chess pieces on a table with words about prospects and leads
A sales process is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Testing out the best methods and learning the most effective ways to engage with your audience are both key steps. — Getty Images/Olivier Le Moal

Finding potential buyers and leading them along a path to purchase is the essence of any sales process. The steps and length vary by business type, market and product. For a business-to-business (B2B) company, this may be a long process, while e-commerce customers may purchase after one contact with a shop. It’s important to identify the right steps for your success.

Test the best methods

First, learn who your potential customers are and where they spend their time online. This helps you determine how to reach them and move them along the sales process. It’s important, however, to remain flexible, cautioned Tim Tulloch, senior account executive at Zaloni.

“Early on, what frequently happens if you rigidly adhere to a sales process is you miss other things you could be doing,” Tulloch explained, adding that the early phases are used to find out potential new sales opportunities and the level of market engagement. “Later on,” he continued, “the sales process brings consistency and ability to track across the organization. So, you need to be flexible and then eventually standardize.”

Generate leads

Once you know where to find customers, determine how to get their attention. This is your lead-generating process and it is critical for sales success.

Here are a few ways to find your leads:

  • List acquisition
  • Public relations
  • Advertising
  • Social networking

For each activity, draw the audience to your website and invite them to engage with you.

“On your site, you want to remove layers of things that could get in the way of a purchase, and have a way to collect email if they don't purchase,” said Jordan Denny, founder and CEO of Momentary Ink. “Email marketing drives repeat and referral business.”

[See more: A Guide to Email Marketing.]

Email marketing drives repeat and referral business.

Jordan Denny, founder and CEO of Momentary Ink

Determine your content strategy

Being intentional in developing content to share on social networks, email and your website will strengthen your sales process.

“With the internet, people can source their own information,” explained Tulloch. “They want to talk with sales only when they're 65% of the way into the buying cycle. This means that marketing must set the right mindset. So, good marketing warms the path.”

This heavy reliance on content can be daunting. “Often it does intimidate people more than it should because they think they'll need to write a blog every day, produce video clips, etc.,” said Kurt Shaver, chief sales officer at Vengreso. “The bar for production value on most social networks, though, is actually pretty low. Ideas are important. A quality idea is what is needed.”

Shaver advises clients to notice everyday things that can become relevant content to their audience. One place to start is to record, in written or audio format, questions customers ask along with your answers.

Track your leads

Create a plan to capture leads, respond and turn them into customers. This can be supported with marketing automation tools that enable e-commerce purchases or manage the communication process. For service-based and B2B companies, a customer relationship management tool can help manage and track leads through the sales funnel. With or without tools, it’s critical to clearly communicate to your team who responds to inbound leads, when and how.

[See more: 7 Common CRM Questions.]

Adjust and grow

Optimizing your process requires that you track your marketing and sales activities and review the results. Denny’s business took off immediately through a successful public relations campaign. Yet, looking back, he recognized there were additional prospecting activities he missed.

“Find an advisor and coach,” Denny recommended. “If I'd had those relationships built out in the beginning, they'd have asked questions about those things right out of the gate.”

Review and revise your sales process periodically. For example, Denny’s company is now four years old, he has a coach, has expanded his prospecting activities and the business continues to grow.

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