The B2B sales process is a systematic approach for a sales team to close new customer deals involving a series of key steps. In this article I will provide you with a step-by-step guide to putting an efficient and effective B2B sales process in place that will work in practice. This will help you deliver sales revenue more consistently and predictably.
The sales process is often also referred to as the sales funnel and contains the following stages:
- Prospect qualification
- The sales pitch
- Price negotiation
- Closing the deal
However, as a new business, there’s often a lot more to the process, like creating your customer profile and setting up your sales CRM. In this article, we’re going to show you how to put your sales process in place from the ground level up.
Step 1: Define Your Ideal Customer
First things first, you have to know who you’re selling to. A B2B customer profile is a description of the demographic and behavioral traits of your ideal customer, and the organization they work within. This profile is then used to help you find more customers that fit the same description.
If you’re already up and running, the easiest way to do this is to review your highest spending and most profitable long-term customers. If you’re a startup, then you’ll have to make best guesses to define your ideal customer profile and refine this profile over time as you start to encounter more and more real customers.
Typically, a B2B customer profile includes:
- Their Job title and key job responsibilities
- Their demographics e.g. Female, 35-45 years old, earning circa $75k and based in the State of New York
- The key tools and software they use to do their job
- The publications they read and how they do their research when solving problems
- Memberships, trusted online communities, trade shows and conferences attended
- Communication channels e.g. email, phone, LinkedIn and Twitter
- Education and previous jobs
In addition to the profile of your key contact, you also need to clearly define the type of organization that they work within. The key criteria include:
- Company size by annual revenue and number of employees
- The industry sectors that have a need for your products or services
- Where they are based. This should be a simple and concise description of the geographic region that you are going to operation within. This could be because it is essential to meet face-to-face with customers, or because you have decided to focus on English speaking countries, or maybe you’ve decided to stay within the US.
Step 2: Create Your Sales Plan
Once your profile is defined, the next step is to think about how, specifically, you can successfully sell to these customers. Put these ideas down on paper in the form of a sales plan. It makes sense to create a stand-alone sales plan as sales revenue is the lifeblood of your business. I strongly recommend creating SMART objectives to give your sales plan a clear strategic focus and an objective way to measure your progress in achieving your objectives over time.
In a small business, the purpose of a sales plan is to:
- Learn From Past Performance – One of the easiest ways to improve sales performance is to learn from past performance.
- Promote Clarity of Roles & Responsibilities – Sales team become high performing when experienced sales people are given responsibility and freedom within a clear framework.
- Benefit From The Best Ideas – without a sales plan, it’s less easy to consult around strategy and tactics across the whole of your team. By consulting, you also get buy-in and the best ideas from your team.
- Measure Progress Objectively – A good sales plan allows the sales manager or business owner to measure and manage the sales team much more effectively. This is because you can then see clearly when the business is underachieving and resolve this before it’s too late
Increasingly, small businesses are creating their sales plan and then enabling this within a small business sales CRM system like Pipedrive, which allows most aspects of the sales plan to be measured and managed in real-time, which I discuss in more detail in the next section.
Given the importance of your sales plan, I recommend reading How to Create a Sales Plan to Drive Business Growth, within which I will also provide you with a free sales plan template to help you get started.
Step 3: Setup Your Sales CRM
A good small business CRM tool allows you to bring your sales plan to life in real-time. For instance, it provides you with a real-time visual representation of your sales pipeline, which you can look at by sales rep or across your sales team.
Whichever small business CRM system you choose, it’s worth noting the best are:
- Low-cost and affordable to small business
- Simple and intuitive for sales teams to use
- Automate sales reporting, which I cover in the next section
- Integrate with other essential sales tools like lead generation and call recording, which I also cover further below.
I recommend Pipedrive because it fulfils all of these criteria better than any other small business CRM that I know. Pipedrive uses a visual sales pipeline as the home page, and from here you can access everything you need. Salespeople love it because it is designed exactly how they expect sales CRM to look.
