Is sales an art or a science? In other words, is it more important for salespeople to be creative and innovative, or that they’re able to follow a set process to achieve proven results?
Is it cheating if I say “both”?
I like to think of sales as similar to a performance, something like improv. You need to be creative and inventive to succeed in sales—there are situations you won’t be able to plan for, objections you might not anticipate, and you need to be able to adjust and adapt. However, you can’t just go completely rogue and expect to achieve success time and time again.
To return to our performance metaphor, there is plenty of room for you to use your creativity— if you want—but you still need to follow the basic rules of rules, like saying “Yes, and,” and always accepting the premise someone else chooses.
You can play with the details and make the sale your own… but if you want to close deals reliably, you need to follow the recipe for success.
This post will go over my seven-step sales process for massive profits. After reading you should have all the tools you need to increase your close rates and achieve reliable sales success.
Sales Process Step Zero: Accepting That You Need One
A sales process is a set of stages of the sales conversation with a list of outcomes you need to complete to successfully move forward. Over the last decade, the linear sales process we used has become more difficult to execute, as buyers have different needs and pursuing them means these stages may not always go in the same order.
My version of a nonlinear process, one that is flexible enough to work is found in my second book: The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales.
Even though the current sales process is somewhat broken, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to understand the stages and the outcomes you need to succeed in sales, even if they don’t always follow the same pattern you find here. It is still critical to ensure you have the conversations and achieve the important outcomes.
Salespeople often resist the sales process because they believe they don’t need a structure for the sales conversation. When salespeople skip conversations or allow their clients to avoid certain conversations, they increase the odds that they lose the opportunity. That said, the sales process promised every salesperson would win by following the process, something that has never been true. But if you wouldn’t take a trip without a GPS, you shouldn’t forgo directions in the sales conversation.
When certain conversations in a certain order increase your chances of winning your client’s business, it’s important to work to repeat what allowed—or contributed to your success. It’s very much like a sales script, the powerful language that helps you win deals.
The first stage of many sales processes is prospecting, the act of reaching out to prospective clients or targeted accounts to schedule a meeting. The sales process cannot start without a conversation with a decision-maker or a contact who agrees to meet with you.
There are many ways to pursue meetings with your clients, but the most effective way to schedule a meeting with your prospective client is cold outreach, more specifically, by making cold calls. You should use a prospecting sequence that starts with a phone call, followed by voicemail, email, LinkedIn, traditional mail, and any other medium that would cause your prospective client to meet with you.
The only social tool I believe to be useful is LinkedIn Navigator. You can use LinkedIn to find your prospective clients.
Most sales organizations have a stage called qualifying. I don’t believe in qualifying at the beginning of a conversation because it doesn’t create any value for your client. No one likes being asked if they are ready to buy before they have even had a conversation. More still, you have to keep qualifying your clients throughout the entire process.
You do want to make certain your client is a good fit, that they are compelled to change and that they are going to engage in the sales conversation. Your qualification needs to go beyond whether or not they have a budget, if your contact has authority, if they have a need, and a timeline.
If you want your client to engage with you, avoid verifying these early in the conversation.
For a long time, discovery meant asking your client to disclose their problem and their pain. It might also have meant learning some of the things you needed to know to be able to help your prospective client. But now, discovery also includes helping the client discover something about themselves, something about their environment, and why they should change.
This new version of discovery creates greater value than being interrogated long enough that your contact confesses their problems. You should also know how you intend to improve their results before ever meeting with them.
This first real conversation is where you win or lose deals. You either create value for your prospective client, or you waste their time. Time wasters will find that their prospective client is unwilling to give them another meeting, while value creators will leave with a new meeting on their calendar.
Even though you know how to improve your client’s results and the obstacles that prevent better results, you still need to learn how best to help your client and gain an understanding of how best to go about working with your prospective client and their company.
Most of the time, salespeople ruin their presentation by starting with “why us,” and “why our solution?” This is to get things backward. The reason you are pitching is that your client needs better results.
The best opening line for a sales pitch is something like, “We are talking because these issues, problems, challenges, or obstacles are preventing you from producing the results you need.” The best start is one that begins by reminding your prospective client and their team why it is necessary for them to change.
From there, you can move into the future state you and your contacts are pursuing, moving them away from their poor results and toward the better results you are going to deliver. Only then does it make sense to introduce your product or service and how it will deliver the results, something you are reiterating, having already agreed it is the right approach in earlier conversations. Following that conversation is the investment, and then “why us?”
The value proposition should be simple and easy for anyone to understand. Something like, “By changing from your current process to this new approach, you will increase your production and shorten the time it takes to deliver your product to your customers, increasing your revenue and increasing your retention.”
5. Handling Objections & Negotiating
You should have already handled any concerns your prospective client shared with you throughout your conversations. But, that said, you can be certain that someone on your client’s team is going to ask you to sharpen your pencil. You may have to negotiate the investment or the terms and conditions, including tricky subjects like indemnifications.
It is critical to have good language for every stage of the sales conversation. Good sales start with good language choices. The best way to do this is to study or write your talk tracks ahead of time. If you are serious about your team’s results, you will take the time to role-play, making certain the salesperson isn’t saying the words for the first time when the client hears them.
Most of the time, salespeople negotiate with their manager instead of their prospective client. They run to their manager and negotiate a concession for their client. This is a terrible way to handle a negotiation. Instead, your sales force should have a number of things they can give their client in trade for something of equal or greater value to your company.
If you want good talk tracks for every sales conversation, as well as a structure for negotiating effectively, check out the Sales Accelerator.
6. Closing the Deal
When you have had all the necessary conversations, closing is the easiest and most natural part of the sales process. All you need to do is say, “Unless you need anything else, can I provide you with a contract and start providing your program in place?”
As a caution, don’t do anything to ruin your chances or to appear desperate, like offering a discount if the client buys now. You don’t want to cast doubt on your program and the results your client needs.
Closing is the end of the sales conversation and the beginning of your relationship. One of the mistakes sales organizations make is not nurturing their client relationships and expanding their relationships and the value they create for their clients by providing them with new value. New value is the best strategy for retaining clients.
The Most Important Sales Process Step: Training
Following these sales process steps will set you up to drive massive profits, but this is only your roadmap. What good is a roadmap without a vehicle to get you to your end goals?
The vehicle that will take you to sales success? Consistent and effective sales training.
My Sales Accelerator can help you with all seven steps of the sales process. With the help of this training program, you and your team can eliminate all fear and friction from your sales processes. You’ll be able to arm your team with the language and confidence they need to open, advance, and close sales with confidence.