Chapter Three Sales Process

Three Sales Process


Solution Selling’s research indicates that the majority of salespeople and the companies they work for do not utilize a common sales process. This truly amazes me in light of the complex and highly competitive world that we all sell into today. Our research also indicates that both individual and company-wide sales performance improves dramatically when a company-wide sales process is deployed. It is not uncommon for individuals and companies to realize a 15 percent or more increase in their productivity. The whole business generally prospers when everyone has a common language to use and a process to follow.

Like most Eagle salespeople, I was initially turned off by the term sales process. I thought a process was something that engineers and manufacturing people used, and it certainly didn’t apply to me, a superstar salesperson. However, in 1984, I got turned on to what a sales process really is and what it can do, and my world has never been the same.

In that year, I was responsible for the training and development of 400 salespeople in the software industry. The challenge was to get our existing salespeople productive, selling the newly acquired products and services into an industry with which they were not familiar.

Previously, they had been selling financial reporting software to executives in the financial services industry. These customers knew who we were, the leader in the space, and they could readily understand the capabilities of our existing products and services. The new industry was manufacturing and the new products and services centered on automating their core business and how they manufactured their products. At the time this type of automation was generally known as a Materials Requirement and Planning System, or MRP II System. This was a big challenge because our salespeople did not know the manufacturing industry, and they certainly didn’t know anything about the new products and services we had acquired to sell into this new space.

Could this be done at all was the first question, and where to start was the second. My first reaction was that it would be easier to start over with all new salespeople, but that wasn’t an option. I had to use the existing sales talent we had and find a way to make it work.

Initially I started to teach all four hundred salespeople everything I thought they should know about the industry and back that up with comprehensive product training. I quickly learned that I didn’t have enough time or money to make this approach work, and the salespeople didn’t have the patience to endure it. Luckily, I stumbled upon a consultant who had previous experience selling into the manufacturing industry who suggested a different approach. He recommended that I start by teaching the salespeople how and why buyers buy manufacturing systems in the first place and then map or align our products and service capabilities to those issues. At first, I thought that seemed too simple, but I tried it and it worked. Thanks to the approach, we were able to quickly get the majority of our existing salespeople productive selling these newly acquired products and services into a new industry. Thankfully so, the approach helped the company grow to be the largest independent software company in the world at that time.


By definition, a process is a systematic series of actions, or a series of defined, repeatable steps intended to achieve a result. When followed, these steps can consistently lead to expected outcomes.

There are many examples of process in our daily lives that we may not be aware of: Our cars are built or assembled using manufacturing processes, our clothes, our homes, and even the food we eat use process to ensure its quality and consistency.

It’s the same in sales. A sale is a series of defined, repeatable steps that, if performed well and consistently, will lead to expected results. On the other hand, a sales effort without a series of well-defined steps too often leads to an unfavorable result.

A sales process defines and documents those end-to-end steps that lead to increased sales productivity. It provides a framework for each step in the process. A good sales process allows you to identify, analyze, qualify, and measure opportunities and then determine the next step in selling. A good sales process should also be aligned with how buyers buy rather than with how salespeople want to sell.


The simple answer is that it provides everyone involved in the sales effort with a roadmap of what to do next which leads to a higher probability of success. After all, today few sales campaigns are orchestrated by a single individual. And it doesn’t matter if your sales cycles are one-event transactions or a series of events over long periods of time. Knowing what to do and when to do it is critically important to success.

A sales process allows individuals and companies to:

  • Determine the next-step selling activities that lead to a higher probability of success
  • Diagnose and correct sales deficiencies at individual and group levels
  • Measure selling progress at an opportunity level
  • Predict revenue attainment at an opportunity level
  • Provide a common language that can be used by everyone who participates in any sales opportunity
  • Manage customer expectations and improve overall customer satisfaction
  • Enjoy life more


The five key elements included in a sales process are:

  1. The customer’s buying process
  2. Selling steps that align with the buying process
  3. Verifiable outcomes that let the salespeople know if they’ve been successful at each selling step
  4. Job aids and tools that facilitate each processes’s selling step
  5. A management system that measures and reinforces the process and also determines the probability of success

Solution Selling’s pyramid of sales process elements is shown in Figure 3.1.

