Sales is a mix of art and methodology. Like any successful artists, salespeople, who want to succeed, need both practice and method (and a little bit of luck). Although we cannot control our luck, we can have a direct impact on our daily activities, by applying result-oriented processes. The Sales Growth Framework has been built around the existing sales cycle idea, with the main aim, however, of giving guidance to sales professionals, sales managers, and entrepreneurs who handle sales activities, in both B2C and B2B industries. It creates a unified and clear process easy to follow and implement in any type of organization (regardless of the company stage).
This article gives only an overview of what sales reps and managers should consider and aim at achieving in each stage of the cycle. Each activity is made of several sub-layers, which will need further development to fully understand how to master the Sales Growth Framework.
Do All Activities In Each Stage Need To Be Followed?
Each stage combined with the support layers at the bottom of the chart gives a ready-to-implement tool for a successful sales strategy.
The Sales Growth Framework is the result of more than 5 years of work. Iterations of the model in a B2B environment led to today’s extended version. The advice is for sales professionals and entrepreneurs to use the framework as it is. Each activity represents an important step towards closing a successful deal.
Should there be situations where the Sales Growth Framework cannot be implemented as shown, we welcome suggestions to make it broader or more specific as needed.
How Does The Sales Growth Framework Work?
In sales, we have seen different models explaining the sales cycle and its stages. The names might have been different. The idea, however, is the same.
The desired outcome is an action by our prospect, resulting in a contract signed. Defining how we get there and how each activity should look like has had different approaches. The Sales Growth Framework creates a unified and proven method to close successful deals. Specific activities for each stage create a clear structure for any sales strategy.
The Sales Growth Framework should be read from left to right following the traditional structure of the sales cycle, going through each activity from top to bottom. Below the extended sales funnel, there are four layers acting as support to the sales stages. As such, these have to be present throughout the whole funnel as shown in the framework.
1. Market Knowledge
The market knowledge stage is what defines a company’s success or failure. Identifying the right target audience will translate into successful and long-lasting clients relationships. For this reason, it is vital for every organization to continuously analyze its market of operation, and understand whether there are new opportunities or the existing target audience needs to be defined again.
The layers in this first stage cover the market from a macro to a micro level perspective. Once the macro level has been identified, the analysis moves on to the next sub-level. The aim is to define the audience down to the ideal buyer persona.
The below representation shows in a simple way how the analysis could be done:
2. Lead Generation
Once identified our ideal counterpart both on a macro and micro level, it is time to find those potential contacts. This stage plays a critical role in the company success. Depending on the company resources, there might be a need to have a dedicated team focusing on this task.
The lead generation stage explores what comes before the contact.
The activities at this stage start with the sales funnel analysis itself. Understanding how the funnel looks like is fundamental to set the right expectations internally. Depending on the company background, however, some information might not be available. If that is the case, the suggestion is to combine industry standard with internal existing processes and resources available. Additionally, we might be looking at potential funnel automation.
The next activity looks at a deeper analysis of the market or target audience. Having a better understanding will create clearer expectations for everyone involved in the sales process, from the sales reps to the managers and CEO.
The result of these two activities combined will lead to the pipeline creation. The more, qualified, leads sales reps find, the better chances to start conversations with prospects there will be.
The pipeline should now be filled with interesting contacts. The next stage will help to start conversations with the prospect to understand whether there is a fit or not between our and the prospect’s company.
This stage has two key moments to keep in mind:
1. Discovery Calls
2. Ideal Fit.
These define whether it is worth or not for that lead to move forward in the process.
Discovery calls are the first “exam” each qualified lead will need to go through. The channels that lead to discovery calls are:
1. Social Selling
2. Cold Intros
4. Inbound Marketing
Each one of these has different action points to consider to maximise returns for the company.
No deal should be signed without a phone call regardless of its channel.
These four steps are discovery activities and as such should be treated. If sales reps close deals without identifying the ideal fit, then they might be closing non-profitable business for the company. Even though, without a call, sales reps might think that those leads are a good fit, understanding expectations, business needs, internal ability to meet requests, among others, is crucial to creating a long-lasting partnership with the prospect. All this can be established only with real conversations. What looks good on papers, might not be as good in reality.
Between first contact activities and discovery calls, sales managers should analyze response rate. This will help to create internal KPIs to measure each channel as well as department success. Having KPIs in place will help the whole sales department to work towards specific results to achieve.
After the discovery call, sales reps and prospects will decide if it is worth to get to the next stage. There might be a product demo or an in-person meeting, where sales reps will keep discovering about the prospect’s business. Again, at this stage of the funnel, even though there’s a meeting with the prospect, we are still finding out about their business and requirements. There might be several meetings, calls or demos to understand if there is a match in terms of expectations and business opportunities.
The pre-qualification stage has the ultimate goal to define the ideal fit.
Pre-qualification ends with this question because sales reps should bring to the negotiation stage only prospects that are worth going after. Any lead that gets through this stage but it’s not a fit is a waste of time. Until fit is not identified, sales reps should consider the possibility to disqualify the lead.
