How To Create A
Winning Sales Process
Four steps to define and execute
sales process rigor.
A Publication of
By Jim Eberlin, Founder & CEO
Author: Jim Eberlin
A sure-fire method to extend the sales cycle, add confusion to the forecast, and lose
more deals is to have an informal sales process. Having a B2B sales process that’s too
simplistic leads to inconsistency and confusion. Imagine if a recipe just listed “add
ingredients, mix, then heat”. Or a football running play, like the counter, was described as
“run, fake, handoff”. You would not have much success in the outcome of either of those
scenarios. So, don’t expect much sales growth when you have a few general sales
stages that lead a lot to the imagination. Your reps will be all over the place when they
strategize on next steps, report deal status or provide a forecast. Your sales process has
to be well aligned with the activity that goes into a successful sale – that is based on how
your customers buy. It should also help in making decisions on next steps and be
consistently understood by the entire sales team (sales rep, sales ops, sales
According to CSO Insight’s 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, those companies
with “unaligned sales processes” deliver conversion rates as low as 8%. There is also a
significant negative impact on quota attainment. The difference in quota attainment
between being unaligned and being mostly or fully aligned is 13%.”
The most successful sales organizations have a process that fits well with the activity
required to sell more deals. The entire sales team should understand the critical sales
stages to move a deal through the pipeline and the exit criteria required to move to the
next stage. But what happens when we get new sales people? Isn’t it hard to keep
everyone informed on definitions of the sales process? When to commit a deal to the
forecast? And considering that customer behaviors change, doesn’t that just exacerbate
Enter the new modern automation of machine learning algorithms and predictive
analytics to simplify alignment and improvement of your best sales activity and give your
organization the edge it needs to continue sales growth. So, before you lose any more
deals, waste good leads or opportunities, extend the sales cycle or on-boarding time of a
new rep – let’s give your sales process a health check. The following will help you
create, tweak or overhaul your sales process so that you can win more deals.
“Enter the new modern automation of
machine learning algorithms and
predictive analytics to simplify
alignment and improvement of your
best sales activity and give your
organization the edge it needs to
continue sales growth. “
I. SALES STAGES
Create stages within your sales process.
Your stages are created based on how your buyers behave. The stages should
have a clearly defined objective of what needs to be accomplished. So, the
starting point is to review your buyer’s journey and create the stages so that it is
based on how they buy and the activity required for them to make a
well-informed decision to buy.
If your product is an evangelical sale, you will educate, ask questions and present
the product, in that order. If your product is based on a mature market (RFP-like,
lots of buyers and sellers), you may ask more questions up front in the process, to
fit in better rather than educate on changing their process, very different from the
evangelical sale. All of the qualifiers, based on your favorite methodology (ex.
Challenger, Sandler) and your favorite acronym (ex. BANT, ANUM) are placed
within these stages.
The number of stages is based on the complexity and sales cycle of the sales
process. The simpler and quicker, the fewer stages. The more complex and
longer sales model, the more stages you’ll have. The best way to decide this is to
review stages in the buyer’s journey based on how you you need to win and how
Your ideal customer profile (ICP) may affect your stages in the selling process.
ICP includes things such as market, industry, size and other attributes that may
affect how you sell to them. So you may have different stages based on different
ICP. It’s also possible the stages remain the same on all of your sales processes
but the milestones or exit criteria could be different. It’s important to separate
your sales processes – especially Enterprise sales vs. SMB sales – because the
analytics will be different.
II. STAGE MILESTONES
Define milestones or exit criteria.
Your milestones (also called Exit Criteria) are the activities required to meet the
objective of the stage. Once you complete the milestones (or at least the necessary
ones) you will advance to the next stage. The tendency will be to add too many
milestones – so be careful of getting too detailed as you go through your buyer’s
The milestones – definitely early on will be to educate the buyers on why they’d
want to change and to ask questions based on how best to qualify the buyers
involved. The milestones include questions, activities, and content to send at the
appropriate time. It also includes plays against competition and the other alternative
decision of keeping the status quo.
