defining your process, I really believe there are three overarching questions you need to answer right upfront and those are what do you believe about sales?

Asked another way, which methodology should you follow? If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you know that the overarching idea and mindset that I have is to serve not sell, which probably came through 60 seconds ago. If you want to learn more about that, you can go back to the early episodes. Episode two is called serve don’t sell where I talk about that mindset. There’s plenty of other ones.

Spin selling, snap selling, enter some other acronym. There’s Sandler, there’s Dale Carnegie. There’s lots of different sales methodologies. There’s too many for me to cover in this episode, but I will be covering it in the next episode, episode 66. So if you’re not subscribed to this podcast, go ahead and subscribe so you can get that episode if you’re interested in learning more about sales methodologies.

But back to the big idea, three overarching questions in creating your sales process. What is the methodology that you will follow? Number two, what’s the overall process that you’ll follow? And number three, what happens within each step of the process and why? If you were going to build a house, essentially your methodology is the style of architecture. Your overall process is the exterior and the general layout of the house.

What happens within each step of the process is what goes inside each individual room and what the purpose of each room is. Where’s the office? Where do you put the desk? Where are the bathrooms? Where are the bedrooms? Where’s the kitchen? How big is it? All of those things are essentially each step within the process. Now, you may be wondering what is a process that I recommend?

And if you’re wondering that I have it for you. This is what I believe for most consultative sales, the general overall process, the kind of exterior in general layout of the house as I said in the metaphor goes like this, lead qualification. You want to make sure you understand how qualified this person is and of course qualification is happening more and more at every step along the way.

But first we want to make sure,is this person on paper a good fit to work with you and on paper are you a good fit to help them? Number two is discovery, learning more about them, what their particular problems are, what their challenges are, what their goals are. Then there’s the offer, how you actually present to them what you can do. Next is objections and negotiation.

Making sure that your answering all of the questions that they have along the way and especially the more people that are involved, the more likely you are to be in a negotiation phase and also the less differentiated your firm is, the more likely you are to be in a negotiation phase. Then there’s contracting, actually getting that contract signed. One step that a lot of people don’t think about but is vital in consulting is the handoff.

If you’re not going to be the person overseeing the contract, you need to hand it off to the person or the team who will and you need a process for that as well. Of course the sale will have been made by that point, but the best way to get it off on the right foot is to have a handoff process that works and people actually like. A couple ideas for building your sales process. Where I would start is to choose what’s in and what’s out of your process.

Does your process include prospecting? Some people have sales playbooks that have really detailed information about prospecting. How you’re going to find your prospects, what you’re going to say to them, how you hope to turn them into live sales opportunities. Part of this depends on how you’re generating leads and opportunities for your business and also I would say part of it depends on the breadth of the sales process that you want to create.

Obviously the more you add to it, the more complicated it becomes. Now, if you’re treating prospecting as a separate job from working with clients in a one on one setting which is the process that I would call sales, seeing if they’re going to be a fit for your help. If that job is done by the same person who’s creating those leads, then it probably belongs in the playbook.

But if you have dedicated resources to generating leads or you’re doing them in a different way. If you’re doing some degree of inbound marketing, you go and speak at events, you create content, your paying for advertising to drive traffic to the content that you create. However you’re creating those leads, if it’s more on an inbound basis, you’re probably not going to include prospecting.

Also the question of lead qualification. Now, I recommend you keep this in your sales process, but some people just assume that the sales process only starts when they have a qualified lead even though it’s a requisite step in order to get a qualified lead. Another thing you might consider is whether or not you want to build into your sales process, the process of upselling and account management and deepening your relationship with clients.

The stats are pretty well known on this, it costs 7 to 10 times more money to get a new client than to sell to an existing one. Of course it does. They already trust you, you already have credibility with them. And so will you build into your sales process a process of transitioning a client from an initial project to a larger project? I’ll dive into this more in the next section so this is a good segue to decide on product offering.

The early parts of the sales process, lead qualification, discovery, and then offer, they will be affected by the way you make that offer and the way you position the offer. There’s something called a product or service ladder which businesses will use in order to make it easy for a client to say yes to something relatively small and that’s just small in terms of what a typical contract is for your business.

But they’ll start with something relatively small and then they’ll go on to sell additional projects. Now, this whole land and expand thing is basically a pejorative term at this point because it’s so focused on you, the seller. But it does stand to reason that a lot of people would be willing to try something relatively small, see if they continue to trust you and then go forward and buy more from you if they see that you can prove yourself in a project or engagement.

Will you be selling an entry level project or entry level projects to every prospect who comes through? Or do you only want to sell much larger projects because you believe that’s the only thing that you can offer that will truly give your clients the transformation and the help that they’re looking for? The reason I’m bringing this up is that the size of the product offering that you offer, especially to new clients in the beginning, will be a determining factor in how long your sales process goes.

The larger that product and the less trust they have with you, the longer it’s going to take to close that sale generally. The other question is if you’re going to be offering something small, will you be offering it in every single situation or just in some situations? That of course will affect your process as well. Related to that, are you selling services that are completely customized or are they more or less standardized?

The ramification of this last one is if you are completely standardized, when you get to the offer part of your sales process, the offer would be made the same way every time. You may just customize it to the needs of your particular client who you’re talking to, but essentially you could present that off of a standardized sales deck. You could present that 80% the same every time.

