The term 'sales process' is largely self-explanatory: it's defined as a logical, systematic progression through a set of defined steps with the expectation that at the end of the process, you'll complete a sale. Many definitions and descriptions of the sales process will begin with receiving a lead and terminate when you close the first sale, but don't be fooled--a proper process goes further back, to lead generation, and further forward, through at least a single follow-up. In this article, we'll give a rough explanation of what people usually mean when they talk about sales process, the benefits of utilizing one over 'winging it', how to make your own, the tricks you can work with one, and the pitfalls that you might encounter--valuable knowledge no sales person should be without.
When people discuss developing a sales process, they generally mean defining one--chances are, you already have s sales process or something close to one which you're using in your daily work. However, sitting down and setting out a true sales process isn't as common; it's not rare for a sales person to dismiss such a concrete form of their methods as 'too rigid' or 'damaging to flexibility and creativity'. This sort of thinking represents a misunderstanding of the sales process: a good sales process, acts as guidelines for each sale. It's a living, breathing thing, and the good ones have plenty of "If's" and "In Case Of's" included.
A fixed process gives you a baseline to compare your every effort to. It reduces anxiety, gives you somewhere to go when a sale goes astray, and makes hard data far more useful. A sales process also helps to remind you of those simple tasks that tend to slip even the savviest sales person's mind and keeps you from wandering off on wasteful tangents. But perhaps the greatest benefit of the sales process lay in its creation: laying down a process gives insight into your own methods, a second objective look you've likely never taken at yourself.
Developing a sales process can be a bit messy. You more or less start with what you think your sales process looks like, noting down everything that comes to mind. Then you start tracking yourself--every action you take that's part of your interaction with the customer, beginning with lead generation and heading through any follow ups after the sale. Then you start cutting the fat and adding in missing details. This is the important bit--as you trim and add, you'll start to recognize aspects of your 'game' that you'd never considered. Parts that are crucial to every closed sale...parts that show up in a disproportionate number of failures. Simply taking these notes and trying to create an ideal process will push you closer to a true ideal.
Once you're comfortable with your process, you can really put it to work. Once you have consistent data, you can experiment with steps--add an anecdote and track how it plays with different demographics, move a step and see what happens. You can also use a polished sales process to quickly teach newcomers, offer insight to team members, and explain yourself to superiors as needed. A fixed sales process has quite a few applications, once you've developed it.
Always remember to include flexibility, wiggle room, in your sales process. When you spot an opportunity, you should seize it--if nothing else, you can later compare your results to your baseline and refine those instincts. Creativity is a skill to be trained, and the results of that skill can be quantified in sales, unlike other creative disciplines. Your process is a single tool in your belt; use it without relying solely upon it and you'll achieve amazing results.