In my most recent blog post, The Importance of a Go-To-Market Playbook, I shared a template with examples of how to structure your sales process and why it’s critical to define in your GTM Playbook. In this blog, I delve into the importance of adding clear definitions to your sales process and how it impacts your board meetings and fosters investor confidence.
The Pitfalls of Subjectivity
When founders are getting started, the sales process tends to be a hypothesis on what a founder believes to be the appropriate definitions of the sales stages and how deals will move through the funnel. A sales process will and should be defined over time however, I've observed many sales processes that were subjective, making it challenging to comprehend why a deal was in a particular stage, what had been accomplished, and the path to close.
It’s not to say the stages were inaccurate but the way deals moved through the stages were inconsistent. This subjectivity often results in confusion and inaccurate forecasts. It’s in your best interest to add definitions to your process as early as possible.
Board members want to see that the organization is operating effectively, efficiently, and in a manner that aligns with its strategic goals and values. They want to have a clear understanding of the organization's performance, risks, and opportunities so that they can make informed decisions and provide guidance to management.
Aligning with Board Expectations
Our guidance is to send board decks in advance of meetings so participants can review them prior to the board meeting and spend time on strategy, Time will be wasted reviewing the pipeline if the sales stages and process aren’t clearly defined.
The main goal you should have in mind when defining your sales process is consistency. Every deal moves stages for the same reasons. A best practice I share with our founders is that the stages of your process should be defined by thinking through each stage's entrance and exit criteria; what actions need to be completed, and what information has been gathered at each stage. Keep it simple but have clear and accurate definitions of how deals move through the funnel.
By doing so, board members have a clear line of sight into your GTM efforts and have a deeper understanding of your sales process.
Designing Your Sales Process
Before you get started on the steps below, if you aren’t already familiar with the B2B Sales Funnel, Gong has a great resource that explains how sales stages differ from the buyer Journey. Check out Gong’s blog post on the 6 Crucial Stages of a B2B Sales Funnel.
Before considering creating an opportunity in your CRM, it is crucial to evaluate whether it should enter the pipeline and receive active attention. My guidance is to never create an opportunity until you have held an introductory meeting and collected the required qualification and discovery information to deem it an active opportunity.
To determine the qualification criteria at different stages of your pipeline, methodologies such as MEDDPIC, MEDDIC, BANT, etc. can be guiding frameworks. When assessing if there is an active opportunity, the key factors to consider include identifying the need, understanding the timeline for purchase, and determining the decision-maker or champion who will support this evaluation internally.
From a process perspective, you will want to define how a prospect becomes qualified. If a call, like an introductory conversation, is required, state that alongside of the qualification and discovery criteria.
It is essential to avoid over-qualification. One common mistake I often observe is creating opportunities prematurely in the sales process. This can artificially inflate your lead generation metrics and have a negative impact on your forecast accuracy. Exercise caution and ensure that opportunities are created at the appropriate stage of the sales journey.
Creating an Opportunity:
Ensure that your process reflects documenting the criteria stated above to create an opportunity in your CRM.
At this point, you need to define and name the first stage of your pipeline. Often teams define this stage as “discovery” or simply call it a “qualified opportunity” given this is early in the sales process. This is where you have already assessed initial interest and now your goal is to align with their use case and business need.
A demo can be a stage of your pipeline but is more of an action that takes place early in the sales process. This is where you will want to define entry and exit criteria.
A great example of this is to enter the pipeline (stage 1), a discovery meeting must be held, and you must uncover the pain points, the timeline to purchase, and who on the prospect's side will ultimately champion this deal forward.
In order to exit stage 1, a demo must take place, buying criteria must be collected, and you’ve identified with your champion who your executive stakeholder is in the deal. So at this point in the sales cycle, you have collected the business need, timeline to purchase, determined the decision-maker/champion, walked through a demo solution of their use case, and agreed to the next steps in you sales process. Having the set exit criteria let's the board know exactly where you are in your sales process.
From here, each organization’s stages may differ slightly but your stages should reflect the following:
Trial/POC process: If you offer a trial/POC, add that in as a sales stage. Standardize your trial offerings and ensure to document what you need from the prospect post-trial (verbal buy-in, introduction to procurement, etc). If your trial is 30 days, move the deal out of the trial stage once the 30 days is completed otherwise it may stall in that stage even though internal evaluations may be going on. If that happens, the “POC” stage becomes an inaccurate description of what is happening with the deal.
Evaluation: After the demo or the trial, most teams will take their thoughts and findings internally to discuss with the right teams and stakeholders. This stage should encompass that internal review and yield a go or no-go decision.
Procurement / Negotiation: Final step of the process should be to align on price and contract terms.
Below are two different sales process designs that map out the stage with the entrance and exit criteria:
To align with board expectations, an early definition of the sales process is crucial, as it demonstrates effective operations and provides clarity on performance. By establishing consistency and clear definitions, founders foster confidence in their forecast and optimize their sales potential. Best practices include defining stages based on entrance and exit criteria, required actions, and gathered information while keeping the process simple and accurate.