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Defining Clear Sales Process

Defining a Clear and Useful Sales Process

This article is an excerpt from our book, Part-Time Sales Management, For Small Business Sales Teams. Defining your sales process is one of four elements we suggest establishing to communicate clear expectations to your sales team.

By documenting and clarifying your expectations, you are setting yourself up to more easily manage and attract additional salespeople that will be able to understand and follow your process.

In addition, it’s impossible to have an environment of accountability if expectations are not clear and agreed to. The four elements include the company vision or plan, job descriptions, your sales process, and individual sales plans. 

Excerpt from Part-Time Sales Management, Chapter 4, Expectations

Sales Process

The concept of the “sales process” underpins every aspect of selling. Whether you are already familiar with this concept or not, you need to know how to adapt it to your business, so you can effectively manage your sales team. 

When you invest in clearly defining your sales process, you will be adding clear expectations, accountability points, and meaning to a sales pipeline or sales funnel report that is produced by your Customer Relationship Management system (CRM).

If you are unfamiliar with a sales funnel or pipeline report, it is simply a list of all your potential opportunities organized by the sales stage. Sales CRMs usually offer this information as a core report. Without this level of detail on the sales process stages, each salesperson will decide—in his or her own mind—which activities are best to pursue.

Usually, they will not share their thoughts with you. This lack of communication will leave you, the manager, guessing or wondering what they are doing. It becomes impossible to create and sustain a culture of accountability in a company with ambiguous guidelines, which will eat into your time management.

Lack of details can also lead to poor forecasting as the probability of each sale closing is left up to subjective judgment rather than agreed-upon objective milestones defined in a sales process. Your defined sales process helps your salespeople work smarter and more efficiently and allows you to manage something measurable.  

What is a Sales Process? 

A sales process is a list of logical stages, activities, and outcomes that provides milestones along every point in the sales conversation—moving from the first step of selectively contacting clients through the last steps of completing the sale and doing follow-up work.

One way to view the generic idea of the sales process is to think of it as a road map that takes you from the prospective customer’s earliest glimmer of interest to their final decision to buy or not.

The point I want you to remember is that you do not need to find some magical formula or unproven gimmick to produce sales. Rather, like other aspects of your business, sales results are best achieved when you develop and document a logical, rational process that you can repeatedly use with your team. This process will become part of your accountable environment to help ensure salespeople are doing the things that provide the best opportunity for success.  

What are the Basic Stages in a Sales Process? 

This question can be answered in various ways because some experts may break down the sales process into a dozen stages, while others may list only five. Regardless of where the lines are drawn between each stage, however, the sales process roadmap generally follows a simple path that takes you from the starting point of initial customer outreach to the finish line of a completed sale.  

Below are the common stages of most sales processes, which I’ll use in Figure 4.8 Sample Sales Process Guide. This model is one you can adapt or customize to fit the needs of your own company.  

The preliminary marketing stage below is technically not part of a sales process. Marketing (generating leads) is often part of a salesperson’s duties at a small business, so I’m including it as a preliminary stage. Marketing is focused on attracting interest from companies you suspect might want to buy from you. The sales process begins when a suspected company engages 

in conversation to make a buying decision. Marketing is about attracting interest, and sales are about converting interest into a purchase.

Preliminary Marketing Stage for Sales People: 

Generate Leads

Sales Process Stages: 

Stage 1 – Qualify Leads 

Stage 2 – Manage Discovery Appointments 

Stage 3 – Lead Solution Discussions 

Stage 4 – Develop and Present a Sales Proposal 

Stage 5 – Initiate Sales Order 

Stage 6 – Follow-up with Customer Service/Referrals  

The Sales Process Stage Sections Definitions table (Figure 4.7) is designed to provide definitions of five sections to consider including when developing your sales process stages. In addition to your stage name, include a stage purpose, activity to perform, resources to use, and what to update in the CRM. By including the additional details, you are lining up your expectations to be accountable. As you customize your sales process, you might wonder how detailed you should get.

The answer varies and depends on how complex your product or service is and how seasoned your team is. If you intend to hire more salespeople, more detail will provide greater chances of success for your new sales employees. That said, be careful not to overburden the team with more details than necessary.

Adding definition to your sales process adds clarity and mutual understanding. It’s a little chore to define, but once it’s done, you return to selling. In addition, including what needs to be input into your CRM will improve the accuracy of the sales process dashboards and reports. 

Figure 4.7

Sales Process Stage Sections Definitions


Sales Process Stage Sections Definitions
Stage Name Short label for the stage

EX: Qualify Leads; Initiate Sales Order, etc.

