B2B Sales

A Better B2B Sales Process: How to Nail Every Stage of the Sales Cycle

It’s true what they say about sales being a numbers game. However, that doesn’t mean your sales process should be left up to chance.

One of the simplest ways to increase your odds of success is to follow a defined sales process that optimizes each step of the sales cycle.

In this post, we’ll cover why it’s important to have a clear, repeatable sales process as a B2B company, best practices to follow at each step, common mistakes to avoid, and tips to optimize your own sales process.

What is a Sales Process?

A sales process is a group of connected steps required to move a lead through the customer journey. From initial contact to pitching to negotiating the sale, each step of your sales process should be designed around a specific action or milestone that brings leads one step closer to making a purchase. 

Why You Need to Define (and Master) the Sales Process 

You might be wondering why it’s crucial to have a defined sales process in the first place. A repeatable sales process allows your team to reliably recreate past successes again and again. 

After all, what good is it to have a winning sales formula if you don’t know how to replicate it?

Businesses that use a formal sales process perform better, and their revenue growth is 18% better than in companies without a defined sales process. 

A good sales process acts as a framework or roadmap that salespeople can use to move deals through the pipeline.

There are numerous benefits to mastering each of the sales process steps and understanding the sales cycle as a whole. Defining your sales process allows your team to:

  • Map and visualize the entire sales process from the first point of contact to close.
  • Understand how far along each deal is in the sales cycle.
  • Accurately measure results and sales metrics, including win rate and sales velocity.
  • Create a weighted pipeline and improve sales forecasting accuracy.
  • Optimize your sales process and increase revenue based on analytics and trends.
  • Shorten the length of your sales cycle (and sell more quickly).
  • Uncover bottlenecks that might be holding up sales.
  • Lower your customer acquisition cost.
  • Clearly communicate the sales process to new hires.

Note that the sales process is different from a sales methodology. While a sales methodology provides a framework for how you approach sales, the sales process defines what specific actions are required to turn leads into customers.

The 7-step Sales Process for B2B Sales

If you think of the sales process as a roadmap for moving each prospect from lead to customer, then the sales process steps represent key pitstops you need to make along the way. 

The typical B2B sales cycle involves 7 “stops” or sales process steps that guide you towards closing the sale.

Here’s an overview of the standard 7-step sales process for B2B sales teams.

Step 1: Prospecting & Sourcing Leads

Finding new customers starts with sourcing leads. After all, you can’t make sales without someone to buy. That’s why the first step in the sales process is prospecting, otherwise known as lead generation.

In most cases, effective prospecting starts with creating an ideal customer profile (ICP). Putting together an ICP allows you to get a true sense of who your target audience is, what their company does, and how your software or product can benefit them.

lead generation in the sales process

Understanding your ideal customer provides a solid foundation for lead generation. However, this prospecting step also includes all the preliminary work that goes into researching potential leads, digging up contact information, and building a list of leads to contact.

Once you have a clearly defined target audience, you can begin to create a list of potential prospects. This might start with a few Google searches that result in a list of email addresses, phone numbers, or even just company names in the industry you’re targeting. 

For SMB sales, you want to make sure you’ve done your research before connecting with a potential lead. The more detail, the better. 

Thankfully, you can use technology to help you find data and generate leads more efficiently. With a tool like Soleadify, you can uncover your ideal prospects and connect with viable leads more quickly.

soleadify screenshot

It’s best to enter data about your leads into a spreadsheet or CRM to keep prospecting research organized. At a bare minimum, you should have a column or field for the company name, the individual’s first name, last name, and job title. 

Step 2: Connecting 

The second step of the sales process is outreach. This is where sales reps start to work the list of contacts developed in the prospecting stage. However, before reaching out to your leads, you must conduct extensive research so you can later personalize your outreach message. 

There are a couple of ways to go about this.

First things first: make sure you’re emailing the right person. If you’re unsure about whether you’re speaking to a gate-keeper or a decision-maker, simply ask if they’re the best person to talk to about the pain point your product addresses.

Whether you’re cold-emailing or cold calling, you should have a loose script that you follow for each customer type. This allows you to be prepared and hit your key talking points for different buyer personas without sounding overly rehearsed. 

For instance, if you’re targeting marketing managers at SMBs, your initial outreach should focus on different points than if you were reaching out to founders at fast-growing startups.

Keep in mind that you don’t want to launch into a sales pitch before you understand the lead’s needs and wants. So, in most cases, your initial outreach shouldn’t involve too many details about your product or solution. The goal is simply to establish contact and start a conversation. 

If you don’t hear back right away, remember to follow-up multiple times to increase your odds of success.