Milestones are necessary because they tell a sales rep the next step in a process
and they help us understand the status of the deal. It’s important that you are not
too rigid – you may have some milestones that are optional based on the scenario.
Also, because many sales models are more fluid – milestones may not all happen in
The final stages can be closed won or closed lost. If Closed lost, you’ll want to have
categories based on the loss that include: No-decision, Not a Fit, Competition (with
name of competitor) or other reasons for a loss. It’s important to have rules as to
when to close a deal after so long with no activity.
Analyze the sales process and sales team.
Now that the process is consistent and everyone knows where an opportunity
belongs within stages and milestones – you can analyze the data. Without a
rigorous and well understood process, you have no basis to analyze effectiveness
nor the ability to analyze and coach a sales rep. This is how you get to an optimized
process – you analyze, tweak, and coach to get better.
Effectiveness of Process
The following are metrics to measure the effectiveness of the sales process:
Conversion Ratios – track how well deals advance through the sales process and
where they get stuck by checking the conversion rate. This helps in understanding
what a qualified lead should include, whether the activities within each stage are
working or if you to change activities to advance deals. Analyze the trend of
conversion rates – from close rate to percentage of conversions from one stage to
ASP (Average Selling Price) – track deal size and quantity. A trending upward ASP is
a sign of good progress. Of course, more closes may fill the gap if ASP is not
Win rates – analyzing two types of win rates will help optimize process effectiveness.
A “comprehensive win rate” looks at all wins and losses to determine overall wins. A
“scheduled to win rate” looks at win rate of all deals that were scheduled to close
within that sales period which helps understand how well the sales team
understands how to close within deadlines and how realistic they are. Win rates can
identify “Happy Ears” (low scheduled to win rate) and “Sandbagger” behavior (uptick
of win rate and end of period).
Sales Cycle times – It is important to analyze how long it takes to close a deal. But
it’s just as important to look at how long a sales rep holds onto a deal before it is
closed lost. Once again, Happy Ears tendencies causes long sell cycles – these reps
love to hold onto the hope. Sandbaggers tend to open and close deals right after
they close them – for an artificially low sell cycle.
Forecast accuracy – ability to create a forecast and analyze the actual results. Measuring
ICP and attributes of qualification within opportunities is important because sales reps
have to be focused on the right kind of deals to hit the number.
Pipeline activity – Understanding how many new opportunities, open opportunities and
how often a close date is pushed into the following sales period helps to understand
how well opportunities are worked and how well a sales rep understands their business.
Having good pipeline hygiene is important for having good data for this kind of analysis.
Analyzing by ICP and different opportunity sales model attributes provides a better
understanding of the different sales processes. For example, analyzing subscription
renewals is going to be different than analyzing acquiring new mid-market business. So
the separation of sales processes helps.
Coaching Performance of Sales Rep
Coaching sales reps at 1:1 meetings is going to help them get better. When you can talk
about where deals get stuck in the sales process and what they may do to advance
these deals – it’s important to have empirical data to support the conversation. Having a
consistent sales process and accurate numbers supports these kinds of 1:1 meetings.
You can apply the same metrics mentioned above and compare them to peers. Goals
can be set at performance planning meetings (ex. Quarterly Business Reviews) and
managing to them will help reps focus and attain their personal quotas.
Enforce and analyze the sales process.
Machine Learning, Predictive/Prescriptive Analytics and Rules:
Automation should be used to enforce the sales process and to analyze it.
Automation is available that will prescribe winning activities and guide the best
behaviors. This automation always keeps the reps knowing next steps and ensures
nothing falls through the cracks.
Analytics should do more than just provide the ability to dig into the numbers. It
should be prescriptive and help reps and managers know what to do next. It should
keep teams aligned and consistent in their process. Automation is a huge time saver
and helps to optimize the sales process.
