Sales process is not about how you sell but how the customer buys.
Every company needs a sales process, right? Well, sort of. The sales process inside most firms look something like this:
Present a product.
Demonstrate the product.
Propose a purchase.
Close the deal.
There's only one problem: this kind of sales process never works.
Here's why. Customers don't want you to sell anything to them. Customers have their own idea about how they want to buy something. They deeply resent it when you try to make them dance to your pre-determined tune.
To be effective, a sales process must be based upon the customer's buying process, which is the set of decisions that the customer wants to make, in the order that the customer wants to make them. In B2B selling, the buying process usually looks like this:
The customer decides there's a problem or opportunity.
The customer quantifies the economic consequences.
The customer decides to commit funding.
The customer defines their selection criteria for a solution.
The customer evaluates alternatives for benefits and risks.
The customer selects a vendor (or decides not to buy at all).
Your "sales process" must adapt to the decisions that the customer needs to make at each stage of their buying process. Your job is to help the customer make the best decision, for that customer (and not necessarily for you or your firm!)
For example, suppose a customer accesses your website and asks for some information about, say, your supply chain software solution. At that point you already know that the customer has decided there's a problem or opportunity.
Therefore, the next step in your sales process is to help the customer quantify that problem or opportunity in financial terms so that it can be prioritized versus all the other financial demands inside the customer's firm.
If you followed the old "vendor-centric" sales process, you'd probably try to get into a discussion about needs (too late for this) or perhaps try to demonstrate a product (way too early for this).
More importantly, introducing those elements into the discussion will distract you from the next two steps, especially defining the selection criteria, where your real challenge is to ensure those criteria emphasize your offering's unique features.
Furthermore, if you're trying to answer objections and close the deal before the customer has quantified and prioritized the finances, you're setting yourself up to spend a lot of time selling to a customer who may not really see the need to buy.
So here's the real truth about sales process: it must be adaptive rather than manipulative.
Make that crucial distinction and your sales process will help, rather than hinder, your sales efforts.
GEOFFREY JAMES writes "Sales Source on Inc.com," the world's most-read sales-oriented blog. His new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, will be published in early 2014. To get weekly blog updates, sign up for his free "Insider" newsletter. @Sales_Source