The Sales Process from the Buyer’s Point of View

A guest blog by Kyle Jepson (Senior Inbound Sales Professor at HubSpot)

Is it a sales process? Or is it a buying process?

Today, we’re going to do what successful companies do: we’ll look at it from both directions at once.

Let’s explore how to make your sales process buyer centric. 👇

What are the buyer-centric steps in the sales process?

A buyer-centric step in the sales process is one that’s represented from the buyer’s point of view. Recall the sales process is a set of clearly defined steps and methods of communication between a company and its prospects. Think about that step from the buyer’s perspective. How would they view this part of the sales process?

buyer centric image of hand pushing button

How do you make the sales process buyer-centric?

In most cases, you can make the steps in your sales process buyer-focused simply by changing their names a little bit. But this little change can make a huge difference in the way your team operates. If you define the sales process around seller steps, then your reps might be thinking, “This is what I need to do with this buyer.” And then the buyer will feel like they’re being pulled through something that’s more the seller’s job than their own. But if you reframe the process to be from the buyer’s perspective, then your reps will be thinking, “This is what I need to help this buyer accomplish,” and the buyers will feel like they’re on the same page.

Buyer-centric means the sales team’s actions align with the buyer. Each step in the sales process should be a rep-focused action with a buyer-focused outcome.

Each step in the sales process focuses on the buyer and your team

Now, you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, you just said I should focus on the actions of my team, not the buyers.” This isn’t a contradiction. You want each step to be a combination of a rep-focused action and a buyer-focused outcome. For example, you might have a stage you’ve called “Demo.” Giving a demonstration of your product is an action your rep can take, but the exit criteria for the “Demo” stage should be something the buyer does, like scheduling another meeting or agreeing to have a proposal sent to them.

For most sales teams, sales reps can say, “It’s in the demo stage because I gave them a demo,” but that doesn’t say anything about where the buyer is in their journey.

A demo is a product evaluation step

Rename a demo step to “Product Evaluated,” and define the buyer exit criteria as:

  • The buyer showed up to the demo and got their questions answered
  • Before the call ended, the buyer scheduled another meeting to discuss moving forward
  • The buyer responded to a recap email, confirming the appointment and next steps.

What happens after a sales demo?

Now, instead of the sale moving to the next stage as soon as the rep walks away from the demonstration, the rep can only move it to the next stage if they answered the buyer’s questions, scheduled the next appointment, sent a recap email of what was discussed and what the next steps are, and gotten a response to that email confirming that the buyer has that same understanding. And you, as sales manager, can say, “Hey, I saw you moved that sale out of the evaluation stage. Can I see the email where the buyer verified your next steps?”

How accurate are your sales forecasts?

When the stages of your sales process are well-defined, the forecasts you build on those stages will be accurate.

Use your forecasts to plan for the next stage

If you find that 21% of the sales that make it through the evaluation stage closed this month, you can depend on that to stay consistent from month to month. And from there, if the conversion rate from one stage to the next is lower than you would like, you can focus on training and coaching your team to perform better in those stages. You can always keep track of the progress with a learning management system.

Let’s review the standards of qualifying sales steps. The four standards of qualifying sales steps:

  • Required
  • Factual
  • Inspectable
  • Buyer-centric

Plan and verify your sales steps

So, look at your sales process and make sure every stage is required, factual, inspectable, and buyer-centric, and remove any stages that don’t meet those standards.

Then, lay out the factual, inspectable buyer outcomes that function as the exit criteria for each stage, and you’ll have a truly robust sales process. It might have a lot of stages or it might be fairly short, but don’t let that worry you too much.

Focus on a sales process that is just right for you

Focus on creating a sales process that’s strong enough to be the foundation for your sales organization.

How many sales stages should you have?

“We often get the question, how many stages should you have? And the answer is as many stages as it takes to create engagement and to keep the acceleration throughout the sales process. To prove out either disqualification or qualification. There’s a transactional process for some organizations; an enterprise deal might involve more steps. Sometimes people might short-sell themselves by creating a sales process that is short. If that’s the case, you end up with these pregnant pipelines that never give birth to deals, because the prospect hasn’t had an opportunity to engage in a way that would allow for them to convert to a customer, or allow them to even self-select and say this is not for me. Because obviously, the death of a salesperson is wasting too much time on a prospect that’s never going to buy.

On the other hand, some people make it too complicated. They make the sales process really long because something different has happened in a lot of different deals, at different stages. And they’re okay, well let’s bake that into our process. But by creating more complexity, they actually make it harder for the salespeople to be successful. It’s a catch-all. It’s almost like, let me try to bundle everything in for any eventuality. When in fact you have to trust your system. Right. And trust your process. Less is more – I believe that.” -Hilmon Sorey and Cory Bray, Authors of The Sales Enablement Playbook

Maintain your relationship with your customer

Your relationship with the customer shouldn’t end when the sale closes. Maintain that relationship.

Your sales process should keep your company’s promise

As you go through this exercise, keep in mind that your relationship with a customer shouldn’t end when the sale closes. Part of your sales process is ensuring that your company is keeping the promises your sales team is making.

