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What is the Selling Process?

Selling process refers to a series of steps taken to sell a product or service to a customer. A strong sales process is repeatable and scalable, leverages standardized tools and templates, outlines clear roles and responsibilities for sales team members, and is data driven.

Why is it important?

  • An effective sales process:
    • Grows the customer base by having sales team members focus on discrete channels and/or customer groups
    • Successfully connects with prospects, engages their interest, and closes deals by ensuring that sales best practices are consistently applied
    • Empowers and organizes sales team members by establishing a clear roadmap, procedures, tools, and expectations for making sales
    • More easily onboards new sales team members and gets them up to speed quickly

Best practices

Best practices are broken down into three main areas:

A. Business-to-business

  • B2B sales process stages and activities
  • Sales infrastructure

B. Business-to-consumer

  • Sales process differences from B2B
  • B2C sales process stages and activities
  • Sales infrastructure

C. Products vs. Services

  • Selling differences

A. Business-to-Business (B2B)

ESEs that sell their products or services to other organizations (e.g., nonprofits, government entities, small businesses, large corporations) have a B2B model. For example, these ESEs might sell property management services or branded swag products to companies. Businesses that do this well have a structured process for sales team members to follow that clarifies what activities, materials and skills are needed at each step of the way.

  • Map out your B2B selling process into actionable steps
    • A B2B sales process often involves identifying and reaching out to prospects, understanding their needs, fit and interest level, making a pitch, closing the deal, and continuing to grow the relationship over time. The number and type of steps in your process may depend on your industry, product/service, sales channel, and/or target customer.
    • As an example, the process map below shows six stages commonly needed to move a B2B prospect from a lead to a converted customer. It is helpful to align your sales stages and activities with key steps in your customer’s decision-making process, so you meet them where they are (e.g., to avoid bombarding a prospect with pricing information when they are just becoming aware of a pain point).
Inspiration: Copper
  • Common B2B sales process stages and activities:
    • Prospecting: Start with a thorough understanding of your product/service so you know every detail about your offering, its unique features and functionality, use cases, problems it solves, and potential drawbacks. Think about your ideal target customers and how your offering meets their needs and addresses their pain points. With this ideal prospect in mind, look for organizations that would be good candidates to sell to and build a prospect list.
      • Ask current customers for referrals (potentially with an associated bonus upon completed sale)
      • Attend trade shows, conferences, or networking events
      • Analyze member lists of industry groups and professional associations
      • Research potential leads on LinkedIn or ZoomInfo     
      • Look for sites where potential customers engage, such as industry portals/communities and review sites
      • Leverage search engine optimization to bring leads to you
    • Connecting: Reach out to promising leads to gather more information about their unmet needs, pain points, interest level, timeline, budget, and authority. This may be over email, phone, video meeting, or in person. By connecting with prospects, you should be able to determine where they are in the buying process. 
    • Qualifying: Based on information gathered, determine whether prospects are a good fit (with your organization, product/service offering, and strategic goals) and how likely they are to become customers. To do this, develop clear qualifying criteria that will help you evaluate and prioritize leads.
      • For example, to assess a prospect’s fit, a janitorial ESE might consider criteria such as the organization’s location, facility square footage, service level needed, profit potential, network of properties, and alignment with ESE’s mission and values. Here is a tool you can use to evaluate and qualify potential customers on your most important criteria.
      • To evaluate a lead’s likelihood of buying, determine whether your product/service can solve their problem; they seem interested in learning more; the issue is a priority and they want to make a purchase soon; they have sufficient budget; and it is clear who needs to be involved in making a final decision.  
      • Remember, not all sales are good sales. There may be leads that you will want to walk away from – because they require too much time and handholding from your team, would be unprofitable customers, are rude to your employees, or do not align with your strategic goals, for example. Spending time upfront to qualify your leads will save you time lost pitching to the wrong customers.
    • Pitching: Schedule time to meet with qualified leads to present your pitch. Draw on what you have learned about the prospect’s interests, unmet needs, and pain points to tailor your presentation to focus on solutions and what makes you better than the competition.
      • Meeting face-to-face (in person or video meeting) is ideal to build rapport and trust. Make sure that key decision-maker(s) are in the room.
      • Prepare for objections and follow-up questions. Anticipate potential concerns ahead of time and think about solutions. For example, objections might include pushback on pricing, product/service feature needs, interest in competitors, need for further approval, or timing issues. Listen carefully to the prospect and be empathetic in trying to understand what is driving their hesitancy so you can address their concerns.
      • Wrap up your presentation by proposing next steps and a timeline for follow-up.
    • Closing: After your pitch, follow up with the prospect to summarize the discussion and next steps and see if they have any questions. Activities during the closing stage will vary and could include answering follow-up questions, sending a proposal, negotiating terms, and/or getting final approval from decision-makers. The end goal is to close the sale by acquiring a signed contract and converting your prospect to a customer. This “closing” is more of an “opening” to your relationship with the new customer.
      • If this stage does not end in a sale, be sure to thank the prospect for their time and offer to stay in touch. Try to understand why they did not purchase from you and learn from any feedback they may share. In some cases, while the prospect may not be ready to sign right now, they could still become a customer in the future! 
    • Growing: After a sale closes, keep in touch with your customer to ensure their satisfaction and build loyalty.
      • Check in periodically to see if they are happy with your offering, have any questions, or need troubleshooting support. 
      • Deliver more value by upselling (encouraging the purchase of upgrades, add-ons, or higher-end versions) and cross-selling (promoting the purchase of related or complementary products/services).
      • Ask for referrals, positive reviews, and testimonials.
  • Strengthen your sales infrastructure.
    • Develop and consistently use standardized collateral.
      • Create email templates, phone call scripts, and visual aids for each stage of the selling process to alleviate the burden on individual sales team members and to ensure quality.
      • Build a standard package of content that team members should share with prospects at various stages of the sales process (e.g., blogs, videos, testimonials, case studies).
    • Identify metrics to track sales performance. Some common B2B indicators include (non-exhaustive list):
      • Sales performance
        • Sales from new business (how much of total sales came from new customers) 
        • Number of deals won as a percent of total deals pursued (to understand the overall success rate of your sales process)
        • Average deal size (including number of upsells and cross-sells over a given period)
      • New leads (number of new leads generated over a given period)
        • New leads by source (e.g., number/percent of leads who came in through customer referrals vs. trade shows vs. website contact form)
        • Estimated revenue by lead source (e.g., total sales generated by leads who came in through customer referrals vs. other sources)
        • New leads by team member (number of new leads generated by each team member) 
      • Lead conversion rate (measures the effectiveness of your sales process in converting leads into customers, which highlights the number of leads you need to get one sale)