That of course allows you to be more standardized, more repeatable, more teachable, more opportunities for improvement. Those are all good things. Deciding on your product offering and the way especially you’re going to start with clients is a fairly big decision coming in. The next thing I want to talk about is abstracting the typical conditions of a sale and that your clients are likely to have.

Now, when you hear me say abstract, the typical conditions you may be thinking, well, sales are different every time. And if by different you mean they’re not exactly the same, I agree with you. But if by different you mean there’s absolutely no overlap between the way you sell and the way your buyers buy, I definitely don’t agree with that. In order to abstract the typical conditions, basically you’re going to look at the range of possibilities you’re likely to encounter.

What are the typical questions that your clients have? What are the typical objections that they might have? What are some issues that may come up in the negotiation? How closely does your service match their problems and in what situations? One big thing you can do to abstract the typical conditions is to identify who’s typically involved on your client’s end. How many people, what are their titles, what do they care about? What is really on their minds?

Just as an example, if you’re typically selling to let’s say a chief marketing officer, they may also have their director of marketing and they may also have a salesperson and they may also have a variety of other people involved in making that decision, or worse and more challenging is if you’re selling to someone say at the director level, that’s who’s going to be the champion of your sale, but you know that it needs to be signed off by the chief marketing officer.

The way you sell to those people will probably be slightly different. A director of marketing is typically looking at a slice of the overall marketing mix, whereas the chief marketing officer is looking for the total return on the marketing dollar spent and the marketing resources used. Identifying who’s likely to be involved and what you’ll need to do to sell to them, involve them, and even help your champion sell on your behalf.

Those are all questions that you can start to think about now as you build your process. Another question is how expensive is your offer relative to the competition? If you’re the most expensive but you’re not the market leader, you know you’re going to have some questions to answer. Why are you more expensive? What do you get for it? Now, I don’t think you need to go in and quantify that.

I would generally recommend you not do that, but you do need to have an answer. The whole point of abstracting the typical conditions that clients will have is that probably 90% or more of the things that will come up in your sales after you’ve delivered the sales process to 5 to 10 sales opportunities, 90% or more of the situations that will come up, you can predict. They will be within a range of expectation and some will come up more often than others.

Some will come up every single time and others will come up just sometimes. But you’ll be able to predict them and plan for them and that’s really one of the key things about having a sales process is you come in with a plan. Next up, I want you to define what you need to know. In the discovery process, this is really where we’re pulling out as much information as we can about the client. I think you should always be defining PGV problems, goals and value.

What are the problems that the client has right now? What goals do they have in solving those problems and what would be the value of achieving those goals? The value part can be quantitative. Ideally it’s partially quantitative, it’s always partially qualitative if not entirely qualitative depending on what you sell. The goals are really what the client is after ultimately and the problem is what’s driven them to have this conversation with you in the first place.

Obviously, you need to understand what are those things going on with this person in order to make it through discovery.I recommend you always figure that out. Another thing you might need to know is what are the technical or client requirements in order to make it so that you can help them. If you offer a technical solution or even a marketing or a management solution, there may be technical aspects to what you do that you need to check off the list very early.

And so you’re going to want to have a checklist where you can understand, am I going to be able to provide value to this person based on what they have going on? Then there may be legal issues. Do you need to sign an NDA? Do you need your client to sign an NDA? Will there be sharing of exclusive proprietary or sensitive information? Again, all of these things fall within a range of possibilities that you can predict and so defining what you need to know is the next thing that I want you to think about.

One thing I want to touch on a little bit more about qualification is part of your sales process and ultimately what all of this would become as a sales playbook, how do you sell and to whom? You really need to define that who is this for part. It’ll help you in your qualification and it will also make it crystal clear what the pain goals and value are and it will also allow you to define the range of possibilities.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be a specific title or it doesn’t necessarily need to be a specific industry, but however you would identify this person and particularly however they would self identify, that is what needs to go into your definition of who this is for because it will affect every other aspect of the sales process. And finally, you might get into some details.

I use the metaphor of building a house. Now we get into what’s in the individual rooms. What tools do you have in place? What resources and collateral do you need or do you have? How does the client book meetings with you? Where are the meetings? Are they in person? Do people come to you? Do you go to them? Are they over the phone? Do you do video calls? The more specific you can get, the closer this becomes to a recipe.

Again, our goal is not to make hundreds of billions of hamburgers, but the advantage of a process is it allows you to deliver a consistent experience that’s optimized to give the best experience to your clients. Just to recap, the three overarching questions I want you to ask is which methodology will you follow and I’ll be covering more about methodology in episode 66. Secondly, what’s the overall process that you’ll follow?

And third, what happens within each step of the process and why? If you’re looking for some shorthand, the general process that I recommend to all of my clients is lead qualification, discovery, offer, objections and negotiation, contracting, and then handoff. That should be plenty of food for thought for you to build your sales process. Thank you so much for listening. Once again, my name is Liston and if you enjoyed what you heard today or you know someone else who might enjoy it and get something out of it, please share this podcast.

The other way you can help is going to iTunes, leaving a review whatever is on your mind, whether it’s five stars or two stars or four stars or whatever. I just ask that you leave an honest review. It really helps me spread the word and it helps get this podcast to more people who could really benefit from it. Thank you so much for listening and I hope you have a fantastic day. Bye.’