Sales people to not like wasting time on learning over complex systems and of the biggest benefits of Pipedrive is how quick and simple it is for sales to get up and running when compared with other small business CRMs.
How to Set Up a Small Business CRM: Pipedrive
You can get started in Pipedrive in 5 easy steps:
- Sign-in and invite other users to come and join you.
- The system then takes you to your pipeline view, which you can see above. This is broken down into sales process steps or stages. Pipedrive comes with a universal set of stages which are easy to customize with a couple of clicks. You can also create multiple pipelines.
- Next, press the ‘add deal’ button and add the details of each prospect. You can also add activities to each deal and the system with remind you with visual cues if any of these activities becomes overdue. You can also import bulk data from a spreadsheet or from another CRM.
- You move deals through the pipeline as they progress by simply dragging and dropping the deal tile.
- The reports tab allows you to access all the reports you are likely to require, which we cover in detail in the next section.
Step 4: Setup Your Sales CRM reports
Sales metrics are ways to measure what is going on within your sales pipeline and help you gain insight into your performance. If you can measure your effectiveness at each stage of the sales process, you are much better positioned to manage your sales team and increase bottom-line profits.
There are 3 key metrics you will want to keep constantly top of mind:
1. Opportunity Size vs. Average Deal Size Won
If you spot deals entering your pipeline that are much bigger than the average deal size you win then you have to question whether these deals should be part of your pipeline and sales forecast. Pipedrive makes it easy to identify deal sizes outside your sweet spot.
2. Opportunity Age vs. Average Win Cycle
Opportunity age is a strong indicator of how likely a deal is to convert. Deals that linger in your pipeline for too long at any given stage are much less likely to convert than deals that maintain momentum.
Pipedrive allows you to set the number of days a deal can sit in each stage and raises a red flag to let you know if a deal is starting to rot in a stage.
3. Win Rate
Is the number of opportunities it takes your team to generate one new paying customer.
Pipedrive has automated Stage Conversion Reports, which allow you to see at a glance how likely a deal is to convert at each stage in your sales pipeline. Conversion rate has a massive impact on your bottom line profits. Understanding where you can focus to improve conversion rate can have a massive positive impact on your business.
Beyond these overall sales pipeline health metrics, there are hundreds of other metrics you could use to help you measure and manage performance. I’ve picked-out 2 other key metrics to help you get started:
Stage Conversion Rate Metrics
These allow you to understand the rate at which your sales team is able to progress deals at each stage of your sales pipeline. For example, if I need 100 cold leads to be able to convert 80 qualified sales leads at the next stage, then my conversion rate of cold to qualified leads is 80/100 (or 80%) with 1/4 (or 20%) leaking out of my pipeline.
Working out the conversion rate for each stage of your sales pipeline allows you to understand and improve the performance of sales at each stage. Pipedrive automatically calculates your conversion rate for each stage. It also allows you to analyze this by salesperson.
Sales Activity Metrics
Now that you understand the importance of conversion metrics, you can see why it’s also important to measure the sales activity that supports the achievement of those conversion rates. For example, at the lead generation stage, the number of cold calls made by each sales rep is usually a good indicator of how many new sales opportunities they will generate.
To learn about even more useful metrics, you can check out our full article on sales pipeline metrics.
Step 5: Sales Intelligence & Tools
Now that you have your sales CRM and sales metrics in place, it’s time to begin actually selling. Remember in step 1 when you created a customer profile? Now let’s explore the tools you can use to actually find and research these customers.
The more salespeople know about their prospects the better. This knowledge sets them up to successfully complete each subsequent stage of the sales process and ultimately secure more sales wins.
I recommend starting by taking a look at your B2B prospect’s website, your contact’s LinkedIn profile and their Twitter feed if they have one. You may also want to use Company profiling site like DueDil to understand what sort of financial shape the business is in.
Sales Intelligence Tools to Consider
Given how good sales intelligence can hugely influence your team’s win rate, you may also want to consider sales intelligence tools to give you an extra edge over your competitors.
