Sales Process

Overall the next several posts, I’ll go deeper into the sales process with ways to improve it for better results.  I’ve discovered over the years, that at least for me, having a plan of attack is better than just trying to wing it.  Some of what I mention below will vary from company to company and person to person.  But either way, if you don’t pick up the phone and make the call, none of this matters.

Sales Process – Step #1 – Prospecting/Lead Generation

Prospecting or lead generation, as it’s sometimes called, is by definition to look for or search for a company that could use your product/service.  Sales prospecting is when inside sales reps make outbound phone calls or even outbound emails to leads in hopes of creating an opportunity.

It varies from company to company on how prospecting/lead generation occurs.  Some companies have what’s called SDRs (Sales Development Reps).  These individuals would typically be someone new to sales, that would strictly find opportunities to pass off to more seasoned sales reps.  Some companies have their marketing department generate leads to contact based on forms through their website, social media, or other related marketing activities.  An example would be an email list with tracking information of who opened a specific email.  That information would be sent to a sales rep to call and see if the product/service is a fit.  Other companies have a hybrid version of an individual sales rep finding their own leads to call as well as utilizing the marketing department to help with lead generation.

There is really no right or wrong answer with how it gets done as long as it’s happening.  Prospecting is an act that can never stop.  Consistent effort done day in and day out is the secret to long-term growth.

Here are a few places you could go to prospect on your own: LinkedIn, Google, Salesgenie, ThomasNet, Manta, or Hoovers just to name a few.

Sales Stats:

  • It takes an average of 7-8 cold call attempts to reach a prospect – Prospecting is hard and most of us don’t like to do it.  But if you give up on a prospect after too fee attempts, you are passing up a potential sale.  Be persistent and determined.
  • The best time to cold call is between 4:00 and 5:00 PM; The 2nd best time is between 8:00 and 10:00 AM – This is when you will more likely get the decision maker on the phone.
  • 91% of customers say they’d give referrals.  Only 11% of salespeople ask for referrals – All you have to do is ask!  What’s the worst that can happen?  Don’t beat around the bush and “suggest” referrals and instead ask for them directly.
  • In a typical firm with 100-500 employees, an average of 7 people are involved in most buying decisions – It’s rare you’ll find yourself concerned with just one potential buyer in the sales process.  Even in relatively simple transactions with smaller firms, you’ll likely come across multiple people playing different decision making roles.  Ask, “besides yourself, who else is involved in making decisions?”

Plan Your Call

A critical first step to inside sales success is the research and planning you do to prepare yourself for the call.  Now fortunately there are a ton of tools out there to help you.  One of the best tools is simply, Google.  Do a quick search for the company you’re about to call for news articles, their website and even products they make and sell. By checking out their website, you can formulate specific questions to ask the decision maker.  Then you can determine if what you have to offer makes sense for both parties.

Additional tools may include: Jigsaw, LinkedIn, Hoovers, Wikipedia,, Insideview and your company CRM such as Salesforce just to name a few.

One thing to keep in mind, is the time spent researching and planning.  If you’re already in an inside sales position than you probably have certain standards around daily metrics.  For example,  the number of calls, qualifications, appointments set, and talk time you have each day.  If you spend an hour researching a company prior to making a call, then you’re only hurting your chances of finding more opportunities.  No matter how you look at it, sales is a numbers game.  I’ve seen good sales people not make it, because they didn’t have enough opportunities in their pipeline.  Managing your pipeline is a critical step in the sales process as well.  More to come on it in a later post.  If you don’t have enough opportunities in there, then how will you ever close enough business to grow?

How much time should you spend researching and planning before making a call?

Well, typically you can get enough information for the first call in under 3 minutes.  You can’t forget that the most important part of an inside sales rep’s job is talking on the phone. Research helps get you to the right person and planning helps guide your conversations.  As you speak with people, you can layer in what you’ve researched such as product names, locations or recent articles.  All of these will help build trust with who you’re speaking with at the company.  Trust helps people say yes to what you’re offering.

What should you be looking for as you do your research?

If you’re on their website then I would find the “about us” section and do a quick read on how they became a company.  You could also find out what they make and/or sell, how many locations they have, where are they located, how many employees work there and if possible the specific contact you might be trying to reach.  A simple call to the gatekeeper can give you great information about the company and who to speak with, as long as you treat that individual with respect.  Often times, they’ve worked with the company for many years and know most of the inner workings.  Ask good questions and you just might get information that will help close the deal.

Now once you have an idea of what they do, the next step is planning for the call.  This will largely depend on the industry in which you’re selling in, but the process should remain the same.  Some things to consider are the role in which you play for the sales process within your own company.  Are you simply trying to get an appointment for a more seasoned sales rep?  Or are you taking the prospect from a lead all the way to the close and becoming a client?

Once you have your role defined then the planning can begin.  Remember, after you have established a plan, all you would have to change is the company information from prospect to prospect.  The general plan will remain the same, at least for the first call.  As you move through the sales process, your plan will evolve and adjust from company to company.  Your plan should build from one call to the next.

Example Sales Plan: Ask

  • What is their current environment?
    • Current state, and future state (what they hope to be)
  • What is their decision making process?
    • Is it up to one person or are several people involved?
    • Who are those individuals and what are their titles?
    • How did they decide on their current provider?
  • What are some of the challenges they’re currently facing?
    • Is there a need for what you may be offering?
      • Price is always important but there is always some other challenge that we as sales people have to uncover.
  • Get a commitment for a next step such as a call back date.
    • What steps should we take for us to be a part of your current process?
      • You have to move through the stages of a sale, otherwise, why are you even calling?

If you don’t know where you want to go, you’ll always end up spinning your wheels.  If you have a sales plan in place before you begin, it’ll give you a map to follow to your desired destination: a sale.  You should always end the call with a next step.  It could be a simple call back to learn more about their business or an opportunity to present to your prospect.  You want to set the stage and expectations moving forward.  My next post about the sales process, will cover the discovery call.

For more cold calling strategies click the link.

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