Having such a break between pre-qualification and negotiation might seem an obstacle to close the deal. The more steps in the funnel, the more likely to lose the deal after all. Managers and founders, however, should think of the actual cost of on-boarding a client which is not a good fit for the organization. The cost being resources and time invested in trying to make work a deal that is not good for the business.
For this reason, it might make sense to have two separate teams. One focusing on identifying prospects fit (explorer) and the other aiming at maximising negotiation activities (hunters), with separate goals and KPIs.
Once the sales team identifies an ideal fit, the prospect moves onto the next stage. Now, quota-carrying sales reps should focus on maximising efforts through specific activities. Structuring the deal in a way that results for both the company and prospects are long-lasting.
Depending on the prospect (assuming there is a definition of prospect value), quota-carrying sales reps will walk the prospects through four major activities:
1. Customer Analysis, an in-depth analysis of customer needs which goes beyond the ideal fit
2. Pricing, a self-explanatory step which is dealt by those reps who will need to hit a certain quota to achieve their goal
3. Discount, a way to attract difficult prospects to test the company product or service (this should be used with discretion)
4. Payment Terms, an activity aimed at creating clarity between the two parties on payment.
It’s important to remember that any activity leading to the proposal could be a deal breaker. Moving a deal from pre-qualification to negotiation, even though it was identified as “ideal”, doesn’t assure success. Quota-carrying sales reps have the responsibility to set the right expectations for product and service provided while showing added value. Sales reps need to behave as consultants. Moving away from that mentality of “just closing a deal“. Sales reps should be working for the client. Acting in this way will result in creating rapport with the prospect.
The last stage of the sales cycle is usually straightforward. Yet, although there might be an agreement to move forward to get things started, there is still a chance the deal might not go through, due to some legal issues.
Contract definition and its terms are the last obstacles for sales reps. They need to go through these before moving the lead to another team that will farm the account for growth. Defining the right contract terms is crucial for success. Although the deal terms might be clear from the negotiation stage, sales reps might face extra terms defined by the prospect’s company.
Once terms are agreed and the contract is signed, the onboarding process is what concludes the sales funnel. Making sure to communicate expectations internally and that everyone is aligned is as important as any other steps in the funnel.
The on-boarding process step involves both the prospect and the teams within the organization. Sales reps need to be actively involved also in this last activity and ensure the prospect that they will be supportive even after the sales process is ended.
How Do The Supportive Layers Interact Within The Sales Growth Framework?
Below the extended sales funnel, there are four support layers. These need to be considered at each stage and their relative activities as shown in the image above.
Two of the layers are part of the framework from the very first moment.
1. Competitor Analysis & USP
Understanding the competitive landscape in which the organization operates gives a more specific competence to managers and founders to define even better the potential target audience. Together with this, the company needs to identify its USP, based on which reps will need to work and define every single activity in the sales funnel.
This knowledge is essential through all the steps as it will help sales reps handling better objections, which might arise at any moment in the sales cycle.
2. Sales Tools
These are what make sales reps and managers’ life easier. As industries evolved, so has the sales business. Depending on the activity, there are tools organizations should consider and make available to their teams. The more advanced industries become, the more sophisticated sales processes are. Therefore, there is a need for organizations to provide proper tools to the sales teams.
Depending on the industry in which the organization operates, different tools might be needed. We will explore specific tools in separate articles, however, we are referring to those used for email tracking, call automation, performance tracking and also for finding the ideal fit.
The other two layers that managers should make use of as a support for the Sales Growth Framework are:
Although this is part of sales tools, due to its complexity and importance, it makes sense to have it as a separate layer. The CRM should be implemented in the sales cycle from the moment the sales reps move into the Lead Generation stage. Tracking activities for the sales team can give management important insights into problems or opportunities.
A customer relationship management platform should be the bread and butter for the whole company. Most organizations consider CRMs only for sales teams, but this is the wrong way. Account management, marketing, finance and other departments should be connected to it as well for the whole company benefit.
An important thing to remind is that salespeople usually tend to see the CRM as a way for management to keep track of their activities, and miss seeing its value. Therefore, it is advised to spend time on advocating how useful this sales tool can be for daily sales activities.
4. Objections Handling
This should be a process rather a simple action. In the Sales Growth Framework is not specific to any particular stage, but rather is part of the last four that lead to winning a deal.
Objections are part of the sales cycle from the lead generation stage onwards. Depending on the stage and prospects, there will be different objections. It is fundamental for sales managers to create a clear process around how to handle objections for both existing and new reps. This will allow the whole sales department to be aligned with what to say when such objections arise.
The Sales Funnel Framework is still work in progress. The continuous iteration and implementation of the framework in different industries and sales cycles will give us more ideas on how to further define it.
There will be more articles and videos, which will go deeper in each topic touched in this initial post. The idea is to define even further each activity in different stages to let you implement the Sales Funnel Framework in your daily sales activities.
Do you have any suggestions or ideas on how to modify or implement the Sales Funnel Framework? Leave a comment below and let me know! On the other hand, if you found the article useful, share it with your network to help me get as much feedback as possible!