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How to Build a Winning Sales Process

Written by:

Victoria Yu is a Business Writer with expertise in Business Organization, Marketing, and Sales, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of California, Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business.

Edited by:

Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.

How to Build a Winning Sales Process

How to Build a Winning Sales Process

As a fresh, new entrepreneur, you might have incorporated your business and finalized the product you’re going to sell. Now what? Now that you have your business and product, how do you make your first sale?

What you need now is a sales process.

The sales process describes repeatable steps your new business and sales representatives will need to take to find suitable customers, close a deal, and build a loyal customer base. Once you have a clear and repeatable process in place, your sales professionals can hone and scale their activities to turn one sale into a thousand.

So, how do you build an effective sales process? This guide will provide you with all the expertise you need to build a winning sales process, which will become your salespeople’s template for success.

Key Takeaways

  • A sales process is a series of steps that sales representatives go through to identify new customers and nurture them into a sale.

  • Unlike a sales pipeline or sales funnel, a sales process can also include steps to help sales reps learn pre-sale information such as product knowledge and the company’s ideal customer profile (ICP).

  • The eight steps of the sales process are to develop product knowledge, determine the product’s ICP, prospect and generate leads, qualify the lead, host a presentation, pitch and negotiate a deal, close the deal, and follow up with the customer.

Why Is the Sales Process Important?

A sales process is a repeatable series of steps that your salespeople can take to find new customers, nurture a relationship with them, and close a sale.

According to the Harvard Business Review, businesses with a formal and standardized sales process see up to a 28% increase in revenue compared to those without one. And it’s no surprise: with a designated company-wide sales process to follow, sales representatives are empowered with the knowledge and tools needed to effectively, reliably, and quickly close a sale. 

Plus, a designated sales process followed by all reps means that each customer has a similar experience, helping your company build a consistent (and hopefully positive) brand reputation.

How Is a Sales Process Different From a Sales Pipeline or Sales Funnel?

Now, it’s true that some people use “sales process” interchangeably with other terms like sales pipeline and sales funnel, which also describe the steps salespeople take with potential customers to close a sale.

However, while all three generally describe the process of making a sale, a sales pipeline outlines an individual sales rep’s actions, while the sales funnel shows how many prospects are at each stage of the sales process. 

Meanwhile, a sales process goes a little beyond the actual customer journey, outlining steps that help newly minted businesses establish critical sales information even before interacting with customers. In other words, though the sales pipeline and funnel might start at step one for each customer, the sales process starts at step zero to prepare the company to identify and receive customers in the first place.

That’s why it’s important to cleanly define and follow the sales process stages so you’ll have a sturdy foundation upon which to build and adapt your sales pipelines and funnels.

Tailoring the Sales Process to Your Business Needs

As a sales manager or business leader, you’ll want to ensure your sales process is watertight before handing it out to your salespeople. Though the broad strokes of every sales process are similar, the finer details should be customized to your unique industry, business model, product, and market. 

As such, we’ll walk you through the eight steps of the sales process, as well as some guiding principles for how to customize each step for your own business.

How to Build a Winning Sales Process

1. Develop Product Knowledge

If your business has just started out or you’re selling a brand-new product, the first step of the sales process is to teach your sales reps exactly what it is they’ll be selling. 

Have them develop product knowledge by studying the product’s features, functions, customizations, use cases, press releases, manuals, and other documents to understand exactly what the product can do for customers. You may want to collate all of this information into one neat dossier and place it in your sales playbook.

With this knowledge internalized, sales reps will be well-equipped to extol the product’s virtues, create a strong value proposition for potential customers, and confidently answer any questions they might have. In fact, according to a Google survey, 85% of shoppers said that product information is important to them when making a purchase decision. By providing more product knowledge, sales reps can convince more potential customers that their product is best for them.

2. Determine Your Ideal Customer Profile

Another initial step for a newly-minted business or new product line is to determine your ideal customer profile (ICP), a detailed list of attributes that represent your product’s target customer. This will be based on the sort of needs your product aims to satisfy, the industry you operate in, your company’s short-term and long-term goals, and various other factors. 