I recommend 2 tools:
Sales Navigator is an affordable way for small business to gain meaningful insight into over 30 customer profile attributes, which can also be used to hone your search to find your ideal customer prospects. It’s also possible to monitor prospect behavior, for instance, by receiving a notification when the prospect changes roles. For $80/user/month, the Sales Navigator Professional package gives you all the main features you need.
Lusha provides a different solution in that it identifies direct phone numbers, mobile numbers and email addresses as you browse LinkedIn and Twitter profiles in your Google Chrome browser. It’s simple to get started and for $25/month, you can reveal 50 new contacts.
Step 6: Integrate Lead Generation Tools
Having explored some of the tools available to find leads, the next step is to consider how these methods can be integrated with your CRM system. Integrating lead generation tools into your CRM system will allow you to:
- Save time, avoiding manual data entry of new contacts
- Ensure lead contact information is cleansed and automatically kept up to date in real-time.
- Update and enrich the data of other leads already in your system.
- Utilize “purchasing triggers” to get notifications of certain events. For instance purchasing a new software platform, which may act as a signal for when prospects are entering their buying cycle for your product or service.
I recommend integrating two different types of lead generation tool; a tool for generating fresh leads straight into your CRM and a tool for identifying visitors to your website:
1. Lead411 – for New Sales Leads & Intel
This solution is not only a source of fresh leads; it also provides you with intelligence updates on the prospects you are targeting. These are generally called purchasing triggers. For instance, you can receive alerts on which companies are growing, when they put new tech in place, and when key contacts change roles.
Lead411 integrates with Pipedrive and other small business CRMs so you can keep data clean, and benefit from purchasing triggers in real-time. In terms of pricing, 100 fresh leads/month costs $75/month. To learn more about Lead411 pricing click here.
2. Leadberry – to Reveal Visitors to Your Website
Leadberry allows you to see which companies visit your website. Beyond company names, you view a range of other useful data including their website URL, phone number, e-mail addresses for key contacts and contact profiles for LinkedIn and Twitter connections that you already know. You can also see which pages a prospect has viewed and for how long.
The system continuously monitors your website and sends you e-mail alerts in real-time when a prospect arrives on your site. Leadberry also integrates with Pipedrive so you can keep one record of customer contact including when they visit your website. In terms of pricing, you can reveal 100 unique website visitors/month for $35/month. To learn more about Leadberry pricing click here.
Step 7. Setup Cold Calling & Cold Emailing
You may have a marketing team to help with lead generation through a range of activity like email campaigns, blogging and attending trade shows. To get more ideas on how to get more leads I recommend reading 25 Ways to get Sales Leads for Your Business.
However, your sales process also needs to allow sales to generate its own leads or its ability to succeed becomes totally dependent on outside help. Cold calling and emailing is the obvious solution.
All salespeople need to cold call at some point to break the ice with prospects. Learning how to do this well is one of the most empowering steps any salesperson can take. Without cold calls (and marketing campaigns supported by cold calls), it is especially difficult for most startups to get into profit before they run out of cash.
Cold calling is most effective as part of the sales process when each call is highly personalized. This is only possible if you have a robust stage for gathering sales intelligence on each prospect you are targeting, which we covered earlier in Step 5.
I recommend reading Cold Calling – A Beginners Guide for Small Business Owners, to improve your cold calling effectiveness. You may also want to refer to How to Build a Cold Call Script to help you enable this stage of the sales process.
Often cold emails are used as the starting point to develop new sales leads and then followed-up with a cold call. This is particularly effective when you take the time to research your prospect and personalize a cold email. I’ve found that sending 1,000 standard cold gets only 1 or 2 meaningful responses. However, if I send out 5 highly personalized emails, my success rate is 1 in 5. This more personalized approach and works better because the email is not perceived as generic sales spam. Plus it only takes 30 minutes to research and fully personalize each email.
If you cannot afford to burn cold contacts, it’s better to invest the time to know your audience before writing a more personal cold email and then follow-up a couple of days later by phone. To learn more about creating effective personalised cold emails as part of your sales process I recommend reading Cold Emails – What are They & How to Write Successful Cold Emails to Complete Strangers.
