Understanding the Sales Process

Through the Looking Glass: Understanding the Sales Process

Up to this point, we’ve emphasized the importance of getting into the minds of customers in order to market to them effectively. The consumer decision-making process outlines key stages people go through when they make purchasing decisions. Now we’re going to step through the proverbial looking glass to examine that same process from the seller’s point of view.

Two men in suits smiling and shaking hands.Why is this helpful? For a sale to occur, the buyer needs to move through the decision making process successfully. To help the buyer do that, the seller needs to provide information and assistance along the way. For some products and services, such as those that employ personal selling, the seller ‘s role is very hands-on. For other product and services, particularly ones in low-involvement decisions, the seller’s role may be fairly hands-off. In either case, though, it’s helpful for marketers to understand the sales process that happens alongside the consumer decision-making process.

The role of marketing is to work in the middle ground between these processes, providing tools that facilitate the customer’s movement through the decision-making process and tools that help people responsible for sales close deals. When marketers take an IMC approach to this challenge, they can develop timely, well-coordinated marketing tools that effectively support both processes.

The Seller’s Viewpoint

The sales process starts with determining where to focus attention and then turns to relationship building and information sharing to help prospective customers reach a buying decision. The figure below lists the five stages of the sales process that correspond to the five stages of the consumer decision-making process.

Parallel Processes: Buying and Selling. Compares the consumer decision-making process and the sales process. The Consumer Decision-Making Process. Step 1, Need recognition. Step 2, Information searching and processing. Step 3, identification and evaluation of alternatives. Step 4, Product/Service/outlet selection. Step 5, Purchase decision. The Sales Process. Step 1, Generate and qualify leads. Step 2, build relationship and discover needs. Step 3, Present solution and resolve concerns. Step 4, Close the sale. Step 5, Monitor and follow up.

Stage 1: Generate and Qualify Leads

The first step in the sales process is to find sales leads. A lead is a person who expresses some interest in learning more about a product or service. But just being interested isn’t enough to warrant the full attention of the seller. Leads must also be qualified. In other words the seller needs to confirm that the lead actually has a recognized need for the offering and the ability to pay for it. Once a prospect meets these criteria, the goal from both the marketing and sales point of view is to move the person successfully through the decision process.

Stage 2: Build Relationship and Discover Needs

At the same time consumers are searching for information about how to address their needs, sellers are searching for information about the consumers and what they looking for. At this stage a true buyer-seller relationship starts to form: the seller reaches out and probes in order to understand buyer needs. The seller also begins to position herself as a trusted resource to help address these needs. The buyer begins to understand that the seller may indeed be able to provide what he is looking for.

Stage 3: Present Solution and Resolve Concerns

Once a seller understands the needs of a qualified lead, she can effectively present the product or service as a solution to those needs. She has insight into the buyer and understands which features and benefits are most important. She can position the offering accordingly. It is important to present the solution at the same time the consumer is formulating and evaluating alternatives. Inevitably this evaluation process will raise potential concerns and reservations about the solution. The seller surfaces these issues and provides additional information to resolve them.

Stage 4: Close the Sale

At this late stage of the sales process, the buyer is engaged in getting the best deal he can, while finally confirming that this decision is the best one. The seller is taking final steps to ensure that her solution is selected and that the purchase is completed. This may involve offering some final, crowning piece of information to instill confidence in the choice and move it over the finish line. It may also involve negotiating final deal terms, pricing, or providing incentives to finalize the decision.

Stage 5: Monitor and Follow Up

This final stage recognizes that closing the sale is a gateway into a new and deeper relationship: the active customer relationship. If the seller wants to retain this customer and potentially sell to him again in the future, it is important to invest in the relationship and make sure he is satisfied with his decision. The buyer hopes to quickly start enjoying the benefits of the new solution. The seller now takes responsibility for effectively delivering the solution. At this stage, if the seller is using personal selling techniques, there is often a personnel shift, and a colleague from customer service, solution delivery, or another team takes over for the seller. What doesn’t change is the seller’s vested interest in monitoring how the customer is doing, with an eye toward lifetime customer value.