Develop a mind-set that always puts the customer first, a skill set that makes you better than the best, and a tool set that makes you faster than the rest.
Sales Process Defined
An established sales process (aka sales pipeline) is a way for organizations to take a systematic approach to selling products or services. Even with all of the changes taking place in selling and the evolution of the sales profession, there is a large body of published evidence that has demonstrated the merits of following a sales process when viewed from the perspective of an engineering discipline.
Reasons for Having a Sales Process
Reasons for having a well thought-out sales process include seller and buyer risk management, standardized customer interaction in sales and scalable revenue generation. A major advantage of approaching sales effectiveness and sales enablement from a process point of view is that it offers a host of well-tested design and improvement tools from other successful disciplines and process-oriented industries. In turn, this offers potential for quicker progress. Quality expert Joseph Juran observed, “There should be no reason our familiar principles of quality and process engineering would not work in the sales process.” A sales team’s fundamental job is to move a greater number of larger deals through the sales process in less time. In a recent intervention I led, a large global organization was able to demonstrate that sales professionals who followed the sales process we introduced had more active sales pipelines, created 20% more opportunities and pursued opportunities that (on average) were 25% larger than their peers. Pipeline activity was captured in the organization’s customer relationship management (CRM) system and we saw first-hand that the top performing reps used the CRM on a regular basis to manage their business. Further analysis, which was completed at the end of the first year the process was in place, revealed that all of these reps were at or above 100% of their sales goals.
Benefits of Sales Process
One of the major benefits of having a defined sales process is that it creates a common sales language within an organization. It is important for everyone to speak the same language, use the same terms, follow the same process, learn the same lessons and share successful strategies and techniques. Communicating becomes more efficient and effective, sales cycles become shorter, sales challenges are more easily overcome and everyone is more empowered and confident in how they go about finding and closing more opportunities. Sales managers can better support their salespeople and provide them with appropriate coaching based on where they are in the sales process in any given opportunity.
Benefits for Sales Professionals from following Sales Process
- Make larger individual sales by executing the activities needed to identify customer needs and presenting solutions that fit their specific needs and motives.
- Strict adherence in the opportunity identification and qualification stages will help reps eliminate poor-fit deals early and free up time for better-fit opportunities.
- Following a process helps reps receive better coaching because sales managers are using a common language to more effectively track activities and pinpoint specific areas for education, training and development.
Overcoming Resistance to Following Sales Process
Introducing change in an organization is never a simple task, however, change is the domain of leadership and so it is an imperative that leaders in an organization evolve the conditions in an organization so the business can meet stakeholder expectations and improve performance in a disciplined and sustained manner. In my experience, there have been some common objections that sales professionals have to implementing sales process. These include not having time to follow a sales process, questions about whether or not it makes them more effective, the desire to close deals quickly, a belief that following sales process won’t help with up-selling or cross-selling current customers and following a process won’t help me sell more profitably.
“I don’t have time to follow a sales process.”
Top performing reps use sales process on a much more regular basis and, as a result, reduce sales cycle times. A study of more than 100 sales reps revealed that almost 40% of top performing reps regularly followed a sales process when compared to their peers who were average performers (they only followed the sales process a little more than a third of the time). Some points to discuss with reps that raise this concern are that following sales process will ultimately save time by:
- Qualifying leads better and faster reps will avoid time being wasted pursuing poor-fit or unproductive opportunities. Doing this reduces internal coordination and resource issues that can create bottlenecks and increase the company’s sales cycle times due to resources being spread too thin by pursuing a lot of poor-fit projects.
“Following a sales process will not make me more effective.”
Research into the tasks completed on a regular basis by sales representative has shown that a seller’s world can be broken down into almost 30 discrete activities. The largest single factor that will enable a sales manager to help one of his/her reps improve is their ability to provide feedback and coaching to each rep’s unique performance improvement needs. Following a sales process enables sales managers to pinpoint specific stages of the process for coaching among the rep’s activities. Sales Executive Council research has shown that sales professionals who receive high quality coaching, defined as a coach’s ability to tailor coaching to the needs of the rep, on average perform above 100% of their quota, which is a significant improvement over those reps who receive low quality coaching. So, the insight here is that following a sales process enables managers to provide better coaching and following sales process facilitates individual improvement.
“I’d prefer to focus on getting a quicker decision from my customers.”
This is understandable…that’s what we all desire, however, moving too quickly will not align a sales process to the prospect’s buying process, which will create a gap and, as a result, what I like to refer to as ‘deal chasing.’ Investing in the right activities at the beginning of a sales campaign will enable reps to ensure they have presented the best solution to the right person in a manner that fits their buying expectations.
Here are the activities that successful sales professionals overweight to shorten their sales cycles:
- Ensure customer is a good fit for the firm’s solutions and business model.
- Identify the right decision maker and potential adversaries within an account so they can best position themselves within the prospect’s political landscape.
- Work collaboratively with the prospect to define priorities and timelines for reaching an agreement.
- Begin to negotiate the final agreement after the prospect has agreed that the proposed solution will fulfill their needs.
- Gather post-on-boarding feedback to pre-load the next potential opportunity.
“Sales process doesn’t help me up-sell my current customers.”
By focusing on the following points during coaching conversations with reps sales managers can help their sales reps understand how sales process will enable up-selling and cross-selling to current clients.
- Analyses of loyal customers and average customers shows that loyal customers spend more and are willing to buy more products in a company’s portfolio.
- Using sales process to position the seller organization as a business partner or a strategic partner will establish the sales person’s credibility, which in-turn will improve customer loyalty and selling opportunities.
“Sales process will not help me sell more profitably.”
Sales process helps reps prevent lower margins by a) taking a disciplined approach to qualifying opportunities that are a good fit for the company and it ensures they are not chasing poor fit deals from the outset; b) Identifying mutual objectives, such as priorities and deadlines, that match the prospect’s expectations; and c) using the time saved by qualifying good fit opportunities to work with the sales manager on strategy, analysis, planning and execution.
As you can imagine, driving sales process adherence takes time and effort on the part of front line sales managers, who should dedicate a significant portion of their time to coaching their salespeople. This is a wise investment of time as it has been shown to reduce ramp-up time for new reps and their time to achieving their quota. Leading this effort and having a defined sales process will improve sales effectiveness, a sales team’s performance and the sales manager’s credibility with their team because they will be able to provide effective coaching that helps people win in their marketplace.
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