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Figure 3.1: Sales Process Elements

Define the Customer s Buying Process

The cornerstone of a good sales process is in knowing how buyers buy rather than how a company or its individuals want to sell. If we haven’t defined how our buyers buy, then we make assumptions that throw us out of alignment with our buyers. Misalignment with buyers is one of selling’s most critical mistakes.

Another thing you have to remember is that buyers can have multiple buying processes. For example, they may buy commodities differently than they buy strategic business applications. To deal with this, sales organizations need to modify their sales processes to align with their customers’ buying processes.

Define the Selling Steps

The second element in developing a sales process is to define and align the selling steps with the buyer’s buying process steps. This is very important because being out of alignment with the buyer is the biggest reason for sales failure. Solution Selling’s research indicates that when salespeople take action without knowing why or what the expected result should be, their failure rate is more than 50 percent.

Verifiable Outcomes

Each step in your sales process should have measurements and verifiable outcomes. There should be no question about whether or not a step has been completed. For example, when calling on a customer with the power to buy, your sales process might require the salesperson to send a letter confirming that the customer has agreed to evaluate your offering. Good sales process would measure this step and grade the salesperson’s progress accordingly, using a verifiable outcome such as the letter itself—an item that can be inspected or verified and usually indicates buyer action.

Job Aids

On the basis of how buyers buy, salespeople may be required to engage in selling activities that require some specialized knowledge or skill to facilitate the sales step. When this occurs, specific job aids or sales tools can help them. For example, if the buyer’s buying process requires him or her to justify the value of a purchase, then the salespeople must align themselves with this requirement and be prepared to develop a business case, ROI (return on investment), or value analysis. An automated model or spreadsheet might be provided to a salesperson as a job aid or sales tool. Many of my customers have developed online libraries of job aids and sales tools to help their salespeople facilitate their Solution Selling sales process.

Sales Management System

Initially, we didn’t include sales management in the sales process elements because we didn’t think of it as a salesperson’s activity. But over the years, our experience and our customers have helped us see how critical effective management is to the sales process. An effective sales management system monitors, manages, and maintains the integrity of the sales process. The activities include pipeline and opportunity assessment, individual opportunity identification and analysis, opportunity and individual salesperson coaching, sales revenue forecasting, and reporting.


In Solution Selling, we use two different models to illustrate sales process. Each model represents a particular way to approach the process: the Step Process Model, which is taken from the buyer’s perspective and the Process Flow Model, which is taken from the salesperson’s perspective.

Either way, it’s important to have a map that helps salespeople know what to do and when to do it. Without a map, staying in alignment with prospective buyers is very difficult, if not impossible. I’m including both models for your review.

Step Process Model

I use the Step Process Model when making an overview presentation or discussing an active sale, because I can see every aspect of the sale on one page (see Figure 3.2).

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Figure 3.2: Solution Selling Step Process Model

As you can see in this example of the Step Process Model, the sales process is based on how buyers buy—the buying process. In the second row down from the top of the diagram are seven Solution Selling sales process steps. Each step marks a major progression in Solution Selling’s sales process. To give this example more depth, I have included the selling activities that we typically expect at each sales process step. In Solution Selling we call these defined points in the sell cycle Milestones.

Now look at the area labeled Verifiable Outcomes. Verifiable Outcomes identify the major deliverables or results we expect to conclude each selling step. For example, if a salesperson has completed the Qualified Power Sponsor step, the Verifiable Outcome is Evaluation Plan Agreed Upon, meaning that the salesperson and buyer have agreed on a way to evaluate the solution and the evaluation process leading up to a signed agreement.

You will also notice specific Solution Selling Job Aids traditionally used during the designated step. Most of these job aids will be introduced during the course of this book.

Last but not least is the link to the management system, which allows you to track the progress of an opportunity. Each of the steps in the Solution Selling Step Process Model is measurable and assists in more accurate forecasting via the defined Milestones and the Milestones’ probability (yield percentages).

Take a few minutes to examine this model and ask yourself if you could sell more if you had these elements defined for you. Most people say “yes.” So why wait? Get started today.