Step 8: Setup Sales Materials
As part of your sales process, it’s important to anticipate what sales collateral you are going to need to support each stage of your sales process.
The most obvious is some kind of electronic sales brochure, product leaflet or web landing page that you can point prospects to so they can learn more. This can be useful to gain their commitment to meet.
Most small businesses cannot afford to hire a design agency to create these materials. However, there are online design tools that make it easy to create professional sales collateral without the need for design experience.
Canva allows you to create anything from infographics to gift-cards and posters to sales brochures, all using templates without the need for you to be a graphic designer. With over 8,000 user generated themes to choose from, you can create infographics, social posts, sales brochures and much more with a bit of creativity.
The interface is drag-and-drop, so it’s easy to tweak your graphics to look the way you want. Canva has a free version for up to 10 users and a limit of 1GB of storage. However, I would recommend the $12.95 price package, which allows you to install custom branding, color palette and fonts to create professional sales materials.
For a hands-off approach, you might also consider a freelancer platform like Upwork or Freelancer. These sites allow you to set a brief and freelance designers will compete with proposals to win your work. You can also see how they have been rated for previous work they have completed on the platform.
Step 9: Develop Your Sales Pitch
Your sales pitch is the next key part of your sales process. This can take place over the phone, online or in person. A sales pitch is often supported by a pitch presentation, a demonstration and a cost proposal that’s left behind.
The person you want to deliver your sales pitch to is typically referred to as the decision-maker. They have control over the budget that is used to buy the services that you are selling.
I recommend reading How to Create a Winning Sales Pitch for a Small Business in 6 Steps, which will take you through each of the key steps of creating a winning sales pitch in detail, from how to schedule your appointment to how to deliver your pitch itself.
It’s also crucial to use the right tools to deliver your presentation if it needs to be brought to life visually. I recommend two types of tools to small business sales teams; presentation design tools and virtual presentation tools:
Slidebean is the best presentation design and delivery tool I know because it allows you to create professional pitch presentations without the need for graphic design expertise. It also provides useful analytics, which help sales reps to convert deals at the next stage. The $8 Individual package comes with unlimited presentations and storage, though to get custom branding, color palette, fonts and design reviews you will have to trade up to the $19 Premium package. For more detailed information about Slidebean pricing click here.
The most important aspect of video conferencing is call quality and Zoom has the most consistent video and audio call quality that I have experienced in its price range.
Zoom does have a free package. However, I recommend the Pro package for business use as it comes with unlimited call duration (the free package is limited to 40-minutes per call) and call recording. For more detailed information about Zoom pricing click here.
Step 10: Systematic Follow-up & Closing
Practicing consistent and persistent follow-up during each stage of the sales process is one of the most important success factors in B2B sales. For instance; after your pitch, it’s essential to follow-up until you have received feedback or arranged a follow-up meeting, and once you have delivered your cost proposal it’s essential to follow-up until you get a clear response or enter price negotiations.
This is one of the areas where CRM tools like Pipedrive come into their own, as they help you with the discipline of setting tasks and then remind you to complete them.
Of course one of the key times to follow-up is also after you have asked for the business. This final closing stage of the sales process is often misunderstood— even by sales professionals. In my humble opinion, if you have got the rest of the stages of the sales process right, the close is simple and you do not need any clever gimmicks or tricks.
Once you have asked for the business, your customer probably needs time to consider your cost proposal. As a result, the final stage of the sales process is to follow-up until the customer signs-up formally and makes their first payment.
Bottom Line: An Efficient & Effective Sales Process
In this article I have covered each of the 10 key stages of the B2B sales process. I’ve also covered a wide range of tools that will help you complete each stage more efficiently and effectively.
However, the key tool that underpins your entire sales process is your sales CRM. This is the foundational system that will allow to measure and manage the execution of your sales plan, and use sales reports to improve your performance. The rest of your sales tools will likely need to integrate with your CRM, so it’s important to set this up first.