Purpose Desired outcome for this stage (not activities)

EX: Clearly understand buying motives & technical requirements to prepare a quality proposal

Activity Two types of activities:

  1. Activities that transpire in this stage
  2. Required activities for this stage
Forms & Resources Resources: Marketing materials, discovery questions, testimonials, etc.

Forms: Any forms required to prepare a solution and/or proposal

CRM Fields Any fields that should be updated during this stage if you are using a CRM database


Figure 4.8

Sample Sales Process Guide


Lead Generation Activities
Stage Name Preliminary Marketing Stage – Generate Leads
Purpose Identify leads that have expressed an interest to learn more
Activity   Work a proactive marketing system that leads to referrals

  Market, through providing education and sharing insights to prospects outside your referral network

  Conduct reconnaissance phone calling/digital outreach

  Build your contact and referral network

Forms/Resources   Book – No More Cold Calling

  Email drip marketing system

  Company webinars

CRM Fields   Add notes

  Input all buyers as contacts into CRM

  Add to any marketing lists

Convert lead to opportunity if they express interest

Sales Process Stages
Stage Name Stage 1 – Qualify Leads
Purpose Qualify that an opportunity exists to pursue the lead, and if it does, to make an initial appointment
Activity   Conduct preliminary research

  Make introductions if not already made

  Contact lead and ask qualifying questions

  Set appointments for qualified leads

Forms/Resources   Lead qualifying questions in CRM

  Intro video on web site

CRM Fields   Update stage

  Add notes

  Input all buyers as contacts into CRM

  Add to any marketing lists

Initiate proposal module

Stage Name Stage 2 – Manage Discovery Appointments
Purpose Identify all buyers, buying motives, goals, objectives, and issues to prepare a solution
Activity   Meet with all necessary buyers involved in decision

  Send confirmation emails after all meetings—including a Letter of Understanding (See Appendix C. for a sample of a Letter of Understanding)

  Conduct site visit

  Have all buyers see intro video

  Conduct as many meetings as needed to meet purpose

  Bring in engineers and support roles as needed to support sales

  Confirm buyer’s vision for how it will be when problem is solved

Forms/Resources   Discovery Questionnaire

  System infrastructure map

CRM Fields   Update stage

  Add notes

  Input all buyers as contacts into CRM

  Add to any marketing lists

Initiate proposal module

Stage Name Stage 3 – Lead Solution Discussions
Purpose Discuss and collaborate on an agreeable solution to present in a formal proposal
Activity   Confirm understandings early and often during meetings and after meetings

  Schedule and conduct solution discussion meetings

  Confirm budget

  Test applications if needed

  Present demonstrations if needed

  Do surveys if necessary

  Arrange vendor visits if needed

Forms/Resources   Customer sign off on solution agreement
CRM Fields   Update stage

  Add notes

  Add to any marketing lists

  Complete proposal

Stage Name Stage 4 – Develop and Present Sales Proposal
Purpose Present proposal to all parties as agreed to earlier in order for decision to be made
Activity   Work with internal and external support departments/vendors to prepare proposal and pricing

  Have proposal edited by administrative staff

  Go back to Stage 3 if changes are required

  Schedule presentation

  Conduct presentation

Forms/Resources   Proposal


  Credit application

CRM Fields   Update stage

  Add notes

  Add to any marketing lists

Stage Name Stage 5 – Initiate Sales Order
Purpose Ensure customer service and product delivery/installation teams absolutely understand all customer expectations
Activity   Hold kick off meeting with support departments

  Review all aspects and promises

  Introduce customer to support and implementation team

  Review any special billing requirements with accounting

Ask for referrals if perceived value is identified

Forms/Resources   Order initiation
CRM Fields   Update stage

  Add notes

  Add to any marketing lists

Stage Name Stage 6 – Follow-Up with Customer Service/Referrals
Purpose Ensure customer satisfaction and report any issues needing attention
Activity   Meet during installation

  Meet after training

  Follow up in 30 days after installation and training complete

  Solicit recommendation or testimonial

  Ask for referrals if perceived value is identified

Forms/Resources   Customer sign off form
CRM Fields   Update stage

  Add notes

  Add to any marketing lists


If you have an established business that has been successful selling but never defined your process, you do have one. When we begin working with a client, we don’t bring our boilerplate process in, we simply ask what happens during the selling process. Together we determine the best practices and define the sections so each salesperson is working in the best manner to win more business. 

If you would like us to help facilitate the definition of your sales process, give us a call. We’d be happy to help. 

Rene is the President of Sales Manager Now, a company that provides fractional sales management services to small and family-run businesses. He has twenty-seven years of experience in sales leadership, coaching, and consulting. He is also the author of the Part-Time Sales Management handbook and is based in Auburn, California.

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