B. Business-to-Consumer (B2C)

ESEs that sell their products or services directly to individual consumers or indirectly with intermediaries have a B2C model. For example, these ESEs might sell specialty food products or personal training services to individuals who use these purchases for their own personal use.

  • When comparing the B2B and B2C sales processes, there are some key differences:
    • The B2C sales cycle is typically shorter, often with one-time quick purchases. The B2B sales process tends to be more extended and formal, focused on developing relationships built on trust.
    • There are usually fewer B2C decision-makers involved (often just one!), and for most quick, moderately-priced purchases, they are often swayed by emotional connections, impulse decisions, or storytelling (as opposed to more focus on logic and facts for B2B). 
    • The B2C purchaser uses the products/services bought (not often the case for B2B).
    • Customer acquisition cost is typically higher for B2B given the longer sales cycle. For B2C, much of the acquisition cost is in marketing, although this varies by industry.
    • B2C often has many more leads per sales team member than B2B due to B2C’s shorter sales cycle, smaller purchases, less frequent interactions, and increased focus on volume.
  • The B2C sales process often has fewer stages than B2B. Determine how your process breaks down into actionable steps.
    • A B2C sales process often involves attracting prospects to draw them in, engaging their interest in specific products or services, helping them decide, facilitating the purchase, and retaining them as a customer. The specific number and steps in your process may depend on your industry, product/service, sales channel, and/or target customer.
    • In the example below, the sales funnel shows an online B2C sales process with four stages that prospects typically journey through before becoming customers. The prospect’s decision-making process is on the left, along with associated sales and marketing tools at each step of the way to help lead prospects through the process.
Source: ThriveThemes
  • Common B2C sales process stages and activities:
    • Build awareness: Your goal at this first stage is to attract potential customers (visitors to your web site or shoppers to your physical store) so they can get to know your brand, become aware of their problem, and discover your solution. Start with a thorough understanding of your ideal target customer – their demographics, interests, needs, and pain points – so you know who you are trying to attract. It may be helpful to create a buyer persona to paint a detailed picture of your ideal customer and how they would use your product or service. Then you can use a variety of tactics to drive your target audience to your site or store (non-exhaustive list):
      • To drive traffic to your website:
        • Content marketing (blog posts, videos, podcasts, newsletters, white papers)
        • Social media advertising (paid ads on social network sites)
        • Paid advertising (pay-per-click, pay-per-impression)
        • Search Engine Optimization (SEO – getting traffic from organic search) / Search Engine Marketing (SEM – getting traffic from paid search)
      • To drive traffic to your physical store:
        • Customer referrals (could incentivize through discounts)
        • Verified business listing on search platforms (e.g., Google, Yelp, Facebook)
        • Google’s local inventory ads (so your products/services appear when nearby shoppers search on Google)
        • Attractive storefront (e.g., window display, chalkboard sign)
        • In-store experiences (e.g., curbside or in-store pickup, in-store return, in-store-only promotions, support services)
    • Cultivate interest: Once prospects visit your site or store, keep their attention, and help them learn more about your products/services so they can make informed decisions. Your goal is to turn visitors into leads – for example, by getting them onto your email list. Here are some ways to engage prospects and get them closer to making a purchase (non-exhaustive list):
      • On your web site:
        • Impactful landing page (visually appealing, addresses customer needs/pain points, focuses on benefits/solutions)
        • Resources to answer questions and address concerns (pop-up live chat window, video explainers, case studies)
        • Compelling lead magnet (e.g., free tool, e-book, or discount in exchange for sharing email address) 
      • In your store:
        • Sales employees actively listen and authentically engage with visitors to offer suggestions, answer questions, and provide assistance
        • Product displays, signage, fitting rooms
        • Sign-ups for loyalty program / mailing list for exclusive events and discounts
    • Help make a decision: At this stage, leads are interested in making a purchase but may still be researching options, comparing pricing, or reading reviews. Your job is to convince them that your product/service is the best choice and to make your best offer that will entice them to buy from you. The following can provide a final nudge to help leads move forward and choose you (non-exhaustive list):
      • On your web site:
        • Effective sales page (catchy, addresses pain points, testimonials, FAQs, call to action)
        • Email marketing (reminder to complete purchase along with coupon)
        • Best offer promotions (free shipping, time-limited discount code, bonus product with purchase, free trial) 