Companies that have followed these steps to implement a rigorous and winning
sales process and that have applied supporting automation have experienced:
Sales Cycle Time Reduction of >38%
Consistent forecast accuracy to within +5% of hitting the optimized number
Win rate increase of >25%
Time savings of average 11 hours/week per person
CRM data increases of 400% to provide sufficient and accurate information
Applying these steps to your sales process will do more than optimize it and help you
win more deals – it will onboard and ramp up sales reps easier and quicker. And no
more reliance on the emotion and qualitative input from the sales team. That’s important
but it needs to be combined with quantitative data that has empirical support for the
forecast. No more listening to the happy stories around an opportunity nor doubting the
CRM data accuracy and timeliness.
To learn more about how TopOPPS can get your team on a consistent sales process
utilizing predictive and prescriptive analytics, please contact us at
To apply these steps to your sales organization,
complete the Workbook on following pages.
Jim Eberlin is the founder and CEO of TopOPPS. Previous to TopOPPS, Jim founded
Gainsight, #48 in the Inc 5000, and Host Analytics, the leading solution for finance in the
cloud. Jim has several years in executive management within the software industry and he
serves the tech entrepreneurial community by sharing his experience in early through
growth stage start-ups.
Sales Process Rigor
A Publication of
Presented at AA-ISP UNITE
Questions: Define Rigor for Your Sales Process
Rigor in your sales process is going to improve performance – but you have to define rigor. Ask
yourself these questions to assess your personal sales process rigor:
Does the entire team (Management, Sales Ops and Reps) know the definition of each
Stage? And when to move the deal to the following stage?
How much subjectivity and/or emotion goes into the judgement of what stage a deal
Does any level of “Happy Ears” or “Sandbagging” occur in your sales process?
How do you communicate these definitions to new sales reps?
How does your management of deals/opportunities affect the sales forecast? Is it easy to
translate this information to help predict the forecast? How effective is it?
Sales Process Rigor Assessment:
Does the sales team know everything that happens in each sales stage? (Ex. Activity,
questions, objections, negative responses)
Do you have pre-emptive responses for negative activity or objections?
How do you rank your opportunities?
Do you use any of the data from what happens to the opportunities to help coach the
sales reps? To get them performing better?
How well does your current process support your sales forecast? Prevent surprises at the
end of the sales process? Do you rely only on the “happy stories” around a deal to rank it?
Define stages – but stick with them so analytics can be applied. Change milestones (exit criteria)
within the stages – but don’t change the stages.
What stages do your leads move through?
When do you promote them to an opportunity?
How do they move through the sales process post opportunity promotion?
Exit Criteria (Milestones)
How do you keep management, sales operations and sales reps all aligned on the sales
How do you know to advance? Or regress an opportunity?
How do you enforce the same consistent work flow for opportunity management? Have
you tried and failed before?
Questions: Deal HealthScore
Do you weigh stages? How do you deal with large opportunities falling out vs. small ones?
How accurate is your % weighing (what is the source)?
How do deals fall out? Do you put a time limit on how long a deal can stay in a certain
stage? How do you manage that?
What is your ideal customer profile? Are there certain roles and company characteristics
that you track in order to close more deals?
Questions: Sales Forecasting
How do you apply Forecast categories or commit deals from the opportunities that you’re
working to the forecast?
How do you know which deals deserve your time?
How many of your later stage deals fall out?
Do you just apply all later stage deals to the forecast? Or do you scrutinize them more
before you commit them? If so, what rules do you use?
Questions: Metric Driven Coaching
How do you coach sales performance so reps can get better? Or, if you’re a rep, what metrics
do you look at and try and beat in order to close more business each sales period?
What metrics drive win rates?
Can you rely on the metrics you look at?
Do you only set bookings goals – or do you look at conversions, how long you hang onto deals
and pipeline metrics?
Take away – 6 Steps to a Rigorous Sales Process:
Define what I consider a rigorous sales process
How does my customer want to buy and how do I implement that in my sales process?
Score deals – don’t rely on the flawed process of just weighting stages
Add Momentum scores and Ideal Customer profile scores to the progress scores to rank
Coach from sales process analytics for each sales rep (or reps – analyze your own
Use automation to help with admin on opportunities as well as analytics