Though not a comprehensive list, here are some basic attributes you should take care to specify in your ICP:

Firm SizeAge
Annual RevenueGender
Growth RateOccupation
Team SizeEducation
Average Order ValueAverage Order Value
Preferred Communication ChannelsPreferred Communication Channels
Reasons for PurchasingReasons for Purchasing

You could additionally go one step further and turn your ICP into a buyer persona, creating a fictional character with a name and backstory to help sales reps remember the attributes better and add emotion to their communications.

For example, your company could have an ICP of single men in their thirties with a high income of over $150,000 per year. The company could then go one step further to create a buyer persona whose name is Steve, who might be a recently divorced 35-year-old banker on Wall Street. 

A well-defined ICP and buyer persona will help your sales reps identify and focus their attention on people who are more likely to be receptive to their selling, rather than wasting time trying to sell to anyone who crosses their path. 

Just as we recommended with the product knowledge dossier, it might be useful to collate this information and put it in your sales playbook for everyone to reference at will.

3. Prospecting and Lead Generation

Now we delve into the repeatable steps of the sales process, which sales reps will be executing for each new potential customer. The first step is to find a suitable customer using sales prospecting and lead generation techniques

Though both have the same end result of generating potential customers (leads), prospecting is usually done on a one-on-one basis, such as through individual phone calls, emails, in-person conversations, or referral networking. 

On the other hand, lead generation methods tend to draw in multiple leads at once, such as through advertisements, social media, or SEO website tools.

Based on the ICP you set in the previous step and your company’s current capacity, determine what sort of outreach techniques would be most effective in attracting and appealing to potential customers, and convey that information to your sales reps.

Additionally, you may want to outline practices you don’t want your sales reps to engage in, such as spamming potential leads with dozens of emails or pestering people in a mall. You’ve got a brand reputation to maintain!

4. Qualify Your Lead

Once a suitable lead has been identified, the next step is to reach out to them and explore the possibility of a sale. This can be over email, phone, video conference, or face-to-face meetings.

By “qualifying” a lead, we mean using probing questions to discover if they meet the ICP you outlined above and whether they have the budget, authority, need, and imminent timeframe of need for your product (the BANT criteria).

Write down a series of qualification questions you’d like your reps to ask and how many “yeses” your reps should hear before they progress with a sale. 

As your sales organization begins processing more and more leads, numerically representing a lead’s qualification with lead scoring might also be helpful to save your reps time and make reporting easier.

Of course, the most important part of qualifying your lead is the needs discovery, or identifying whether the lead has a problem that can be solved with your product. If the potential client doesn’t feel like they have a need for your product, they’ll never make a purchase. 

That’s why it’s important to approach these discovery calls and connection calls as friendly conversations rather than interrogations. With a bit of friendly charm, a good sales rep should be able to get a lead to open up about their current situation and unveil clues that help build a case for the product’s value to the lead.

5. Presentation

If you operate in a B2B industry or sell more high-ticket investments, you might consider arranging a meeting with the client to demonstrate your product hands-on, delivering a free trial or sample, or presenting the finer details of your product offering face-to-face. 

This meeting aims to highlight exactly how your product can improve your potential client’s life and build trust between you and the client. As such, your presentation and demonstration should be tailor-made to the specific client need you discovered in the previous step.

At this stage, your prospect likely has a few questions and concerns about the finer details of your product attributes, package, or pricing. Be sure to anticipate these questions ahead of time and prepare answers or supplementary material for your sales reps to assuage prospects’ fears and overcome their objections.

6. Pitch and Negotiate

While your sales presentation is still fresh in their mind, sales reps should make an initial offer, quote, or proposal to the prospect, outlining the terms, pricing, and fulfillment details of the proffered purchase. 

The more expensive and detailed your product, the more thorough reps should be in analyzing the customer and delivering an offer truly tailor-made to their current needs and situation.

