Tom Ryan’s Four Ps of Sales: 10 Key Sales Process Questions

Four Ps 2016Process is the cornerstone of truly professionalized sales. With the right sale process in place, optimizing your sales performance becomes much easier. A great process will help you find and retain the right sales people, and even help them meet their goals.

There’s no one-size-fits-all method for building a sustainable, predictable sales process. Every company is different, as is every market. To be successful, your sales process needs to fit the needs of your business, your customers, and your industry. The better the fit, more consistent your results.

To help you find the right fit for your sales process, I’ve written a list of 10 essential questions you need to answer.

1. What are you selling? This one is obvious, but sometimes it helps to start with the very basics. Are you selling a product, or a service? Is it a physical item, or a subscription? Are you selling a range of items, or just one? What you’re actually selling might not be the entire range of your products, and instead the bulk of your sales could be coming from a small subset of all the products that you offer. You might find that 80% of your sales are really only coming from 20% of products, for instance.

You may also be selling both products and services, or selling a big-ticket item at a loss and actually making money on the support fees. (Anyone who has bought a cheap computer printer only to later be outraged at the price of printer ink has learned the hard way that printer companies are actually in the ink-selling business.) The important thing is that you have a grounded, clear understanding of what you’re really selling. If you’re not sure, create a spreadsheet and start tracking where your money is actually coming from.

2. How much does it cost? Now that you know what items make up most of your sales, you need to know what they cost. This is another easy one, and it’s not a trick question. The goal here is to establish the value of your average sale.

You’re ultimately trying to create a “blended average” sale amount to establish the “average order value.” This is easy math. Add up your last 100 sales (or 10 sales, if you have a lower volume) and divide by the number of sales. If you’re selling multiple items, you want to do this for every item.

With that information in hand, you can start the process of forecasting your sales growth. If you know what your average sale amount is, you can calculate how many sales you need to reach a given amount.

3. How long does it take to sell? This is another fundamental piece of the puzzle. Does it take you a single meeting to close a sale (like in a retail setting) or do you have to court prospects for weeks or months? In some industries, it’s perfectly normal for the sales cycle to take a year or more.

You only need two pieces of data to come up with this number: The start date of the opportunity (often the date of the demo or the first serious sales consultation), and the close date (when you actually entered into an agreement). Don’t worry about how long it “should” take at this point. What we’re looking for here is to establish a baseline, showing how long it takes for a qualified opportunity (not just a lead) to convert to a sale.

By tracking this data over time, and by averaging the result, you’ve given yourself another metric by which to measure your sales performance. For even greater accuracy and utility, this number should also be tracked product or service.

4. Who are you selling it to? Are you selling to a business (B2B) or a consumer (B2C)? This matters, because businesses have different needs and priorities than everyday private consumers. You will need different approaches and strategies to sell to a large organization with many decision makers than you will to a household, for instance.

In a B2B context, you might not always be selling to the end user, like when you’re selling to a distributor or reseller. You might also find yourself talking to people during the sales process who are essentially gatekeepers for the actual decision makers. These people can say “No,” but they often don’t have the authority to say “Yes.” If you’re selling to consumers, on the other hand, you often have to keep the spouse in mind, as they may be the actual decision maker in the relationship.

5. Who is making the final purchasing decision? This is something you want to nail down as early in the sales process as possible. The last thing you want to do is spend your limited time and energy on giving the right presentations to the wrong people. The more you can focus your efforts on the right person, the easier the sales process becomes.

What’s the easiest way to confirm who the decision maker actually is? Just ask. “Will you be making the final decision?” This can be a strangely difficult and awkward question for some people, but it comes up in conversation more naturally if you’re using the alignment-based sales method.

6. Who else has to be involved? Most sales interactions aren’t a simple one-to-one connection, and both the buyer and the seller will typically have other people involved or consulting on the process. The seller might need various kinds of sales support — integration teams, sales managers, technical staff — to help convince the buyer that the product or service is the right fit.

The buyer’s side tends to be more obscure, simply because you won’t have complete visibility into their organization. There may be influencers within the company (managers, staff) who will have a say in the purchasing decision, for instance, and there may also be outside advisors (board members, mentors) who will have their own opinions on the right products or services for the prospect.

7. Where are sales actually made? If someone is going to buy your product or service, where will that transaction happen? What are your sales channels? Which of those channels are most of your sales happening through?

If you’re an ecommerce or technology company, your website is likely your primary sales channel. If you’re a retailer, it’s your store. If you’re doing inside sales, your biggest channel is likely over the phone. You might also being doing the majority of your sales through a distributor, independent reps or retailers.

Most businesses will typically have one or two major channels. If you have multiple channels, it always helps to rank them to determine where the bulk of sales are taking place. At the same time, you might have a mix of products that perform differently on different channels. This means developing distinct sales approaches and strategies for those individual products and channels.

8. What’s required to make the sale? This is a big one. This is the “activity” side of sales, or the individual steps that must happen in order of a sale to occur. In sales shorthand, these are: Qualification, presentation, evaluation, proposal, and agreement. Each one of those steps are fairly intuitive, and I’ve covered these extensively before. That said, the sales process isn’t always as cut-and-dried as it may seem. For instance, qualification can work both ways. From the seller’s side, this is really a matter of determining if the prospect is in your strike zone. However, you might not be qualifying the prospect in every situation.

During a governmental “request for proposal” process, for instance, the prospects are qualifying you. There might be bonding and licensing requirements that have to be met, and you might not be qualified to sell to them. The more you know about what’s required to make the sale, the more of these mistakes you can avoid.

9. What is correct sales sequence? Now that you’ve identified the requirements for making a sale, it’s time to optimize the flow from one important step to the next, creating the most efficient process possible. There’s a helpful concept in project management called the “critical path,” which means the shortest possible time to complete a project. Swap out “project” for “sale,” and you have a great tool for creating that optimized sales process.

This approach requires that you properly sequence your sales activities into a step-by-step process. This can become an extremely granular process, but it doesn’t have to be. At a fundamental level, you have “predecessors” and “successors,” which is just another way of saying “things that have to happen before and after other steps.” Arrange those in the best order, and your sales results will improve. It’s an incredibly helpful approach for any kind of planning or organizing.

10. How many sales can actually be made? This is all about sales capacity, which is a measure of the maximum amount of sales you could theoretically make if everything happened perfectly. It’s a totally unrealistic target, but it helps to set a kind of upper boundary before circling in on more attainable goals.

To be truly effective, you need to determine realistic sale goals on an individual basis for every sales asset you have. A realistic sales target for your website conversions isn’t going to be a mirror image for your retail locations, for instance. It’s not rocket science to figure this stuff out, it’s just a matter of making informed assumptions based in the best information you have from the questions you’ve already answered. With that, you can construct things like an “opportunity-to-close ratio,” which can reveal ways to incrementally move closer to sales capacity.