Every startup wants to expand and improve, but if your sales process isn’t optimized for conversions, growth, or repeatable business, you’ll remain stunted.
Research shows a structured sales process is a key differentiator of high-performing businesses. However, implementing and improving a startup sales process requires certain know-how.
In this blog, we’ll cover some of the fundamentals of startup sales processes, including what yours should look like and actionable tips for perfecting every stage.
Definition: What is a sales process?
A sales process is a set of repeatable steps used to turn a lead into a customer, similar to a road map. The specific details of your sales process depend on the products and services you sell.
However, the main steps should look something like this:
- Prospecting – Finding or attracting leads
- Qualifying – Connecting with leads and gauging their relevance to your business
- Researching – Learning more about leads and how you can help them
- Presenting – Demonstrating your product or service
- Overcoming – Counteracting any objections or concerns
- Closing – Finalizing the sale
- Repeating – Continuing to communicate and sell to the customer
The best time to focus on your sales process
Perfecting your sales process is an ongoing pursuit. It’s rarely a set-it-and-forget-it task, and in the startup world, you’ll more often hear the “sales engine is broken” than the opposite.
That said, it’s never too early to start building your sales process. Many startups go too long without any structure and take an “every man for himself” approach. They hire salesperson after salesperson, relying on their credentials and former track record to drum up business.
The sales team, in turn, simply chases a revenue number and does whatever they can to clinch the sale. This results in a disjointed sales pitch, false customer expectations, and burned out employees.
The sooner you implement a process (even if it’s basic), the sooner you can pinpoint which tactics work and which don’t, and nail down a consistent brand message that resonates with your target audience.
5 common sales challenges startups face
1) Customers require more education
When you sell a SaaS product, you have to spend more time educating prospects on the issue at hand.
Some people will be resistant to the idea of spending money on solutions they view as “nice to have,” so you’ll need to demonstrate the gravity of the problem your software solves.
Portray the big picture and explain what prospects will lose if they decide against buying your solution.
2) Lack of sales materials
Startups are often short-staffed, and even if you have a marketing team, they’re likely stretched thin. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for sales teams to prepare their own decks for a discovery call or to compose one-pagers to send to a prospect.
Needless to say, some decks turn out better than others — and many lack professional or consistent branding to “wow” prospects. This in turn could hinder sales.
3) Lack of social proof
By nature of being a new company, you won’t have as many big brand names, reviews, or total customer counts to show off.
You’ll have to spend more time collecting social proof to showcase in your outreach and to emphasize the impact of your product.
Without that social proof, buyers may be skeptical of your brand and you a riskier purchase than going with a larger company.
4) SaaS sales require creative thinking
Selling a SaaS platform revolves around solving people’s problems. It requires illustrating the benefits of your platform without having a physical product prospects can easily see, touch, and understand.
You have to figure out how to appeal to both the emotional and logical side of buyers. And if your platform has lots of features, you’ll have to identify the most important ones and adjust your pitch according to the individual in front of you.
5) Long sales cycles
The average SaaS sales cycle is 84 days and involves multiple stakeholders, each with his/her own assumptions, criteria, and goals. To make things more complex, some decision makers may have limited real-world experience in the role that would use your solution.
Your sales team will therefore need to be adaptable and persistent when engaging in sales conversations with new accounts.
The key components of an effective sales process
Before looking at the top tips for improving your startup sales, let’s quickly cover the fundamentals of an effective sales process.
Your sales process should be:
- Customer-focused – Aligned with your customers’ needs and motivators
- Defined – Clearly laid out for your sales team
- Repeatable – Easy for your sales team to replicate
- Predictable – Able to generate patterns of customer behavior
- Goal-driven – Tailored for specific goals
- Measurable – Monitored for results
- Flexible – Responsive to changes in the market
If it’s not all of the above, you could be limiting your results.
9 Tips to improve your sales process
Now let’s get into the good stuff: how to improve your sales process. While there are many tips and tricks out there, these nine will set you on the right path towards boosting your sales.
1. Refine your buyer persona
As your startup grows and finds product-market fit, it’s imperative to ensure you’re selling to the right audience.
Take the time to evaluate and develop your ideal customer profile (ICP) in addition to more granular buyer personas.
Your ICP should define your ideal customers from the organizational level, while your buyer personas should drill down into the specific traits, job titles, goals, and decision criteria of people within the organization.
I recommend doing customer calls once a week to get to know your audience. During these calls, segment and learn about:
- Your best customers – Your loyal, avid fans who know the value of your brand and share it with others
- Your middling customers – Who like you but would switch if a better deal comes along
- Your poor fit customers – Who are vocal with bad reviews and don’t get value from your service
This exercise will help your sales team identify the various decision makers to target. Going one step further, it should enable your team to better personalize their outreach, empathize with your prospect, and understand when someone is not a good fit (and thus waste less time chasing dead ends).
As you refine your buyer personas, experiment with different messages to see what sticks. Don’t be afraid to test new theories and evolve your personas over time.
2. Define the right KPIs
Sales process KPIs tell you how well your sales process is performing both overall and at each step. This means you need to measure more than your conversion rate.
