Elements of a Typical Enterprise Sales Process

The enterprise sales process is a grind, rife with opportunities for a deal to fall through. When the sales cycle is six months or more and requires sign-off from multiple stakeholders, getting to that final contract can seem tough.

Yet it is possible to navigate enterprise sales successfully. Though every sales process is going to be unique, the key is to understand and follow these best practices for every stage in the process.

Prospecting

It all begins with sales prospecting. In this stage, sales professionals find potential customers and conduct initial research. During this stage, you should evaluate prospects’ viability while also filing away information to use when you contact prospects later:

Some tips for effective prospecting:

  • Identify the markers of good prospects. This will vary depending on your product, so you’ll need to look for commonalities among highly qualified prospects. For example, companies who just finalized an acquisition or hired a new VP might be good prospects for your product.
  • Use social media. Sites like LinkedIn have a wealth of information not only about prospective companies, but also the stakeholders that you’ll need to approach. It can also be helpful to form a relationship on social media before going in for a sales pitch.
  • Figure out the best person to approach. In enterprise sales, there are multiple stakeholders and there isn’t one single individual who can make a unilateral purchasing decision. You want to approach a relevant person with enough sway to make a difference.
  • Become very familiar with the stakeholders you need to approach. If you’re selling to HR professionals, read HR publications and learn what makes this stakeholder group tick. Your buyer profiles are a good starting point, but go beyond your research.

Discovery

The next step is to contact an appropriate stakeholder via cold call or email. If they’re open to talking with you, you will hold a discovery call to learn more about the prospect and their needs.

To make sure the discovery process is centered around customers, try doing the following:

  • Try contacting prospects at different times of the day and different days of the week. A prospect who doesn’t answer on Monday afternoon might well be responsive on Monday morning.
  • When introducing yourself, explain why you’re reaching out. Your explanation should be oriented towards helping customers: “I can help your business solve a problem you might be having.” It isn’t about you.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Instead of asking “are you experiencing this problem?”, give the prospect an opportunity to elaborate. Say, “What are you doing about this issue?”
  • Take notes immediately after completing a call and enter it into the CRM system. This will help jog your memory later.

Demonstration

Once you have a qualified prospect who is amenable to learning more about your product, a formal meeting and demonstration is in order. When possible, conduct the meeting in person so that you can really form a connection. Follow these best practices:

  • Make sure the prospect really is well-qualified before scheduling a demonstration. The entire process (including preparation) is time-consuming, so you don’t want to waste resources on unqualified prospects.
  • Bring other team members along with you. Enterprise sales benefits from consultation with members of the customer success and engineering teams. This helps show the customer what kind of service they’ll receive.
  • Tailor your sales pitch and your presentation such that it’s appropriate for the prospect’s need. Enterprise buyers expect personalized service, so a one-size-fits-all presentation isn’t appropriate. Show up to the presentation having done your homework on the prospect.
  • Work on forming a personal connection with stakeholders. You are trying to build a long-term business relationship with them, and it always helps if they want to work with you.

Consultation

Even if the demonstration and meeting went well, it’s not uncommon for things to get held up during the consultation stage. During this part of the process, prospects are likely having internal conversations and seeking approval from other stakeholders. They might need to prepare a business case for the purchase. But you need to remain involved in the sales process.

Provide the customer with the guidance they need by acting as a trusted consultant:

  • Be prepared to wait. This part of the enterprise sales process can take a long time. It’s important not to give up on a sale, even if it’s taking longer than average for your company.
  • Whenever you “check in,” offer value. It’s very tempting to send emails that remind prospects that you exist. But if you’re not adding value, you’re not helping to close the sale.
  • Ask the customer what they need from you. If you can help them prepare a business case or speak to another stakeholder, you’re proving value.
  • Don’t go in for the close right away. If it doesn’t feel like the customer is ready to buy, don’t try to rush the process.

Pilot Testing

Before signing off with a long-term contract, prospects often require to test the product in a pilot. This allows them to explore your product and service in a low-risk environment and determine if it is indeed the right fit for their business.

Here’s how you can navigate a pilot:

  • Enhance your product demo. Establish a fixed timeline where you can show the benefits of your product to your prospects in a small period of time.
  • Don’t give all of your features away. You’d want to present your product in a way that will prove its benefits while showing your prospects that there’s more to expect from it as well.
  • Define your success criteria. This should be discussed even before your pilot testing begins. Prospects tend to expect too much from a single product but there is no single solution to anything. You need to have a success criteria which the prospect agreed upon on the onset of your pilot.

Onboarding

Ensuring a good onboarding experience is essential to a successful pilot. Even though the customer success team will probably be taking over, enterprise salespeople are still responsible for helping to ensure a great onboarding experience.

There are many things you can do to help with onboarding:

  • Personally introduce your customer to the main people who will be managing their account.
  • Check in with the customer at regular intervals to make sure they have the resources they need for effective implementation.
  • Keep the door open for future communications. This reassures customers that you still have their back even after the pilot starts.

Closing

When the prospect is ready to buy, you can move towards closing. Now it’s time to finalize the deal and work out any outstanding issues.

Here’s how to close effectively:

  • Make sure the process of signing a contract is as simple as possible. Use a software application rather than relying on paper contracts.
  • When you feel the time is right, ask the customer outright about their timeline for completing the deal. Don’t make assumptions.
  • If the deal falls through—and it might—deal with the situation professionally. Thank stakeholders for their time and say you hope they keep you in mind for the future.

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James Meincke

Director of Marketing @ CloserIQ. Previously Recruiter @ ManpowerGroup & Freelance Social Media Strategist. University of Wisconsin Journalism & Strategic Communication Grad.