How to give structure to your sales process

It is really hard to find a good sales book. “The Qualified Sales Leader: Proven Lessons from a Five Time CRO” ticks all the boxes. It describes the sales process in detail, hands you a structure and gives you all the questions you need to ask. The book takes you through the journey of a consultancy assignment and, in that way, reminds me of “The Phoenix project”. It is excellent.


It starts with observing the forecast review of that company. In a forecast review, reps often find it difficult to be completely honest about their account situations. It becomes a combination of “happy ears,” rose-coloured glasses, and sandbagging efforts that force managers to qualify the accuracy of forecasts by listening to fictional stories and searching for the truth in the forecasted opportunities. With lots of superficial questions:

  • Why do you think you’re going to get the deal? 
  • How long have you worked on this deal? 
  • When do you think the deal will come in? 
  • Do you think they’ll buy this quarter? 
  • Who is the competitor? 
  • Is there anything you’re worried about?

Learning session

For it to be a learning session (as it should be), the sales reps need to accept that they aren’t the only ones with account issues. They need to learn from mistakes—theirs as well as others. The review should be utilised to coach reps and analyse their sales knowledge and sales skills. Answering these questions:

  • Did they have a coach or a Champion?
  •  What information did they lack? 
  • Why did the customer have to buy? 
  • Who had final budget approval? 
  • Who controlled the deal? 
  • What is the urgency to buy? 
  • How will the customer justify the purchase? 
  • What is the customer’s evaluation process? 
  • Were they winning or losing? 
  • Were they in control?

Stop confusing activities with accomplishment. Stop pushing reps to rush through the sales process. Master the customer conversation with specific personas and use cases. Understand how to sell business value using a repeatable process. Learn to qualify deal advancement issues in account situations. Coach reps on how to control an opportunity. Understand how to forecast accurately.

Measurable sales process

A salesforce needs to implement foundational methods and realise specific metrics before they can scale. A measurable sales process. A means to analyse the sales process and effectiveness of the sales force. Consistency and repeatability in rep performance across the salesforce with: 

  • An increasing average new deal size 
  • An expanding up-sell deal size from existing customers 
  • A measurable improvement in quarter-to-quarter average sales productivity

Wrong KPIs

Focus on tracking meaningful indicators of deal advancement and tangible sales process results, instead of activity KPIs such as: 

  • Number of calls 
  • Number of emails sent 
  • Number of video introductions 
  • Number of POCs

Create a map

A sales process should be a map for a sales rep to follow. It should have directions and steps that a rep should perform, from start to finish, to close a deal. Each sales stage needs to have defined, tangible action steps. And each stage should have exit criteria based on verifiable customer events. It gives sales leaders consistency across the sales force and tangible evidence of completed stages. Through a well-defined sales process, the customer completely understands why the product they buy differs from other products and specifically how it solves their pains. Every sales manager needs a sales process (or playbook) that is tightly coupled with a qualification method (analysis capability). 

Consequences of not having a sales map

  • Small deal sizes
  • The customer is low in the organisation.
  • High probability of deal “churn.” 
  • Inaccurate forecast.
  • Increase of the rep attrition rates.

Qualification method

A good qualification methodology works hand-in-hand with your sales process. The qualification method informs the sales rep of their exact location in the sales process and gives instruction on the next steps. It even provides specific details required to move to the next step. Coach your reps on how to qualify appropriately.


The pipeline is the lifeblood. Maniacally qualifying deals early in the quarter by visiting the Champions of your reps’ forecasted deals in the first month of a quarter is one of the surest methods of gaining a deep understanding of your forecast.

Some lessons from the book

  • Many SaaS startups have a twenty to twenty-five per cent attrition rate.
  • The essence of profound insight is simplicity.
  • In sales, time is your enemy. There’s never enough time for follow-up sessions with customers.
  • Know the Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) to Sales Closed conversion ratio.
  • Slow down the sales process to go fast.
  • Get “Above the noise”. Companies live with hundreds of pains that aren’t negatively impacting the cost of running their business. At the highest levels of an organisation, business pain is related to revenue, profitability, and risk. High in the tree is where the big money lives. High in the tree is where the people who control the money live.
  • Map the pain points. Without quantified pain points, there is no way to prove business value, so there is only small deals, no large deals. Quantified business pain drives higher price points. Implicated business pain drives urgency. Business pain and urgency finds business champions. Business champions get you to the economic buyer.
  • You should build an Ideal Customer Profile. An ICP highlights the customer pains, use cases, the personas owning the use cases, and companies with those specific use cases.
  • Create a list of unique and defensible product differentiators
  • List the negative consequences of customers not solving the pain.
  • Map the complexity of the sale. Stakeholders, influencers, departments, locations, access to CEO, POV requirements, legal, procurement, etc.
  • Recruiting defines you. Hire A-players. Character is the difference-maker. Read “The rare find”.
  • There is a difference between the organisation chart versus the power chart.
  • Champions won’t jeopardise their standing in the company or their influence and reputation with the economic buyer over a salesperson who doesn’t understand their business.
  • Eight of ten executives say that sales meetings are a waste of their time because salespeople are unprepared.
  • Beware of the buyer risk when the buyer is faced with the reality of making a final buying decision.
  • Swiftly acknowledge your location in the sales process.
  • Understand the gap between known and unknown.

