This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com - #Growing Your Business
It will ultimately be the reason your startup succeeds or fails.
6 min read
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As great as it is to have an innovative idea for your product or service, your startup will ultimately live and die based on your ability to create a repeatable sales process. A clearly defined sales process that can be repeated time and time again to convert leads into paying customers will drive consistent revenue growth.
In a startup, you will likely have to build your sales process out of nothing — that’s okay. By implementing some of the practices used by the experts, you can quickly develop a repeatable sales process that gives your sales team the tools they need for lasting success:
1. Clearly define qualifying criteria for leads
Most startups have at least some idea of who their target audience should be. But for a successful and scalable sales process, you must take this one step further by determining the qualifying criteria for your leads. In fact, a survey from BrightTalk found that 68 percent of B2B professionals cited “increasing the quality of leads” as their top priority.
In the same study, 59 percent of those surveyed also cited this as their biggest challenge. This is what makes having well-defined qualifying criteria in place so important for your sales staff.
These criteria should focus on key questions like if your product or service solves a pain point, helps leads save time or money and if they plan to make a purchase soon. These traits indicate that a lead is more likely to be a good fit who will benefit from your product or service.
In a blog post for Smart Insights, entrepreneur and author Ksenia Andreeva recommends scoring leads on a scale of one to five in the categories of need, interest, decision timeframe, budget and authority role. Leads with scores over 20 are a “hot lead”, while those with scores of 6 or less should be disqualified immediately. Correctly qualifying leads will help your sales team better prioritize their future efforts.
2. Define sales stages to improve forecasting accuracy
Being able to accurately forecast revenue can make a big difference for your ability to manage cash flow. Unfortunately, many startups struggle to generate accurate forecasts when revenue is dependent on closing deals. Because of this, startups need to clearly define each stage of the sales process, as well as the “exit criteria” that indicates when a lead has moved on to the next stage. Doing so can greatly streamline sales forecasting.
A great example of this comes from Bhushan Ekbote, VP of sales and marketing at Acoustic. In a recent email conversation, he explained, “One company I worked with struggled to accurately predict monthly revenue because of its heavily inbound revenue generation model. By creating a predictive model that factored in pattern recognition, seasonality and promotions, we were able to achieve 98 percent forecast prediction accuracy. Clearly defined sales stages made it much easier to accurately predict sales and conversions.”
Well-defined exit criteria will help your sales team know which stage a lead is at in the sales process. With all information stored in a shared model, it will become easier to consistently forecast revenue.
Related: There Is No F in Sales!
3. Continue to nurture after conversion.
Your sales process isn’t complete once a lead has converted into a paying customer. Your sales funnel should also focus on how you will continue to nurture customers after they’ve made that initial purchase.
Nurturing converted leads improves retention, creates new up-selling opportunities and can help you generate qualified referrals. Research from Harvard Business School has found that even a five percent increase in customer retention can increase profitability by 25 to 95 percent, depending on the industry.
Existing customers are more likely to buy new products and spend more with you because there is already an established, trusting relationship. Establishing systems that help customers become repeat buyers will allow you to close far more sales than if your efforts remain exclusively focused on acquiring new customers.
4. Refine sales pitches based on customer feedback.
Even a warm or hot lead is not guaranteed to turn into a paying customer. Your sales process is never truly “finalized,” as there will always be ways you can improve conversion rates. The sales process is one of constant iteration, with everything from sales scripts and emails to customer onboarding having the potential to be improved.
You can use both qualitative and quantitative customer feedback to fuel stronger iterations. Knowing what a lead or customer liked and disliked about the sales process can give you specific insights into any shortcomings with your process. Quantitative data (such as the results of A/B testing emails) will give you a big picture look. Both should be used to guide strategic changes.
Always make sure the data you receive is placed in proper perspective. As Cameron Chapman notes in a blog post for Neil Patel, “If one email leads to 10 percent of readers clicking through to your website and another one leads to 15 percent, then the second email should result in 50 percent more conversions than the first one. But that doesn’t always happen.
Continues Chapman, “It’s important that the message you give in your email is consistent with the message on your website. If you’re promising your visitors a special deal, and that deal isn’t perfectly apparent on your website, then you’re going to lose customers.”
With a scalable and repeatable sales process customized to your business and target audience, you will give your sales team the tools they need to achieve repeated success. By taking concrete actions that address audience pain points and move them through the buyer’s journey, your team will be better equipped to close sales and help you turn a profit.