Step 3: Qualifying leads 

Qualifying leads goes beyond just looking at their problems and matching it to your solution. It’s about understanding your prospects in-depth, assessing their needs, and scoring them based on how likely they are to become a customer in the near future.

Many sales teams use a lead scoring model to identify which leads are most worth pursuing. You can use an established lead scoring system like the BANT framework to simplify this step. Just keep in mind that certain flexibility is needed, as today BANT is not used as rigidly as before.

Think of this: if your prospect didn’t set a budget for purchasing new tools, but your offer comes as an ideal solution to the vital problem they have, they might work their way to find the budget. 

The BANT approach to lead scoring looks at Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing. 

  • Does the prospect have the budget available to pay for your solution? 
  • Does the individual you’re speaking with have the authority to make the buying decision – or do you need to get through to someone else?
  • Does the company have a need for your product or software?
  • Does the timing match up? That is, is the prospect in a position to make the purchase soon?

Take notes as you chat with prospects to learn more about their needs and pain points. Ask qualifying questions to score leads further, assess the scale of their needs, and gather information to help customize your offer in the next step.

Step 4: Presenting the offer 

By now, you should know enough about your prospect’s business, pain points, and budget to put together a personalized sales pitch. This is your opportunity to present an offer that matches the prospect’s wants and needs. 

While the previous stages of the sales process focused solely on your prospect, this is the moment where you get to talk about you and what you are offering. However, this is just an illusion. Even while presenting your product/service, you are still making it about them and trying to have them picture what they get from signing up. 

Try to tailor the pitch to their company as much as possible. That includes framing the benefits of your solution in terms of their specific use case. If possible, use a case study where a similar-sized company in a related industry achieved goals similar to those of your prospect.

Step 5: Handling objections 

At this step, it’s important to remember that sales objections are not the same thing as a prospect turning you down. There’s a reason that handling objections is baked right into the B2B sales process. It’s not unusual or even a bad sign for a prospect to question your offer or voice several reasons they’re hesitant to buy.

The best way to handle objections is to anticipate and proactively address them. 

However, since it’s not always possible to predict a prospect’s every concern, the next best thing is to be prepared for anything.

The good news is, you already know the most common objections your leads tend to have. Or, at least, you have the resources to find out. Simply talking to your fellow sales reps can help you recognize the most common questions and concerns that prevent prospects from buying.

For SMB sales, many of the most frequent objections are related to pricing and timing. So, if possible, try to tease out information about those concerns early in the conversation. 

If your prospect mentions that they need to review their budget, for example, you can pre-emptively address their concerns by offering a limited time discount.

Step 6: Closing the sale 

In terms of business results, this is the most critical step in the entire sales process. A salesperson’s ability to close is ultimately what converts prospects into paying customers. 

Unfortunately, some salespeople struggle when it comes to actually closing the deal.

There are a few things you can work on to improve your close rate. 

sales process step: closing the sale

For instance, rather than leaving the conversation open-ended, always steer the prospect towards making a solid decision. Try to use actionable language that makes it clear you’re looking to move the deal to the next stage. 

Here’s an example of two different ways a salesperson might initiate a close: 

1. “Here’s my best offer. Let me know what you think.”

2. “Are you ready to move forward to today? I’ve already drawn up the contract and have it right here.”

The first example could be used to segue into a close, but it feels more like a suggestion than a definitive next step. The second example, on the other hand, uses action-oriented language that shows you mean business.

Of course, there’s a delicate balance to maintain between being decisive and direct without being too pushy. You can put the prospect at ease by reiterating that you’re happy to answer any questions, but also maintain momentum by coming prepared with a contract ready to sign.

Step 7: Following up 

Every sales rep should know the power of a good follow up, but what many sales reps tend to overlook is that persistence is the key to success. That is, following up is most effective when you do it multiple times.

The average sale takes five or more follow up attempts to close. 

That means five separate emails, phone calls, voice mails, or messages – or some combination of these. 

The importance of following up isn’t just relevant to pre-sale situations. Even once you close the deal, checking in with new customers helps ensure they’re happy with the product and have everything they need to get full use of it. 

Plus, following up after the initial sales can also help you identify opportunities for cross-selling, upselling, referrals, and even testimonials that can be used in case studies or as social proof in future sales pitches.

Why the Sales Process Falls Apart: Common Mistakes to Avoid

There are a couple of problems that can throw off your entire B2B sales process. From lack of planning to poor communication and unrealistic sales goals, these are the most common mistakes that you want to avoid when developing a sales process of your own.

Not creating a sales process at all

One of the biggest mistakes is also the most obvious: failure to create a sales process makes it that much harder to track and optimize the stages of your sales cycle. 

Even though developing a standardized sales process is crucial to scaling a business and increasing your win-rate, a majority of sales reps still haven’t bothered to define their process.

