The B2B sales process is everything when it comes to creating a repeatable, measurable and effective series of steps that help a buyer come to an informed and conscious decision that will allow them to reach an intended outcome. Oh, what a mouthful! But it’s very true. Now, the methodology that sits inside the B2B sales process is the fuel that enables your organisation to make advancements in a sales engagement. Without these two areas nailed, you will have salespeople doing whatever they feel works for them. You will have pipeline being validated based on gut feeling and discretion and you will struggle to create the repeatability that is necessary for sustainable results. Ok, enough of the doom a gloom.
Let's discuss this 9 step B2B Sales Process. This broad framework is a very simple way to capture the major stages of a B2B sales process. Most people will completely ignore some of the steps and roll them up into a single stage – I think this is a mistake.
Let's take a look at the steps
Step one: Do your research and preliminary work
We exist in so much noise. Do your homework before you approach a prospect and create more unnecessary noise. You may actually find that the company or person you are researching is not a good fit after all. Value your prospects time and attention but value yours even more.
Step two: Book the meeting or call
You want to get your prospect to commit some time to learning more. That.Is.All. This is not the time to be digging into pricing, product features, 100 case studies, 22 new Gartner, Mckinsey or Salesforce insights. Share just enough to spark that interest, validate that at this stage the prospect meets your qualification criteria, get your commitment of time and conclude your call or meeting. We try to do way too much too early on and if I’m honest, it is not always necessary.
Step three: Discovery call or product demo
The objective of this stage is to gain some commitment to explore and progress discussions further. Times have changed so most of our meetings are now conducted online, but get the video on. Video is so much more personable and much more forgiving than just a screen share or call.
One of the first things you want to do is a recap. You want to make sure that the customer and you are on exactly the same page and that you have the same expectations for the duration of the call. Most importantly, you want to agree upfront the actual outcomes of the call - The upfront contract. You will find out very quickly if someone is willing and ready to engage for the long-term by explicitly saying that you are working towards the objective of progressing discussions beyond the call/meeting today. The worst thing you can do is have a prospect get to the end of the call and say wow your solution is really cool but we aren’t actually looking at anything right now but this was a fun experience. Your prospect needs to know early on that you mean business and so should they.
Step four: Accessing the wider stakeholder group
The objective of this stage is to access the executive sponsor. This is the most senior person in the organisation who has ownership over the success of this project or this initiative that they have going on right now. The more relevant people you have in the stakeholder group and the decision making unit, the more likelihood you have of closing a deal and de-risking the opportunity. This is often referred to as multi-threading a deal. More contacts and more departments.
Ironically enough, the assumption for many is that the less people involved the less people there are to say no. Wouldn’t you prefer to know as early as possible that something is not going to happen? By aligning your solution with wider business objectives and strategic needs you position yourself for a more targeted, relevant engagement.
Step five: Building a Proposal
The proposal is a synthesis of your experience and skillset, your discovery work and your prospects time
The objective of this stage is to build something that the customer can say yes to. They can say yes if you have done enough digging and discovery work in the previous four steps that can allow you to build something that is actually relevant. Relevant in this context means, they have the budget for it, they can allocate resources to it, they have the time that they can commit to it and it’s actually happening at a time where the business really needs to take action. They are galvanised to do something and there is perceived value from the recommended change.
During this proposal stage you do not want to let go of the process. You don’t just create something and send it off via email. The proposal is a synthesis of your experience and skillset, your discovery work and your prospects time. Don’t just throw it into the inbox pile. This is your opportunity to book a pre-proposal meeting or call to discuss the draft proposal and get the feedback required to send it for a formal review. The idea is to work collaboratively with the stakeholder group to make sure that nothing has been missed, and the content is represented in a way that makes sense. Do not make any assumptions at this stage. You should get explicit confirmation that the prospect will review the proposal once sent and by when and with whom. Identify sticky points, observe objections and handle them prior to the prospect walking off into the sunset with no intention of working with you.
Step six: the pipeline call
The objective of this stage is to get your customer and the decision making unit to commit to working collaboratively with you and your business to reach the intended outcomes that they have specified throughout the process. When this objective is met then you are able to put this as a revenue opportunity into your CRM system. Put it at 50% with the confidence that you can move this opportunity forward. The pipeline call is simply a call where your prospect has received the proposal, reviewed it with the relevant stakeholders and given it the thumbs up. This does not mean the deal is done. It means you have a proposed solution or approach that they believe is workable.
Now they really need to commit and say okay, we’re ready to make this work. If the customer is not responsive or is showing signs of disconnect then you need to go back to the drawing board. The pipeline call is not for you to decide. You cannot just put an opportunity into your CRM system because you have a gut feeling. You need to be objective and get a sign from the customer that says this is now teamwork. It’s not just a seller and a buyer but a partnership.
Step seven: the action and close plan
The objective at this stage is to develop a plan that is typically an excel spreadsheet or a document that could be shared between your business and your prospects business. It should detail every step that needs to happen to bring the engagement to a close. There should be indicative dates, clear roles and responsibilities and an acknowledgement of potential hurdles or clashes with existing competing priorities. If you have done the right things up until now then your prospect is likely to welcome this approach with open arms. If not, revisit the proposal and remind them that in order to get to their future state, these things need to happen.
Step eight: negotiate
The objective here is to produce a win-win situation – it’s as simple as that. However, it’s not actually that simple. In fact, it’s not always a win-win that becomes the objective. You want to be in a position where you reach your objectives and the prospect addresses their actual deepest needs and not just wants. Often prospects will ask for things that have minimal bearing on their wider needs. It is your job to uncover the true significance of things they “think” they value in the context of their future state and intended outcomes. Negotiation is not linear. A lot of fine tuning and clarification happens at this stage so get your skills up to scratch so you can uncover where your prospect stands when it comes to doing business with you.
Step nine: contract and close
The objective at this stage is to develop commercial terms that lay the foundations of a fruitful long-term relationship. Work closely with your management team, finance and legal team to produce a contract that’s actually going to have longer-term benefits for both your clients company and yours. Don’t think short-term and throw in big numbers or service level agreements that you can not confidently support. The overall goal is to create a loyal customer that is willing to advocate for your business.
Thank you so much for reading this blog. I hope you got at least ONE gem out of this that you can implement in your day job tomorrow.
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