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6 Steps of a Successful Sales Process: Understanding Both Perspectives

blog author
Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

How would you rate your organization's sales process?


  1. Ad-hoc: No consistent process
  2. Emerging: Some consistency and planning framework
  3. Defined: Guides sellers to plan for—and win—opportunities
  4. Managed (adoptive): Well-defined and easy to use, offering specific details and guidance for selling
  5. World-Class (adaptive): All of the above—and then some!


World-class sales processes aren't built overnight. And they never remain stagnant.

They are measured and improved regularly, with best practices for strategies and tactics outlined clearly across all six phases of the sales cycle.

According to our Top-Performing Sales Organization research, the win rate of organizations with a world-class sales process is 57%. Organizations with only a defined process win a mere 44% of sales.

Those 13 percentage points can represent hundreds of millions—or even billions—of dollars in sales.

What can you do to level-up your organization and reach the world-class level?

Know the Sales Process

It's not enough to know what you're selling. You must understand the six phases of the sales process. Many organizations label the phases differently, and have some nuance differences, but for the most part, it looks something like the image below.

We find it instructive to look at these phases from both the buyer's and seller's perspectives. Where is the buyer in the decision process? What do sellers need to do to guide the sale forward through each phase?

The 6 Phases of the Sales Process

Study these six phases from the perspective of both sellers and buyers to win more sales and help your organization achieve world-class status:

6 Phases of the Buying and Selling Process

Click to enlarge and view the full PDF.

Phase 1

Phase 1 for Buyers: Dissatisfaction

All purchases begin with someone looking for a solution to a problem or seeking possibilities to drive stronger results.

For instance, a manager finds that Excel spreadsheets can no longer manage the influx of data available. They may search for a database to sort, manage, and analyze data more efficiently.

A company already using a database might seek out a more customized, business intelligence-driven solution that puts business insights at their fingertips for better and faster results.

The point: there's always something 'next' buyers want to get that's exciting to them (possibility) or nagging at them (problem).

Phase 1 for Sellers: Prospecting

As buyers seek solutions to their problems or better ways to meet challenges, sellers must connect with them.

Prospecting starts with targeting the right buyers and generating demand. Sellers should implement a prospecting campaign—what we call an Attraction Campaign—to connect and set meetings with potential buyers. Then they must lead successful sales meetings.

Consistently filling the pipeline is the first step to becoming a top-performing seller.

Phase 2

Phase 2 for Buyers: Analysis

Next, buyers begin analyzing their situation and causes of their dissatisfaction. They will consider their options, begin vetting their choices, and evaluate them for feasibility.

Buyers could do this with a seller as the impetus because the seller reached out and set a meeting—through colleagues, through the web, at a trade show, or something else. In any case, they're trying to figure out why they have issues and what their options are.

Phase 2 for Sellers: Needs Discovery and Driving

In this phase, sellers need to discover and drive needs by conducting a thorough needs discovery, asking insightful questions, and inspiring buyers with new ideas. In our research, we found that sales winners are 2.3x more likely to understand buyer needs compared to second-place finishers.

It's also critical for sellers to be able to tell a Convincing Story to inspire buyers to consider products or solutions they may be unfamiliar with. Sellers who do this successfully drive and shape buyer needs.

Phase 3

Phase 3 for Buyers: Intervention

When they reach this phase, buyers have determined they can't live without a solution. Buyers begin identifying options from various providers and comparing the choices.

Phase 3 for Sellers: Solution Crafting

In this phase of the sales process, sellers begin crafting a customized solution.

Before presenting the solution, sellers need to ask: Is this the best option for the buyer?

If so, they need to prepare a compelling impact case, demonstrating the buyer's return on investment.

The solution-crafting phase also includes preparing a presentation to showcase the benefits of the solution and writing a proposal.

Phase 4

Phase 4 for Buyers: Selection

In this phase, buyers decide if a solution is a "go" or "no-go." It's time to select from the options available.

Phase 4 for Sellers: Solution Presentation

This is where sellers present their solution and show why the buyer should choose them. The presentation needs to:

  • Resonate with buyers—they need to see that you "get it"
  • Differentiate from the competition by highlighting your strengths and negating any competitor advantages
  • Substantiate the message by providing proof that your solution can—and will—work

In this phase, sellers should solicit feedback and overcome objections from buyers.

Phase 5

Phase 5 for Buyers: Commitment

In this phase, buyers negotiate and execute the agreement.

Phase 5 for Sellers: Win

Elite-Performing Sales Organizations are 2.4x more likely to capture maximum prices in line with the value they provide. In all four previous stages, they lay the foundation for value. Regardless of how strong the case is, sellers are still often pressed on price in Phase 5.

In addition to negotiating the price and terms of the agreement, sellers need to get verbal, written, or public confirmation of the sale. It's also time to get ready to hand the project off to those in charge of implementation.

Phase 6

Phase 6 for Buyers: Implementation

With the solution in place, buyers evaluate the success of the purchase and determine whether to continue with the contract or seek another solution.

Happy customers will continue to evolve and expand their use of the solution to become loyal, repeat customers. By working collaboratively with sellers, loyal customers can help improve solutions to deliver even greater value.

Phase 6 for Sellers: Account Development

The sixth phase of the process ensures the buyer achieves maximum value from their purchase. Strategic account development helps drive new opportunities and grows the account while preventing competitive inroads. It's incumbent upon sellers to embed their offerings and look for ways to continue to drive and deliver greater value.

And Do it Again...

Conventional sales wisdom holds that acquiring new customers can cost five times more than customer retention. Phase 6 represents a highly profitable phase of the sales process.

As sellers create brand evangelists, they not only grow accounts, but also generate word-of-mouth referrals, where they can start the process again for the next sale… and the next.

Once you understand these six phases from both the seller's and buyer's perspectives, you can create a world-class sales process.

When sellers know what needs to be done in each phase, they give themselves the best chance of winning. The proof is in the win rate difference.

Download Now: Increase Win Rates & Beat Your Sales Goals White Paper


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Topics: Sales Process