Most people in sales would agree that having a process is a good thing. A good process provides guidance for sellers and enables some governance around the sales effort: knowing where we are, where we are headed, and what we should be doing next. Ultimately this helps the sales team be more effective, win more deals, drive up revenue etc. However, traditional sales processes in use in many, if not most, organisations today fall far short of this. In this post I will introduce three ideas which can help and offer ways to improve:
- Separation of concerns
- Power of check lists
- Focus on outcomes
Separation of Concerns
Nearly every sales process I have ever used, seen in use, or read about, is monolithic, linear and sequential. They all assume a process consisting of neat, well defined series of stages, one following the other. In reality I have never found a sales or opportunity cycle to be so simple. Things frequently occur which are outside of our control, including customer and competitor behaviour.
What we need is a process which allows for this reality, providing valuable guidance while letting the sales team act with a degree of autonomy and agility, responding to changes and events as they occur. Otherwise the team will tend to abandon the process for all practical purposes, only resorting to it for reporting, when it will then have to “force-fit” the actual status of the opportunity into the process somehow.
As soon as this occurs, guidance and governance falter. You no longer know where you are, where you are going, or how to get there. The map no longer reflects the territory. Communication and collaboration between the sales team and sales leadership will become more difficult as the team necessarily strays “off-piste” with the process no longer being relevant to the situation on the ground.
Separation of concerns within the sales process provides a way to overcome this, by breaking out the different aspects of the sales cycle so they can be tracked independently, and in parallel. This enables the sales team to plan and execute their strategy, and report on the state of their opportunity more effectively. Typical concerns or aspects of a sales process are: our understanding of the business opportunity, our relationship with the customer, our knowledge of the customer’s requirements, the definition of our solution, and the evolution of our strategy to win the opportunity. The result is a more agile process which supports and guides the sales team, while maintaining governance and true visibility of opportunity status for sales leaders.
The Power of Checklists
Checklists are a commonly used tool to help ensure that highly trained professionals (for example: surgeons, airline pilots and astronauts) do the right thing at the right time, and don’t forget to do anything vital to the success of their mission. All of these types of people are highly trained and experienced: they know how to do their job, but simple reminders in the form of checklists are an important way to ensure their efforts stay on track and help ensure successful outcomes. Simple checklists can help reduce human error dramatically. Some reports suggest that surgical checklists introduced by the World Health Organization have helped reduce mortality rates in major surgery by as much as 47%.
So, as our sales teams are also highly trained and experienced professionals, who are generally too busy to read lengthy volumes of text (remember the manual from your last sales training class?) and occasionally forgetful, a checklist-based approach will be helpful in reducing error, ensuring the important things are done, and maximising good outcomes.
Focus on Outcomes
Sales processes that define specific tasks or activities to be done at certain stages within the process are often too rigid and restrictive. “First do this, next do that, then do this”. Rarely will the evolution of an opportunity abide by the strict sequence of activities as defined by the people who wrote the process. The process should focus on the “what” not the “how”, or better still, the outcome that we need to get to. Remember the team is a bunch of highly trained and experienced professionals; allow them the freedom to decide on the best tools, techniques and practices to adopt, and empower them to figure out how to get where they, and their customer, need to go.
In summary then, a good sales process should:
- separate out the different aspects of the selling cycle to allow parallel tracking and enable greater agility
- provide powerful checklists to ensure the team does not forget to do the really important things
- focus on outcomes rather than activities, allowing the team to use their experience to choose the correct approach.
This will lead to an empowered sales team, improved collaboration between sellers and sales leaders, and more accurate governance, i.e. knowing the true state of an opportunity, how to move it forwards, and when to shut it down and move to better qualified prospects. The Essential Sales Process is a great example of this approach. Why not try it for yourself?