The purpose of a sales process is to win more deals in less time.  The reality facing sales forces is that decision makers are making purchases differently today. Traditional sales processes based on needs development and solution positioning will cause the majority of your reps to miss the number. We know that the buyer has changed. Because of that, and because the buyer continues to change, we developed seven questions that you must ask as we begin to develop and deploy a sales process to win more deals in less time.


In this article Eric Estrella and Dan Perry provide a powerful one-two punch.  Eric is a former VP of Sales Operations and Dan a former SVP of Sales.   Together they answer seven key questions to help you realize that you should stop using an old inward-out sales process and develop a new outward-in sales process.


Why is this important? An inward-out sales process has as its core foundation sales activities and exit criteria that the sales rep performs.  The inward process is focused on what ‘we’ do as sales reps.  An outward-in sales process is all centered on what the buyer does and the buyer activities.


Using an outward-in sales process makes it more probable that reps will align with the buying process, and because of that, win more deals faster.


If you want to make sure that you get this right, get a copy of this year’s research report called How to Make Your Number in 2017.


1. What does a buyer want in the late stages of their decision process?


This is critical to understand the customer’s buying process. Mapping the customer’s buying process through market research results in the most effective sales processes. Understanding late-stage buying helps us influence early-stage buying, and if we know what the customer wants, we can potentially get in early to the deal and influence those requirements.


2. How will we know when a buyer exits one stage and enters the next stage?


Exit Criteria is used to know when a buyer goes from stage to stage. An Exit Criteria is a buyer behavior that the buyer exhibits that’s either observed or documented by the buyer for the sales team. Once this is completed, the buyer has moved onto their next buying stage, and therefore, we can then move onto our next sales stage.


Too often, though, sales reps move along the sales stages as a result solely of what they are performing themselves. “Hey, I sent them a proposal. Therefore, we should actually be in negotiation at this point.” This is the absolute wrong way to operate.


Sales reps must create actions and activities that help move buyers, but buyers sometimes move at their own pace.  An effective sales process recognizes this and places buyer-driven exit criteria into the sales process. In summary, exit criteria is something that the buyer demonstrates to signal that he or she is ready for the next stage in the buying process.


Determining the right exit criteria is done through primary research with customers and prospects.  Talk to your customers, interview and survey them, find out what they go through to make a purchase and how they proceed.  Document their significant actions into sales-stage exit criteria.


3. What is our process for turning buyer interest into a purchase decision with us?


Building this into your sales process takes skill. If this was easy, everybody would be doing it. Skill to recognize how your buyer finds value, how you need to uncover true problems, and build job aids that help a salesperson proceed effectively through the process.


The critical moments with a buyer are defined as major interactions.  These are the moments of truth. If done well, a sale moves forward. Identifying where these major interactions occur along the buying process allows you to map them into your sales process at the most critical times.


Each major interactions requires a call plan.  What goes on a call plan?  A call plan could be as simple as your objectives of the call, not only yours, but the customers. It could be as in-depth as writing out questions you want to ask.  The call plan should be structured to understand the solution, identify the gaps are, understand the root problem, and then fit the solution to it.


4. What resources does a sales team require to successfully execute the sales process?


This begins with understanding what the customer values. Do they need a technical expert, a subject-matter expert, a SME? Will they get value out of a demo? Should we develop an ROI job aid so our sales reps can articulate the value better?


Resources should not only include the people needed but the tools needed. Quoting should be part of the sales process.  CPQ or “Configure Price Quote” process simplifies the way that we can configure, price, and quote a solution.


CRM systems configured to support the sales process represent the backbone to support the field.  Overall, the list of resources needs to be evaluated through the eyes of the customer while delivering on the corporate strategy.


Always ask yourself, when examining resources to use or develop, will the customer value it, and does it follow our corporate strategy?


5. How are we going to get the sales team to adopt the sales process?


A process is worth nothing unless it’s adopted by the sales team. Getting them to use the process rests squarely on the shoulders of the senior leadership.


All sales leaders, sales enablement leaders, sales operations leaders know that adoption is difficult. The best sales process will go down in flames if leadership doesn’t endorse it and doesn’t refer/use it themselves. A good example of this is the language used for forecasting discussions. Everyone in the company should be using the sales-process stage names when forecasting. You shouldn’t be using words like commit or upside or best case or pipeline. Instead use the right language of the buyer to drive adoption within the organization, so there’s full accountability top-down.


Sales managers then need to inspect adoption at the deal level.  This closes the loop.  A rep should know their manager is going to talk through the lens of the sales process in all interactions.


6. How are we going to track metrics that indicate success and/or failure of the sales process?


The most common metrics are rate, sales-cycle length, average deal size, and average sales price, but these are all lagging indicators and/or leading indicators.  There are dozens of metrics to evaluate.

Think through the hierarchy of what needs to happen including the lead dominoes of behavior activities.  The behavioral indicators affect the leading indicators, which affect the lagging indicators.


  • Behavioral indicators are the activities that need to occur to execute the sales process. These could include the number of call plans to complete.  The number of days in the field for the sales managers. How many referrals generated, training time realized, sales manager coaching sessions, etc.
  • Leading indicators could be pipeline-to-quarter ratio, number of opportunities added in a given quarter, and forecast accuracy.  These are metrics that can reliably predict the outcome desired.
  • Lagging indicators are the end goal. Revenue, win rate, deal size and/or margin.  


7. How are we going to make the sales process easy to execute with technology?


The sales process should be embedded into the CRM system. Literally, you should not be able to operate the CRM without using the sales process. What this does is easily allow each opportunity to be tracked along the sales stages.  When exit criteria are clearly used in the CRM, the ease of adoption dramatically increases.


Mobile sales tools will help the sales process come to life in the field. Think of playbooks. Think about having your iPad in a meeting with the sales stages feeding content directly to sales reps. Real time access resources at the moment of truth in a sales call is valuable. 


Finally, rely on the simplicity of the process. If it’s too complex, and we don’t allow for technology to be used when building the process, it will sit on a shelf and it won’t be used.


Download our 10th annual workbook, How to Make Your Number in 2017. It’s the guide top sales leaders use to contribute to revenue growth in a consistent, predictable way.





Dan Perry

Intensely focused on helping sales and marketing leaders in B2B companies make their numbers at SBI.

Dan approaches the idea of making your number from a unique perspective. Like many SBI leaders, he has walked a mile in your shoes. He comes from the industry side and has had to make his number to be successful. Perhaps this is why it’s wise to rely on SBI’s evidence-based methodologies. Though SBI is certainly an execution-based firm, Dan only implements strategies and solutions for his clients after they have been verified with before-and-after data. This leads to adoption of sales programs in the field, rather than shelf-ware.

Read full bio >