05 Dec

Formalizing the Sales Process

A business is only as strong as its weakest process. Having clear guidelines for all tasks is essential to maintaining a level of consistency in your brand image, client communications, and quality of work. As previously discussed, formalizing processes is a prolonged exercise that grows with a company overtime.

The sales process is a complex task to document and is dependent upon not only the industry, but also your target customer and its associated segments. For the purpose of this post we will assume the role of a salesman within the restaurant industry with a business-to-consumer (B2C) product (wherein the consumer is the restaurant owner/manager).

While determining the process and methodology behind a sales cycle is vital, choosing a platform to centralize all pertinent information should be completed as early as possible. I personally use Pipedrive [affiliate link]: a tool that is built to customize and organize your sales pipeline dependent on target customers, and allows you to schedule follow ups, report on individual and team statistics, access via mobile device, and sync with your other platforms (Yesware, Google Apps, Highrise, Excel, etc). Other comparable tools include a traditional spreadsheet, Salesforce, Nuttshell, and Batchbook.

As a B2C product targeting restaurant owners, our example salesman has a number of ideal customer segments: restaurant owners, restaurant management companies, restaurant consultants, site selectors (retail real estate agents focused on the restaurant industry), building developers (design and construction), etc. Each of these segments requires a customized sales pipeline, approach, value proposition, pricing structure, and most importantly, relationship.

Setting up an individual customer segment’s pipeline requires initial assumptions and continuous tweaking. For example, based on the salesman’s understanding of the market, he determines the following pipelines for the following segments:

  1. Restaurant Owners (direct sales): Cold Prospects -> Warm Prospects -> Contact Made -> Needs Discovered -> Proposal Presented -> Paperwork Pending Approval
  2. Restaurant Consultants (referral network): Introductions -> Communications -> Needs Discovered -> Partnership Deal Outlined/Negotiated -> Paperwork Pending Approval

Formalizing the sales process requires not only a great deal of market research, but more importantly, trial and error. Standardizing communication touch points (from the first engagement to closing the deal) allows for non-biased analysis of success variables. Centralizing all of the information within your CRM (i.e. Pipedrive) will enable you to improve your closure rate in the future. Using Pipedrive as the repository for all sales communications will enable you to determine when and how the sale was lost and avoid the same pitfall with future opportunities.

In formalizing a sales process I utilize standard A/B test practices. If a first touch point is an email introduction after a mention in an industry focused publication, I will first use different email lengths to determine the most successful response rate. From there, I will tweak the verbiage and narrow my focus on the value ad the customer segment finds most appealing – I typically try to find their current pain point (i.e. marketing to new potential customers without paying 50% to a group buying service). By tracking customer feedback through trial and error I am able to tweak future sales communications to increase sales conversions and move deals further along in the pipeline.

Towards the beginning of your sales process formation, I would recommend approaching leads in waves. If you gather 40 potential leads, organize 20 of them as the first wave, and the remaining 20 as the second wave. Divide your initial outreach efforts (whether cold calls or emails) into two distinct tests with one variable each. In this case, the salesman sends a cold email introduction to 10 restaurant owners, using the same canned message tailored to the restaurant while simultaneously emailing the other 10 restaurant owners a similar message, but significantly shorter. Based on the response rate of the first wave, the salesman now knows the length of a cold email that ensures a higher reply rate. Repeating this process in the next wave by focusing on determining the target audiences’ current pain point will enable the salesman to optimize his initial sales contact method for future cold introductions. Continuously improving on the sales process means incessant testing and tweaking of communication strategies.

Refining your sales pipeline will not only increase your closure rate, but also allow for you to properly project future cash flows and manage project timeframes based off of projected closing dates. After each interaction with a potential client you should take notes and adjust your strategy for the next similar interaction.

With steady improvement to your sales process, and through the use of other sales tools, your company will be sure to experience growth through direct sales and the residual effects of continuously reminding your target market of your improved product and/or services. Always be selling.