The Essential Guide to Your 2018 Sales Process Refresh

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The holidays have winded down and it’s time to work your sales process back into shape! I’m ready to jump into 2018 and at the risk of sounding a little dark, this is my favorite time of the holiday season. When it ends.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to hang out with family and friends, relax, and eat lots and lots of great food. But eventually the relaxation period has run its course and it’s time to take our recharged batteries back to the real world.

It’s exciting, and I’m excited to talk through the steps of nailing down a truly beneficial sales process. But first, I’d like to talk a little about what a truly beneficial sales process looks like, and maybe little about what it doesn’t look like.

What it is:

  • Easily understood by everyone working with prospects in it
  • Complete and reliable in regards to the steps needed in it
  • Crystal clear about what qualifies a deal to be added to the pipeline
  • A way to visualize deal amounts

What it isn’t:

  • Different for everyone on the sales team, or a process with set stages that mean different things to different people
  • Incomplete or containing steps that aren’t absolutely essential
  • Indescriptive about when a deal should be created
  • Agnostic of prioritization between deals

Alright, let’s get this sales process solidified. This post is your first step towards a better sales process in 2018.

Create a Solid Sales Pipeline Blueprint

The first step in creating a solid sales pipeline blueprint is to map out every step that could happen in a sale.

Remove Unnecessary Steps

Review the list of every step in search of steps that are unnecessary. Unnecessary steps can be skipped without keeping a sale from going through. Think about things you absolutely need to do to move a prospect to the next stage of the deal. For example, if there’s a stage for sending a follow-up email I’d consider that unnecessary. If a prospect is ready to move to the next stage we probably wouldn’t make them wait until we send a follow-up email.

Remove Redundant Steps

Redundancies can be a little harder to identify than unnecessary steps. Redundant steps tend to be steps that can usually be combined together (however, this isn’t always the case).

Take these steps for example:

  • RFP sent
  • Proposal received
  • Sent edits to proposal
  • Received edited proposal
  • Returned signed proposal

These steps are a little redundant, they can be turned into something like this:

  • RFP Sent
  • Returned signed proposal

It stands to reason that a signed proposal has seen any edits needed.

Remove Steps That are Out of Your Control

Steps that are out of your control are usually handled internally within the prospect’s organization. Being as they’re handled internally and are out of your control they can be very difficult, or even impossible, to report on.

Some companies will perform a legal review before they can agree to a contract. However, this shouldn’t be part of your sales pipeline. You don’t have any documentation to prove that it happened so capturing it in a CRM isn’t practical.

A prospect might tell you that they held an internal review of your tool, and they very well may have, but you can’t prove it. Also, you’re probably not going to fact check them to make sure they did a review before moving forward with the sale.

In the interest of keeping the steps in your pipeline reliable and complete, we should leave these kinds of steps out.

Put Stages in the Past Tense

Placing pipeline stages in the past tense will help remove any confusion around stage meaning and what needs to be done for a prospect deal to enter a stage.

It’s blatantly obvious, based on the tense of the stage names, that a deal within this stage has completed the what’s outlined in the title of it.

Let’s look at the example above. “RFP Sent” would mean that any deal in that stage is associated with a prospect who sent an RFP. Blamo.

Use The Prospect’s Point of View

By putting the stage titles in the prospect’s point of view we can create an environment that’s more helpful than pushy. Instead of trying to push prospects to the next step, this small step will help sales teams think about what they can do to guide the prospect to the next stage.

Here are a couple of examples of this adjustment:

  • “Held product demo” should be “Attended product demo”
    • The salesperson might think, “before this person can attend a demo we need to get it scheduled, to do that we need to coordinate on a meeting time.”
  • “Received signed contract” should be “Sent signed contract”
  • “Received RFP” should be “Sent RFP”

The Benefit of a Clear Sales Pipeline

Use this pipeline to identify the number of deals in each stage and bottlenecks in your process.

  • The clear stage names will facilitate consistent sales stage use across large teams making it easy to identify issues
  • Wording the stages from the perspective of the prospect will help salespeople think about how they can help the prospect get qualified to move to the next stage, instead of pushing them through the pipeline
  • Using only absolutely necessary stages will keep sales teams several steps ahead by always knowing what’s next, and after that, and after that

Focus on the Point of Entry

When it comes to adding deals to a pipeline we need to find a balance.

  • If it’s too difficult to enter, sales will be lost
  • If it’s too easy to enter, the pipeline will be clutter with unqualified deals

Determine What Really is a Good Point of Entry

Consider the absolutely necessary first step in a pipeline, does anything need to happen before that, or can it be the trigger? In my experience, I’ve found that action-based triggers to be the most reliable in initiating new deals. Due to their timely nature, a deal will be created when someone is showing buyer signals.

For example, it might be absolutely necessary for the prospect to attend a demo before they can purchase a service. It stands to reason that before they can attend a demo they have to request it. Luckily, requesting a demo can be handled with a form, and that form submission action can create a new deal while also sending a notification to a salesperson to schedule the demo.

My favorite things about using automation to create deals are that they will be consistently labeled and all deals that match the criteria of the automation will be captured. This significantly reduces the likelihood of human error and will make reporting on sales opportunities won or lost more complete.

The Benefit of a Balanced Point of Entry

Use this point of entry to automate the deal creation as much as humanly possible.

  • This will standardize nomenclature, making the pipeline easier to manage
  • Ensure that all deals are getting captured
  • Help prioritize deals and boost sales work efficiency
  • Maximize reporting on potential sales

Use Deal Amounts to Visualize Pipeline Value

Standardizing value as much as possible can further facilitate valuable and scalable automation. When a new deal is created automatically a deal amount can be assigned to that deal.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. Some companies offer several different services or have a lot of customization, and this can make it hard to assign a deal amount until after a deal has made it through some portion of the pipeline.

Luckily, later stages can be used to set up automation. Let’s suppose there’s a stage in a pipeline where a deal amount should be known. This is something that can be built into a sales process and supported with automation in the form of a sales notification to a salesperson when a deal enters a certain stage and doesn’t have a deal amount assigned yet.

The Benefit of Reliable Deal Amount Allocation

Using deal amounts will generate valuable context for a pipeline.

  • It will reveal how much money is actually moving through our sales process
  • We can accurately predict when we’ll see payment from our deals
  • Further prioritization can happen on top of what we discussed earlier by letting us identify larger yielding jobs

Use this guide to map out a rock solid sales strategy for 2018. The steps outlined above provide a framework for developing a strong sales process. However, getting to the heart of what makes a good process for your company requires strategic conversations. While HubSpot has some resources for helping you map out your sales plan, you may want additional support.