Organizations live and die by the health of their sales process. It is a given that the number-one concern for leaders of small and large businesses alike is to answer these questions:
Where is the next sale coming from, and how can we make it happen faster?
Sales is the lifeblood of their business, keeping their company alive and their employees paid. None of us are owed or guaranteed sales, so it is imperative that an effective sales process is built.
The Stages of a Successful Sales Process
We all know that time is the business leader’s greatest resource, and sometimes the lack of time is what makes people avoid doing the one key thing that must happen to begin a healthy sales process. However, “above the funnel” sales effort is critical work that should come before everything else. First, let’s examine what a sales funnel is and what the stages are as potential customers flow through it.
Think of a giant funnel with a wide opening that diminishes in size. At the very top of that wide-mouthed funnel are all of the leads you have generated. As you work these leads and sift through the solid ones to find the actual prospects, people who have a need you can fill, the funnel narrows. You then work hard building relationships with these prospects to turn them into opportunities. Opportunities are prospects that you have developed into potential clients with whom you have entered into serious discussions.
These opportunities are generally where most people want to spend their time. These prospects are so close to actually becoming customers that you can almost taste it. If you can convert them and close the deal, you will experience the satisfaction of securing a sale for your business, and the security of the income it will generate. But spending all of your time here is a mistake.
Where You Must Spend Your Time
Seriously successful salespeople know that the most critical part of the sales process actually starts before they even get to the funnel; it’s the work they call “above the funnel.” The people above your sales funnel aren’t thinking about you, your product, or your service… yet. What you need to know is what they are thinking about, what worries them, where is their energy and time spent, and how you can reach them while they’re thinking about those things.
The work you do above the funnel is the work that will bring you prospects, people actively looking for your product or solution. It may look like any of these:
- Social media activity. For a while it was popular to call this “social selling,” but that is really a misnomer. Nothing is sold on social media; it is marketed. The activity you do on social media to present yourself as a thought leader and problem solver is above-the-funnel work that will make future prospects sit up and take notice of you.
- Content creation. This is really a marketing activity, but smart salespeople understand the value it brings, especially if they create it. If you want to be known as a trusted advisor, someone who provides solutions to your prospects’ problems, blogging regularly to provide advice is a superb above-the-funnel activity. But it does take time and discipline.
- Networking. Whether you network online or in person, at its core, this activity is about building new relationships, and it’s where prospects are born.
Perhaps the most common issue responsible for a lack of success in sales has to do with this above-the-funnel work not getting done. A client’s pressing needs or the temptation to close prospects often push this work off your plate. You think you’ll do it when you have more time. You downgrade its importance. Then, before long, your sales funnel begins to dry up because new leads aren’t being nurtured.
The Process Is What Helps You Avoid Mistakes
Building an effective sales process doesn’t happen by accident. You must understand both the fundamentals of sales and the proper stages of the process. Then, once you’ve gained all of that knowledge, you must have the discipline to work through that process on a daily basis. There really is no magic solution to building a healthy business. People and businesses don’t succeed over the long term through luck, or even because of economic conditions. They succeed when they build a sales process that keeps their company healthy, creating new opportunities every day.
If you want to learn more about how to build and implement a winning sales process, watch SAP’s recording of our recent Webinar with global sales leader, Anthony Iannarino, “The Top 3 Challenges Small Sales Teams Struggle With…Solved.” Click here to watch the recording.
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