The sales process is the path that a salesman walks from receiving an inquiry till finalising а deal successfully. The CRM system is the tool that inevitably accompanies the salesman through this process and provides him with valuable support enabling him to be as efficient and organized as possible.
The number and the purpose of the stages included in a sales process depends on the type of product sold (e.g., services vs. physical product), the type of intended customer (business or residential, B2B or B2C), and last but not least - the length of the sales cycle (long vs. short sales cycle).
If we consider as an example a retailer’s shop, the sales process is simple and the sales cycle short - customer enters the shop, finds the product they need, and makes the purchase. The purchase, however, of a high-tech agricultural machinery for example, is characterized with a more sophisticated sales process and much longer sales cycle. The processing of such sales goes from generating potential interest (Prospecting), through qualifying the prospected customer into potential customer, product presentation with focus on how the product addresses the customer’s concerns and solves his problem, quote and price offer, negotiation, and closing the deal.
CRM systems provide the most benefit when used by sales teams for managing sales of products with long sales cycles, long-term usage, and/or when the sale itself passes through several stages. On these grounds, CRM software contributes significantly for the efficient and productive sales management.
CRM and Lead Management
Lead management (or the inquiry management process) is the initial stage in sales process which includes creation of a potential interest, receipt and identification of a request, and its qualification into a potential customer. CRM systems often include functionality for processing and tracking the pre-sales stage of the business.
Prospecting Leads is a whole section in Marketing, which presents the company’s products or services in order to provoke interest and ultimately make a deal. Some methods of generating leads and provoking interest are:
- Email marketing - CRM systems are a prerequisite to gather and maintain a good organisation of customer data and they are a necessity for precise targeting and preparation of quality email lists. Sending bulk emails with promotional offers, relevant contextual information and newsletters is one of the marketing tools. Thanks to the detailed and structured information, and the rich targeting capability inherent in CRM systems, marketing messages are directed to the right and correct audience.
- Inbound telephone inquiries – Promote a phone number (could be an easy to remember toll-free number or * (star) number), to provide information and accepting inquiries from potential customers, ensures your customer have a single point of contact with your company. CRM systems integrate this phone communication and automate the process of documenting potential interest, opening of leads and its further processing.
- Outbound Phone Campaigns - Telemarketing campaigns are also a frequently used tool for introducing potential customers to company’s products, sparking interest, scheduling meetings, etc.
- Web Forms –Creating web forms for establishing contact with the company, registrations for events and demonstrations, etc., distributed through social media or published on corporate and product pages, are another source of Leads and interest. The content of filled-in web forms is sent as an email, which the CRM systems accept and even turns automatically into a new prospect. CRM systems also provide for a real-time integration between the web site and the CRM, so that when a form containing customer details (name, phone, email) is submitted, the CRM can also automatically create the customer in its database.
- Organized events - Participation and organization of events such as forums, exhibitions, conferences, webinars, etc. is a convenient way to get the general audience acquainted with the company's products and services and provoke interest.
Lead Qualification is a key stage in the sales process, especially if you are looking to increase revenue. Qualifying the generated leads comes down, on one hand, to determining whether the product offered by the company are appropriate and solve the specific problem and need of the potential customer, and on the other hand - to determining whether the lead itself is suitable for the product. In the qualification process the sales person should find the answers of the following questions: why the customer is buying, what is the customer searching for and is the company offering a product that solves the customer’s problem or need, does the customer have the necessary budget, who is the decision maker at the customer, and when does the customer expect to make the purchase. High quality due diligence when qualifying leads results in more sales closed successfully, and higher revenues.
CRM and Opportunity Management
After qualifying the lead into a potential customer, the real work for the sales person begins – taking the necessary steps and walking through the selling process to turn the opportunity into a won deal. At this stage, the CRM software serves the role of guiding the salesman through the steps and activities needed until the sale is closed. Although the steps in managing sales opportunities may differ among businesses, this process universally goes through the following steps:
Discover Potential Customer’s Needs
At this step, the sales representative needs to study in detail the customer’s needs and to present the product or services offered. Through presentations, meetings, provision of test products or demo versions of services, phone calls, etc., the customer’s needs, as well as the problems he is trying to solve, are being identified and clarified. During meetings and follow-up conversations it is important not only to clarify the needs, but also to focus on how, in what way and to what extent the products and services offered will address and solve the issues the customer faces.
Both, detailed study and thorough preparation at each step of the sales process, play a significantly important role for the successful closure of deals. Before meetings and presentations, it is crucial to collect as much information as possible about the customer, his needs, possible problems facing the business he operates in, key persons at the customer, typical work processes for customer’s business, and main competitors. This helps the salesman to demonstrate competence and understanding on the subject, as well as to have well-grounded suggestions when analysing customer issues, answering questions, and proposing solutions.
The collection of this information, as well as the information that the customer has shares about his experiences with your competitors, is unthinkable without the use of CRM software.
Propose and Offer
The next step in the sales process is to create an offer or proposal for the customer. With the help of CRM system, the sales team can easily create and document price offers. Furthermore, sales reps can analyse previous information from similar sales and offers that have led to successful sales.
Negotiate and Handle Objections
There are many reasons for a potential customer to hesitate in taking decision, even if he is interested in your proposal. Some of the most common barriers for closing a sale include price, product quality, after sales service, delivery time, and last but not least fear of change. During the negotiation step, it is extremely important that the salesman identifies as accurately as possible the real reason the customer is not making the next step. Once the root cause is identified, it is the sales person’s responsibility to address all customer concerns through sincere conversations, detailed explanations, and compromises.
For example, we often hear expressions like "Your services are too expensive, I can get them at a lower price". In this case, it is extremely important to know your competitors well and to be able to focus on the value that your product or service creates for the customer. In such situations, CRM systems assist sales reps with valuable information in handling objections.
Place Order and Close Sale
Next step – ordering, signing contract and closing the sale. CRM systems, at this stage, help to complete all activities that accompany the closing of the deal. Although these activities are specific and depend on both the size of the business and its structure and organisation, they often include the following: prepare and sign contract, send invoice, track payment, assign the execution to the respective team, as well as delivery, sign delivery protocol (if it is part of the sales person’s obligations). Quick access to contracts, protocols and other relevant document templates ensures the salesman has the right documents at hand and allows him to close the sale without missing important document or activity.
Follow-up and Repeating Business
Usually, after the sale is closed, the salesman remains in contact with the customer to ensure the smooth execution of the order. At this step, the salesman can assist the customer should he encounters any issues. It is extremely important that customers remain satisfied with the completed sale as this creates opportunity for additional sales - cross-sell and/or up-sell. Moreover, the customer becomes a good source of references for the company’s products and services, their quality and the company’s customer service in general. A good approach to maintaining this relationship is to send marketing materials, industry news, and innovations in the products or services being sold.
CRM software enables managers to track the sales process, analyse the productivity of the sales reps, identify the stages of the sale that take the most time, and undertake steps to optimise sale’s activities in the future.