Common sales process KPIs include:
- Number of meetings (per account manager)
- Emails sent to contacts
- Number of replies from leads
- How long leads stay in each stage of your sales funnel
- Sign-ups that interacted with sales
Don’t forget to supplement these with KPIs more specific to your individual process (for example, the percentage of leads who convert after a demo).
3. Analyze your current results
Use these KPIs to analyze your current process and identify any weak points where leads are lost or take longer than they should to move onto the next stage.
One way to do this is by taking a selection of leads from the past few months and analyzing the entire sales process, asking questions such as:
- In what stage did leads spend the longest time?
- What action closed the deal?
- What action had the most churn afterwards?
- How many touchpoints were there?
Use this information to identify positive and negative trends you can use to tweak the process.
On top of looking at the data, survey prospects directly. There’s nothing wrong with asking prospects why they called in, scheduled a demo, or purchased your product. You can even speak to lost leads to find out why they didn’t convert.
4. Map your customer journey
Use your refreshed buyer persona to map the customer journey, from awareness and engagement to consideration and conversion.
Keep proper call notes, update them regularly, and define specific stages of the funnel within your CRM. You should have no gray areas in terms of who’s a lead, an opportunity, closed lost, or closed won at any point in time.
Maintaining good notes and evaluating them regularly will allow you to understand how your customers respond to your sales approach.
Ultimately, you should be able to build a process that works in harmony with your customers’ expectations of your brand, creating strategic touchpoints and giving them space when needed.
Discovery to fulfillment: How to optimize every step of your eCommerce buyer journey
5. Pinpoint the right CTAs
At each step of the sales process, there will be a specific event that moves leads on to the next stage. Whether that’s a demo, a customer testimonial, or overcoming a certain pain point, every stage will have that magic “action.”
Facebook discovered that if a new user invited seven friends in 10 days, they were more likely to stay on the platform. Although it’s tricky to declare an end-all “aha” moment, your sales process should reveal insights that show you where to invest more time (and what to cut).
Use your KPIs, buyer persona, and customer journey to identify the transitional CTA of each stage, then cement it into your sales process and give your reps the tools necessary to complete and enhance it.
6. Coordinate with marketing
Oftentimes, inbound marketing and outbound sales work in tandem, and yet, many sales and marketing teams operate separately from one another. This tends to cause friction and inconsistencies in the customer experience.
In the words of one Bloomberg Businessweek author, “It should go without saying that customers these days are too mobile, too connected, and too informed to tolerate any gap between what one department says and another does.”
Case in point: Think about how a lead may receive a call from your sales team. They decide to look up your brand and surf through your site, as well as read a few of your blog posts. Your sales team continues to follow up with them via email — meanwhile, your prospect is seeing your marketing team’s ads across social media, and even signs up for an upcoming webinar.
If your sales team has no idea what marketing events, ads, or campaigns are going on, there could be a major disconnect in the messages your company is sending one person.
Use your shared goals, buyer personas, and internal communication tools to keep your two teams aligned. Establish a clear hand-off process, too, and one place for everyone to share notes and data about prospects.
7. Automate repetitive tasks
The average salesperson spends 21% of their time writing emails, 17% entering data, 17% prospecting and researching leads, 12% going to internal meetings, and 12% scheduling calls.
One of the quickest ways to improve your sales process is by automating repetitive tasks so your sales reps have more time to sell.
This can be achieved by:
- Creating email templates and voicemail scripts.
- Using a CRM system to record leads, track prospects, and schedule calls.
- Using an online calendar tool to create appointments and book demos.
Some tools you may find useful include:
HubSpot – To manage your contacts and track them across deal stages. You can also send out email triggers based on each contact’s movement.
Gong – To record your sales calls, take notes automatically, and set up reminders for your next steps per each account.
Calendly – To make it easy for interested leads to find a convenient time to book a call and chat with you.
Find more options in my giant list of eCommerce marketing tools.
8. Document your process
For a sales process to produce repeated success, you must document its steps. Create, share, and teach your sales process, covering the main steps as well as the details within them.
- The information required before contacting a lead
- When to make contact and what to say
- Automated email campaigns used
- What content the rep can use
- How to overcome common pain points
While your sales process should never be so scripted that it restricts creative freedom and natural insight, it should provide enough information to guide your sales team in the right direction.
Finally, remember to experiment. The best part of growing a startup is discovering what works for your business and customers. Experiment with different sales processes and techniques until you find the sweet spot, and reap the benefits with repeatable success.
Top-down versus bottom-up sales models: What they mean and how to use them
Wrapping up – How to improve your startup sales process
Your startup sales process will continually evolve. The refining process is never finished, especially in a growing company. Start with a strong foundation of your audience and goals, work with marketing to pinpoint the best ways to incite action, document your processes, and automate what you can.
Constantly finding the best iterations of your sales process takes time and effort, but the increased leads, higher conversion rate, and additional insight into your audience makes the returns well worth it.
Published: August 24, 2020
Updated: August 24, 2021