68% of salespeople don’t have a defined sales process at all. In other words, they’re winging it – and it’s costing them deals

sales process mistakes

Failing to document the process in detail 

It’s not enough to simply inform your team about your new sales process once and hope for the best. If you want your carefully chosen sales process to be properly followed, you need to create internal documentation and ensure each of your sales reps knows how to access it.

Not defining action items for each step

Set your sales team up for success by clearly defining and communicating action items and triggers for each sales process step. Otherwise, your team might not understand how to put the process into practice.

For example, rather than telling your team to ‘address objections’ after completing their sales pitch, provide real examples of the types of questions prospects might have and explain how to recognize when this step is successfully completed.

Setting meaningless benchmarks without consulting the data

There’s nothing wrong with setting sales quotas or using industry benchmarks to gauge how well your team is performing compared to competitors. 

In fact, used appropriately, quotas and benchmarks can act as effective motivational tools.

This mistake occurs when a well-meaning sales manager invents their own ideas of what a sales rep should be able to achieve. 

It’s one thing to set realistic sales quotas based on hard data; and it’s something else entirely to set ‘aspirational’ sales goals off the top of your head.

Ideally, you should set clear expectations with benchmarks based on trackable sales activities (for example, 20 cold calls per day or 5 sales demos per week) and tangible results (like landing 5 new customers per month or achieving an average deal size of $10,000).

Read more about sales mistakes in our other article: 11 Sales Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

Expecting reps to use the same sales methodology for every deal

Even though you should stick to a single sales process, you don’t want to box yourself in by adhering strictly to one sales methodology. 

Different team members might approach the sales process from different perspectives, but as long as they hit the key steps outlined in your sales process, it doesn’t really matter which methodology they work within. 

This point is especially important to remember if you sell to more than one customer type (for example, you might focus on SMB sales but also cater to a select number of enterprise clients) or offer more than one flagship product.

Getting it Right: Tips for Improving Your Sales Process 

Now that you know what not to do, let’s switch gears to talk about how you can optimize the sales process. Here are some actionable tips for improving the sales process as a whole.

Start with a review of your current sales process

Just because you haven’t sat down and defined your sales process before, doesn’t mean you haven’t been doing anything right. 

Whether creating or improving your sales process, you don’t necessarily need to start from scratch. Instead, you can use your existing knowledge and systems as a basis for planning your new sales process and fuelling future growth.

You’ll save time and pin down the winning formula faster by analyzing which of your existing strategies and tactics produce consistent results.

sales process tips

So, reflect on past successes and leverage your team’s experience. Review your current sales process, look back at some of your biggest deals for inspiration, and observe your top-performing sales reps in action.

Map your sales process to the buyer’s journey

At its core, the sales process is really just a reflection of the customer’s journey. As a deal progresses through the sales cycle, the sales rep is working through the sales process at the same rate the prospect is moving through a parallel buyer’s journey.

So, a good place to start when developing or improving your sales process is to look at the buyer’s journey. Outline the steps and decisions facing your prospects to understand what they experience, worry about and prioritize at each step of the decision-making process.

Once you have an idea of what leads care about most at every step, you can develop a sales process that prepares your team to meet and anticipate prospect needs along the way. 

Choose one specific action that signifies progress at each step

It’s essential to pinpoint the exact moment a deal progresses from one stage to the next. This should focus on clear signals that a prospect has ‘exited’ or ‘completed’ each step. 

For instance, to move from step 2 (connecting) to step 3 (qualifying leads), the salesperson would need to get in touch with the prospect.

Once you define what activity or action signifies progression in the sales process, you’ll start to uncover phrases or actions that your sales team can use to ease deals through the pipeline. 

That is, what do your sales reps typically do to move a prospect to the next step? 

There may be key pain points or benefits you need to mention to motivate prospects to take action.

Measure your results and adapt as necessary

You’re unlikely to create the perfect sales process on your first attempt. Instead, you should keep an open mind and be ready to revisit your process whenever necessary. 

Ask your sales team for input, collect feedback from customers about what drove their decision to buy, and adjust your process based on the metrics and results. 

Experiment with different steps and processes to find the right combination that works for your team.

A Defined Sales Process is Your Roadmap for Success

Being able to repeat your success requires a system for how to do it. That’s why outbound sales teams perform better with a clear sales process in place. 

Whether you’re a sales manager at an agency or an in-house sales rep for a B2B SaaS product, the bottom line is that you need a sales process that clearly defines each step of the sales cycle. 

If you don’t have a standardized sales process yet, start by perfecting your ideal customer profile and reviewing existing sales data and practices. Develop your own sales process by mapping out the buyer’s journey and tie progress between steps to specific actions. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, keep tinkering, learning, and making adjustments until your sales process is practically foolproof.