        • Trust signs that lend credibility (testimonials, certifications, seals, ratings, awards, guarantee)
        • Upsell offer on a lead magnet (e.g., after prospect receives an e-book for sharing email address, offer a discount on a related product)
      • In your store:
        • Email marketing (reminder to come in for in-store offer)
        • Product/service expertise (demos, free mini-makeovers, free samples)
        • Best offer promotions (time-limited offer, increasing discounts for larger purchases, loyalty program discounts)
        • After-sale services (warranty, product/service training, repair/support services)
    • Facilitate purchase: After making a decision, leads will take action – they will either buy your product/service and become a customer or leave your website/store without a purchase. To ensure that prospects who want to buy from you actually do, make sure that your checkout and payment process is as simple and seamless as possible. Here are some ways to improve the purchase experience (non-exhaustive list):
      • On your web site:
        • Mobile-friendly checkout (confirm layout and functionality on mobile, tablet. and desktop)
        • Guest checkout option (to ease the burden of filling out forms and sharing personal info)
        • Accelerated checkout process (e.g., integrations with Shop Pay or Apple Pay)
        • Minimize unexpected/additional costs (define shipping costs upfront, free shipping over a certain amount, free pick-up options)
        • Give estimated shipping time 
        • Cross-selling opportunities (show related products/services that might be of interest before checkout)
        • Multiple payment methods (e.g., credit cards, Apple Pay, PayPal)
      • In your store:
        • Attentive customer service
        • Cross-selling opportunities (e.g., at a clothing store, let customer know about alteration service)
        • Flexible checkout options (self-checkout, curbside or in-store pick-up)
        • Flexible payment options (tap-to-pay, mobile point of sale device)
    • Retain customers: After customers make a purchase, thank them, ask for feedback on their experience, and respond accordingly (e.g., ask for a review if they had a good experience, and work on solutions to make things right if there is a problem). Stay in touch by offering post-sale support or inviting them to join your e-newsletter. To encourage repeat purchases, send marketing emails and promotions and consider offering subscriptions or membership programs. Your goal is to build customer loyalty; it is much easier (and cheaper!) to retain existing customers than it is to acquire new ones.
  • Strengthen your sales infrastructure. In addition to the best practices from the B2B section on developing standardized collateral, using CRM software, and regularly reviewing sales data, here are a few B2C-specific tips:
    • Identify metrics to track sales performance. Some common B2C indicators include (non-exhaustive list):
      • Driving traffic
        • Number of new unique visitors
        • Percent of visitors by traffic source/channel (e.g., from social media ads, search results, marketing emails)
        • Click-through rate (e.g., from an email or ad to your website = (# of clicks / # of views or impressions) x 100)
      • Engaging visitors
        • Bounce rate (percent of visitors who came to your website and left without taking any action, like clicking on another page or filling out a form)
        • First session length (time on site)
        • Returning sessions / visit frequency
        • Returning email click-through rate
      • Converting leads into customers
        • Shopping cart abandonment rate (percent of customers who fill their shopping carts but do not complete their purchase = 100% – (# of purchases / # of shopping carts created) x 100)
        • Sales conversion rate (measures the effectiveness of your sales process in converting visitors into customers, or the percent of visitors that lead to a sale)
Source: Codedesign
    • Average order value (average amount customers spend at one time when purchasing from your site/store = total revenue / total number of orders)
    • Repeat customer rate (percent of customers who have made more than one purchase from you = (# of return customers / # of total customers) x 100)
    • Customer acquisition cost (CAC) – how much you need to spend in sales and marketing to get a new customer
      • Calculate CAC by adding your total marketing and sales expenses and dividing them by the number of new customers you acquired during a given period.
    • Tighten retail store processes and operations to support sales
      • Develop and consistently use standard operating procedures. Establish guidelines for customer interactions and review employee FAQs to ensure smooth customer service and purchasing processes. Invest in your sales team members, who will be the face of your store – greeting customers, providing information, answering questions, and offering suggestions. Empower them with detailed product/service information, stories, and knowledge about how your offering best meets customer needs.
      • Ensure sufficient sales staffing in stores. Create clear guidelines for staffing based on the level of store activity (e.g., have more staff available during the days and hours when transactions are highest). Establish an appropriate ratio of managers to front-line employees / participants.