Solution Selling s Sales Process Flow Model

The Sales Process Flow Model was developed to help salespeople learn the Solution Selling process. I personally like to work with the Sales Process Flow Model because it helps me to visualize where I am and what I have to do next with an opportunity. Look at Figure 3.3, the Sales Process Flow Model. It is a view of the Solution Selling sales process from the salesperson’s perspective.

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Figure 3.3: Solution Selling Sales Process Flow Chart Model

From this point forward in the book I’ll use the Sales Process Flow Model (see Figure 3.3) to guide us through the Solution Selling sales process.


A clear line of distinction can be made between opportunities that are started by salespeople in the latent pain area or, alternatively, where the opportunities find them and they are active. These are two very different starting points for sales opportunities. I will cover both starting points as well as each step in the Sales Process Flow Model in greater detail throughout the rest of the book. However, for the balance of this chapter, I will provide a brief description of each step of the model.

Starting from the top, the Sales Process Flow Model divides into two parts: to the left are latent opportunities (people not looking to buy anything from you or anyone else), and to the right are active opportunities (people who are already looking to buy and most likely have a vision of what they need—and their vision likely doesn’t include you). I’ll start with latent opportunities.

Latent Opportunities

In Chapters Four through Eight, I will break down each selling step that is required when dealing with latent opportunities, those opportunities where buyers aren’t looking to buy anything. You’ll learn how to identify opportunities through precall planning and research, and you’ll learn how to prospect and stimulate interest in buyers who hadn’t planned on buying anything, or at least not from you. Prospecting activities may take the form of an email or a letter that uses a Business Development Script, a Reference Story, or a Value Proposition. I’ll give you examples of how to prospect as we proceed through the stages of the process.

After you’ve generated interest from your buyer, you need to define their pain or critical business issue and then diagnose that issue and create a vision in such a way that the prospect can see how your unique products or services can help solve their problems. It’s a solution biased toward what you offer, which might include multiple products or services or even involve partners and alliances.

Having gotten this far, it’s important to know if the buyer has the power to buy. If not, you have to bargain for access to the person who does have that power. If, however, the person can buy, then you simply advance to the next step.

Once you’re at the power level, you develop an evaluation plan. This allows both parties (the salesperson and the buyer) to move in a structured way to a mutual decision to move forward and reach an agreement to do business together. This brings good project management techniques into your sales process which helps build credibility with buyers and increases the probability that you will successfully close more sales.

As you can see from the model, the sales process doesn’t end when the customer or client executes an agreement. In the Sales Process Flow Model, you must measure against an agreed-upon list of criteria, called Success Criteria. You must continually measure and determine the delta, or the positive change, your products and services make on your customers’ business. Then, with positive results, you can leverage your customers’ successes and prospect for additional selling opportunities both inside and outside your customers’ environment. Once you’ve measured the delta, then you can determine if you actually provided a solution or not. Remember our definition of a solution from Chapter One: A solution is a mutually shared answer to a recognized problem, and the answer provides measurable improvement.

Active Opportunities

In Figure 3.3 (page 39), look again at the right side of the model, the active opportunities—opportunities that you didn’t create. These opportunities might have come from an incoming phone call or a formal RFP (request for proposal) or an RFI (request for information). The critical point is that the buyer has found you. In Chapters Nine and Ten, I discuss how you can decide whether you should engage and compete or disengage and look for more promising opportunities. You’ll learn how to assess the opportunity, select a proper competitive strategy, and make a go or no-go decision. Not surprising, often the best thing to do is to decide not to engage, which is very hard to do, especially if you or your company is behind quota.

Assuming you believe you can win, you must reengineer the buyer’s existing vision, gain access to power, exert control over the buying process, and establish the value of your unique offering to the client.

The next chapter begins Part Two, “Creating New Opportunities.” We first explore the world of precall planning before moving into other chapters on stimulating interest, diagnosing pain, and creating visions.

The New Solution Selling. The Revolutionary Sales Process That is Changing the Way People Sell
The New Solution Selling: The Revolutionary Sales Process That Is Changing the Way People Sell [NEW SOLUTION SELLING 2/E]
Year: 2003
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