Though you’re free to send a signature-ready contract with your initial quote, it’s unlikely that your prospect will agree to the first deal out of the gate. Instead, you’ll likely have to go through a volley of back-and-forth negotiations to hammer out the finer details of your transaction. 

Before approaching the negotiating table, sales managers and reps should sit down and determine the exact limits of the concessions, discounts, or package deals the rep can offer to sweeten the pot. The last thing a business wants is to make an unprofitable deal!

7. Close the Deal

After thorough negotiations, the end result should be a deal that benefits both parties. All that’s left is the decisive moment: closing the deal and signing the contract.

The way the sales rep launches the closing proposal is called their closing technique. These can range in aggressiveness from the assumptive close that assertively continues the conversation as if the prospect has already agreed to the walk away close that threatens to take the entire deal off the table if a deal can’t be reached. Depending on how the sales conversation and negotiations have been progressing so far, different closing techniques will suit different prospects. 

You can train your sales reps in a variety of different closing techniques and instruct them on which ones to use in which situations. But the important part for sales reps is to take proactive steps to close the deal, riding the momentum of the presentation and negotiation to snatch a sale while it’s hot.

Once both parties have finalized and signed the contract, the sale has been completed. Congratulations!

8. Follow Up

But even though the contract’s been signed, your company’s not done yet with the client. You still need to fulfill their order, follow up with them to ensure complete satisfaction and maintain a strong relationship with them.

After allowing a few weeks or months for the customer to get acclimated to their new purchase, check back in with them to ascertain their product-need fit and check if they have any issues or questions about their purchase. 

If the client is completely satisfied with their product and your services, they might be willing to spread the good word about your company and refer you to a friend, starting the sales process all over again!


Building a winning sales process from scratch may sound difficult at first, but laid out step-by-step, we hope we’ve shown you the thread of logic connecting each step. Rather than blindly copying someone else’s sales process, a well-thought-out sales process customized to your unique business needs is sure to be much more effective.

Building a sales process will lay out a detailed framework for your sales reps to rely on in the field, equipping them with everything they need to confidently go out, find customers, and close sales.


What’s the difference between a sales process and a sales methodology?

Another related term to the sales process is the sales methodology.

Unlike the stepwise procedures of the sales pipeline, sales funnel, and sales process, a sales methodology is more of a mindset framework, describing the philosophy and mindset behind how your sales reps should approach customer interactions.

For example, the SPIN selling methodology by Neil Rackham encourages sales reps to focus their discovery questions on the prospect’s Situation, Problem, Implications, and Need payoffs. Another methodology is the Challenger Sale, which encourages sales reps to challenge the customer’s way of thinking.

In other words, the difference between a sales process and sales methodology is like the difference between reading a plot summary and reading a real book: the narration style creates emotions and experiences beyond the actual events happening on the page, elevating the reader’s enjoyment. To construct an amazing customer experience, an amazing sales process needs an appropriate sales methodology to match.

How can I improve my sales process?

Once you’ve set up your preliminary sales process, you can hone it further by measuring and evaluating sales performance metrics such as the number of prospecting calls your reps make, the percentage of deals won, total revenue, and the conversion rates between sales process steps. 

Rather than hand-crunching these numbers at the end of every sales period, a CRM system can help you track these metrics live to help you discover bottlenecks and adapt the sales process on the fly. 

You should also ask your sales reps if they have any suggestions for improving the process or if there are any other resources they’d like to aid in their everyday tasks.

What are some common sales process mistakes?

The most common sales process mistake we see is sales reps launching too quickly into the pitch without taking the time to explore the potential client’s pain points, unique needs, and reasonable objections.

By trying to sell without any idea of the customer’s needs and steamrolling over legitimate problems, the resulting pitch inevitably lacks any empathy and focuses heavily on the product’s attributes rather than promising customer success. 

That’s why we strongly recommend placing more focus on the qualification, presentation, and negotiation phases. With a better understanding of what the prospect wants, a sales rep can more accurately tailor their pitch, raising their chances of getting to “yes.”