C. Selling products vs. services

ESEs sell products, services, or both. While the overall selling process should be more or less the same whether you sell products or services, some tactics may be better suited to one or the other, and it is helpful to keep in mind the differences:

  • Tangibility
    • Products are typically tangible and can be seen, touched, tested, and demonstrated before purchase. They are made and then sold, so prospects can see exactly what they would receive. The sales process often takes a more visual approach to spotlight product features and benefits through ads, displays, demos, visual aids, and email marketing.
    • A service is essentially a process, which is intangible and can be harder to visualize. Services are sold and then made/delivered, so they often cannot be tested or evaluated beforehand. The sales process often focuses more on explaining the service and how it works and educating prospects on the value of the offering.
  • Degree of interaction and skills required
    • Many products can be purchased without prior interaction with the seller. For products that do require personal selling, it is helpful for sales team members to have extensive product knowledge (features, benefits, use cases, potential limitations), as well as strong presentation skills (since visuals play a large role).
    • Because of their intangible nature, most services require significant communication between the seller and prospect. The sales process is focused on building relationships with prospects to thoroughly understand their needs and how to solve them. Successful sales team members can succinctly explain service offerings and how they add value, and they are flexible, adaptable, and quick-thinking in coming up with solutions tailored to a prospect’s specific situation.
  • Flexibility / customizability
    • Products that are sold to a wide market often have set features or only a few customization options (e.g., color, size). The focus is more on volume sales.
    • Services are often highly customized to meet customer specifications (e.g., types and levels of service, timing, location). There is usually a greater range of options available to tailor a solution. From a sales process standpoint, this requires more time and nuance to create and negotiate a service agreement, for example.
  • Risk and assurance
    • Product purchases are fairly low risk, since you can see and test out what you are buying beforehand. Products also come with a level of assurance because you can usually return or exchange a product if you are unsatisfied. This also means that appropriate policies for returning/exchanging items should be established to protect your business.
    • With services, there is more risk in the purchase decision because prospects are essentially buying a promise – that you will meet their needs based on your experience. Your organization’s knowledge, brand, and reputation can help allay concerns, so it is important to focus on these when marketing services. You can also provide additional assurance by highlighting awards or certifications you have received and evidence from satisfied customers (reviews, testimonials, case studies).
  • Feedback
    • Products can be used and evaluated quickly, so reviews can be shared or posted right away.   
    • Feedback on services can come in more slowly since they can take longer to deliver or take effect. It can also be harder to measure the quality of services (vs. products). Since services cannot be returned or exchanged, it is important to monitor and evaluate them closely to ensure high quality.

Additional Resources

  • Lead qualification tool: You can use this tool to determine whether prospective customers are a good fit for the organization and how likely they are to become customers. It provides you with common qualifying criteria used by other businesses, an option to add your own criteria, and a methodology to evaluate and rank your leads.