The basics 

  1. A common vocabulary.  The team must adopt a shared language for all your sales terminology.
  2. Listening. Did you know that people can listen and comprehend 250 words per minute? But most people speak at only 150 words per minute. What does that create? Impatience. Ineffective listening generates ineffective questions.
  3. Be HERE. Most people are in a constant state of partial attention. Mis-en-place.
  4. Intuition. To be an effective sales leader, you need to use your intuition to help you perceive the situation. Most people only analyse situations and make decisions with their heads. They never rely on their second powerful decision engine: their gut. A sixth sense, street smarts, intuition. Triangulate between the rep, your mind and your gut. Read “Frequency” 
  5. Self Awareness. What are your positive characteristics, and what role do they play in motivating your people?
  6. Transformational mindset. A leader’s relationship with their people should be transformational, not transactional.
  7. Don’t be a glorified scorekeeper. Inspire, coach and develop. Only after you’ve inspired and coached have you earn the right to inspect them.
  8. Intentional Outcomes. You need to understand what you expect from your people, and they need to understand what to expect from you.
  9. Keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate things that aren’t complex
  10. Urgent curiosity. Good questions arise out of genuine interest, a genuine curiosity to understand.

All classic leadership themes

Caring through competence

Because the huggers never trained and developed their people. Because caring is deeper than hugging. A hug is temporary. Competence is forever. Caring is about competence. The roots of a genuinely positive workplace culture lie in helping people win and achieve their personal goals. Reps want to be trained and developed. They want to grow. They want to be proud. When addressing a performance issue, leave your emotions at home. Don’t be biased. Drive down a line of questioning to determine whether this is a competence issue or a commitment issue. Competence issue = speak to their head. This will be more of a fact-finding discussion. It will lead to an understanding of what they should know and how they should do things. Commitment issue = speak to their heart. This is more of a feeling-finding discussion. Managers tell me to do things by speaking to my head. Leaders motivate me to do things by speaking to my heart.

The chronological order of a typical B2B sales process

  • Discovery. Discovery is when we learn if the client is buying what we’re selling. It’s during the Discovery stage where potential champions are identified.
  • Scoping. Reps need to quantify the metrics surrounding the customer’s current as-is process and define the preliminary metrics of a to-be process. The customer’s gain must be significantly larger than the customer’s pain.
  • Economic buyer meeting. The economic buyer has access to major funds. The economic buyer meeting becomes the Go/No-Go stage of the sales process.
  • Validation event. The Validation event brings the sales process to its natural conclusion. You verified the priority, budget, authority, timing, and remaining process steps. You agreed on the cost, the ROI and the implementation. 
  • The business case and final proposal. A final cost justification that translates the quantifiable benefits of your solution into business value in the economic buyer’s terms. (i.e., revenue, margin, risks, time to market, market share, production costs, etc.)
  • Negotiate and close. For most organisations, for deals over a certain dollar size, the Procurement Department gets involved to negotiate better pricing and payment terms. Your strength comes from the decision criteria you created, which any new competitor will be judged and proof of your unique differentiation solving their pains in the validation event.

The procurement tricks

We have all been there:

  • The “pissed off for no apparent reason” approach
  • The “take it or leave it” offer
  • The “you need us more than we need you” brush off
  • The “we love you” charade
  • The “no budget” bust
  • The “good guy/bad guy” setup
  • The “disappearing friend” act
  • The “shame” game
  • The “one more thing” strategy
  • The “have a heart” scheme
  • The “it’s over” gambit


Urgency is your friend. There is urgency for the customer to buy now. The urgency was formulated in scoping through the implication of pain. You have to anchor the price to the cost justification,” The champion verified the numbers, and the economic buyer confirmed approval to move forward based on our justification. There is verified strength in the pricing.

Sales is simple

Have a functioning sales process. Create common vocabulary, and learn to qualify deals, identify pain above the noise, find and develop champions high in the tree, sell business value, understand business outcomes, identify red flags, win POVs, coach your people on knowledge and skill issues, and take ownership of the leadership position. Follow the steps. Nothing to it.

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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