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Sales Process 101

    The sales process is the stages you go through to create and win new opportunities. What follows here is Sales Process 101, a simple, straightforward sales process you can use and customize.

    There was a time when I was afraid to say out loud that I didn’t believe in the linear sales process. My experience was such that I recognized that certain changes in the environment caused the process to become nonlinear. While I still believe the process is nonlinear, it is helpful to have a plan, even if you know it is going to be disrupted by the client or unexpected events.

    The stages of a traditional sales process are as follows:

    • Targeting
    • Qualification
    • Discovery
    • Presentation and proposal
    • Negotiation
    • Win/loss

    An Explanation of Each Stage

    In the modern age, a lot of companies have added many more stages to the sales process, including things like marketing-qualified leads, sales-qualified leads, and post-sale customer-success activities. Because this is Sales Process 101, we’ll stick to the big steps and stages.

    • Targeting: The first step of a traditional sales process is targeting. In this stage of the process, you look at your territory and decide what companies you should pursue. It’s important to spend your time on companies that will benefit from what you sell. During targeting, you make a set of assumptions about who deserves your time and energy.
    • Qualification: Good targeting makes qualification easier. When you qualify your prospective client, you are having a conversation about whether or not the prospect can benefit from what you sell. If the client won’t benefit from what you sell, or can’t buy for some other reason, they will be disqualified. You have to be careful in this stage. Your contacts are not going to find a conversation about qualification valuable to them. Early on, you are better off committing to a meeting and asking non-offensive questions. At some point, you’ll need to talk about budgets and who will sign a contract should your prospective client decide to buy from you.
    • Discovery: Deals are mostly won or lost during the discovery stage. The traditional conception of discovery is that you ask your client questions to learn about their business, problems, and challenges. Legacy approaches are designed to elicit a problem as a way for a salesperson to introduce their “solution” (i.e., their product or service). By contrast, salespeople using the modern approach ask questions that help the client learn something they need to know to improve their results. Generally, the more the client learns what they need to know, the more likely the salesperson is to win.
    • Presentation and proposal: Once you understand the client’s needs, it is common for the sales process to require a presentation that addresses why the client should buy from the salesperson’s company and how their “solution” is going to solve the client’s problem. The client’s contacts are invited to ask questions, so the salesperson can clarify anything the contacts don’t understand. The salesperson also resolves any concerns.
    • Negotiation: Once the client decides to move forward, the salesperson either provides the client with a contract or accepts a contract from the client (something common when selling to big companies). The salesperson may need to negotiate pricing, terms, or indemnification and insurance.
    • Win/loss: At the conclusion of a negotiation, the client will buy from the salesperson or, if the Gods of Sales frown upon the salesperson, the company buys from their competition.


    Next, let’s look at a list of likely outcomes you need to achieve in of these stages.

    Targeting

    At the end of the targeting stage, the salesperson will have answers to these questions:

    • Is this prospect in the company’s sweet spot?
    • Do they currently buy what we sell?
    • Are you locked out due to a strategic mismatch or some other reason?
    • Do we have an existing relationship we can leverage?

    Qualification

    At the end of the qualification stage of the sales process, the salesperson will be able to answer these questions:

    • Have we identified a power sponsor?
    • Is this account in a strong vertical for us?
    • Do we understand how our service fits into their overall business strategy?
    • Can they buy if they want or need to?

    Discovery

    Sales Process 101 will have the salesperson answering questions like these during discovery:

    • Have we identified the key stakeholders?
    • Have we identified the members of the buying committee?
    • Have we completed an organizational needs analysis?
    • Do we know and understand their business drivers?
    • Do we know the buying committee’s business and personal motivations?
    • Do we know their expected ROI?
    • Are we certain our capabilities allow us to solve their problem?
    • Do we have a competitive strategy to win this deal?

    Presentation and Proposal

    The following questions will help you make the most of the presentation and proposal stage:

    • Does the client understand how we will help them improve their results?
    • Who prefers to buy from the salesperson and their company?
    • Are there any concerns that we still need to resolve for the client?
    • Do we have a verbal commitment?
    • Are there still competitors engaged with the prospective client?

    Negotiation

    The salesperson is going to be charged with negotiating a win-win agreement, asking for something of equal or greater value in exchange for whatever they give the client. This can be more difficult than it sounds, especially with tricky subjects like indemnity.

    Reverse-Engineering Sales Process 101

    If you need a sales process and want to look at a few steps beyond this one, you can find many by searching Google. Should you decide to do so, you want to make certain to customize the outcomes the salesperson needs to obtain in each of the stages.

    If you want a more flexible, nonlinear approach, pick up The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the Ten Commitments That Drive Sales. Looking at the sales process as a series of conversations and commitments allows for deal control that can be difficult to create using Sales Process 101.a