“If I interviewed your customers six months, nine months, 12 months after they bought your offering, did you deliver on the promises of value you pitched during the sales process? I need that to be above 80 or 85 percent. If you’re not doing that, you can’t build a business today on people who don’t end up realizing the value you pitch. That’s the first thing I need to assess. Number two, are they profitable? Are you making more money, are you making adequate money on the customers you sign up? In the world of SaaS, we talk about things like LTV to CAC ratios and payback periods. In general business, we talk about operating margin and net margin. However, you measure profitability, are you acquiring those customers at profitability?” – Mark Roberge, Senior Lecturer in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at the Harvard Business School

Be deeply invested in creating happy customers

It isn’t good enough anymore for salespeople to close sales without thinking about how satisfied the customer will be afterward.

lego man at desk as happy customer

Care about keeping your customer happy long-term. There are two reasons your sales team should be deeply interested in the long-term happiness of your customers. First of all, happy customers are much easier to sell to than total strangers are.

“It’s way easier to sell something to a company who’s already bought from you than it is to go out and find a new customer and even establish that you’re credible enough to sell for them in the first place. This goes beyond just selling more to that company through an up-sell or a cross-sell. It’s a great way to find leads. I’ll think about who would be a better sales development rep: a 22-year-old making the sale or your customer walking around the trade store floor with you telling everybody else how awesome you are. That’s something that some people overlook.” – Hilmon Sorey and Cory Bray, Authors of The Sales Enablement Playbook

Your customer’s voice impacts your business. Your customers’ word-of-mouth far outweighs your company’s marketing and sales efforts.

smiling happy customer

Your satisfied customers are part of your sales team. Customers who are raving fans will attract more business to you.

“I recently talked to a CEO of a high-growth, early-stage company. They had a thousand customers, and they had two salespeople. They’re trying to grow to six salespeople. He was telling me about how there are still a limited number of salespeople. And I told him I didn’t agree with him. He asked what I meant, and I told him he doesn’t have six, or two, salespeople but that he has one thousand and two salespeople. He didn’t get it. And then he said he still didn’t understand. He repeated that he doesn’t have a thousand and two, just two. I said he has a thousand paid customers who are raving about his product. Those are your company’s best salespeople. If you stop to think well beyond the boundaries of the internal resources and tap into the power of your customers.

Ultimately, that’s what we’re helping companies at TrustRadius to do through reviews. But getting customers on the record and then leveraging their voice, their social proof, their authentic way of speaking. Then you can expand. If you think about teams as not just within the constraints of your walls, to really do something fascinating. I think when marketers start to realize that and bring back the customers truly at the center of everything that they do, it will help not only marketing, but it will tremendously help sales. And there’s no salesperson that will ever say there aren’t enough reviews or customer references or someone that can talk on behalf of the product.

There are no marketers that have ever felt the pain of more salespeople continuously asking for more. There’s ways to do it these days, but people are still used to the old traditional way or case studies. There are better ways. There are better tools. People don’t just yet know the tools. But it’s changing.” -Bertrand Hazard, Marketing and Sales Team Lead at TrustRadius

Create happy customers that stay with you. Focus on the actions that will make your customers stick around for the long term.

Happy customers can be a major asset to your sales team

And the opposite is also true: unhappy customers can be a major obstacle for your sales team. So, make sure you design your sales process so that you close the sale and people turn into customers who will advocate for your company. As you think about the exit criteria for each stage, don’t just focus on the actions that will help your reps close the sale. Focus on the actions that will turn your prospects into long-term customers. That might require you to have steps that happen after the sale closes.

“I looked around to a lot of the other sales ops people who are in Austin, and everyone sort of said one thing which is: You have stages after the closed-won. For us, we have eight stages leading up to closed-won. And then stage nine, which is where we hand off to the implementation team. Stage 10, which is the in-process, implementation, Then stage 11 for us going live. That company is now fully live with us, and we can track the entire stage progression through that. We know how long it takes for the client success team to react to that closed-won deal, how long it takes for that implementation period if it’s a few days up to a month. And then that deal that we closed-won, has now gone live.

So, we can see that as a closed-won deal without it getting stuck in that implementation phase, which was a problem for us for a little bit. Once our account executive closes a deal, it goes to an implementation team and a client success team member. We actually did a good rollout of whose responsibility is what, who leads the conversation, who is in charge of scheduling the next conversation – that sort of thing. And the account executive really plays a back-seat role there.

Once the deal is live, the account executive is still responsible for it, but most of the day-to-day maintenance, the success management is done by our success team.” -Mike Venman, Sales Operations Leader at Hearth, a FinTech company

Lay out your sales foundation.

Your team should turn leads into happy customers if:

  1. You define all of the steps in your sales process.
  2. Make sure each step has clear exit criteria.

Then you’ll have the foundation of your sales process. Your sales foundation is turning leads into happy customers. Follow the two steps described, and you’ll be on your way to having a solid foundation.

A little about Kyle:

Kyle teaches sales and CRM courses at HubSpot Academy. He is best known for his work on the HubSpot Sales Software Certification and the Sales Enablement Certification. He is the father of three children, the lucky husband of an equally lucky woman, and aspires to be the author of one of those paperback novels you see in grocery store check-out lines. Connect with Kyle on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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