Great Conversation on Sales Process

The need for a sales process is a topic that I have commented on here and I am sure will continue to comment on in the future.  Today, I would like to link to a couple of other blogs that have touched on the subject in the last week.  Both of which I thin make some good comments.

The first blog was written by David Brock, ‘But We Have A Sales Process”. To quote David, “Without a process, selling is like taking a random walk through the forest—you never know where you’ll end up. A well-defined sales process provides a clear roadmap of the most effective and efficient means to facilitate the customer in their buying process.” I don’t want to steal all his thunder but the blog is worth a read and make some good points.  If you think you have a sales process, assess if your sales team is actually following the process. If you are using the process that came embedded in your CRM system, have you adapted it to the specific needs and lessons learned by your sales team?  If you want it to be a relevant and meaningful process, make sure it fits your needs.

The second blog that I would like to bring to your attention is one by Dave Stein, “More Excuses For Not Doing The Right Thing About Sales Effectiveness”.  Dave starts by giving us a definition for the sales process which is NOT synonymous with your sales methodology.  A sales process does not stifle creativity!  A process will actually enable and support creativity. Think of the most creative members of our community – painters, musicians, actors.  They almost all follow a process when creating great works.

Use your sales process.  Keep it simple and embrace it.  It will help you take the mystery and unpredictability out of your work.

Your Sales Process And Buying Process: In Sync?

Let me tell you a story.

A couple of weeks ago, I reconnected with a former co-worker. After being out of touch for several years, we had a great conversation catching up on the paths our respective careers had taken.  At some point during this conversation, the topic of office space came up and she offered to introduce me to her contact where she is leasing space.  I’m only starting my search but thought this sounded like a great opportunity.  If she was happy and could get me in touch with a helpful person that would be great.

During the next week I had a phone conversation with somebody, a meeting was set-up for me to see their space and, getting a little excited and curious, I did some research on their website. It is important to note that instead of inviting me to tour the office where my friend was located, I was instead invited to tour another downtown location.  I was a little disappointed but figured it was a detail that could be worked out.

I arrived as scheduled on the day of the appointment. From this point on, the sales process went completely off the rails. Instead of being greeted by “Kathrine” as scheduled, “Peter” met me and told me that Kathrine was on vacation.  Peter was a nice enough guy, but he wasn’t familiar with the office and had to ask for assistance to give me a tour. The information that I received during this visit was almost exactly the same information that I had found on their web site, and nothing more.

My frustration with this experience has only grown as time has passed.  A dozen little miss-steps because the sales process and my buying process were not in sync add up to a missed opportunity.

  1. A warm referral is depersonalized: We all like to hang out with our friends. Why during the process of receiving my referral and recommending properties, didn’t anybody acknowledge or suggest the same location as my contact? What a great opportunity to have a truly unique offer? Did their CRM system not allow for this information to be captured? Are locations with more capacity pushed to the top of the list or are incentives given to push these properties? Whatever the cause, the results were cool lack of personalization.
  2. Lack of new information = no value from visit: In other entries on this blog I have written about how much executives are using the web to do research. I was no exception. During a down moment, when I was getting excited about the opportunity I had read their website. Poked around it, familiarized myself with some of the amenities and different programs. Having done this, it was infuriating to take time out of a busy day, a busy week to simply be given the same information.
  3. Do you want my business? Where is the follow-up? I took time out of my schedule five days ago to visit your property. To me that is a big buy signal because time is my most precious resource.  There has been no follow-up to get feedback, see if I have questions or even to see if I want to move forward.

This experience reminded me of how important it is to get the sales process in sync with the buying process.  From the first step of understanding where the referral came from to being unable to expand on the knowledge I had found on the website it felt like the buying I wanted to do and the selling of the facility were out of sync. The unfortunate result is that instead of feeling like I was getting a fair price from a place I was predisposed to like. I know feel annoyed and underwhelmed and will go shop for alternatives. I would have been happy to have an excuse not to shop for different options, there are other ways I would like to spend my time.

How do you align your sales process with your customers buying process? Have you been able to incorporated customer needs into the sales process? Or is it driven only by corporate needs?

Assess Your Sales Organization – 8 Questions

I just read a GREAT blog post by Melissa Raffoni on the HBR Now blog. I have long believed that many organizations are leaving money on the table because they do not have a clear sales strategy or an effective sales organization to execute the sales strategy.  Too often as I talk to executives about sales and what they are doing to improve sales the extent of the work being done is to consider training or compensation and there are so many other elements that can to be considered and leveraged to improve the sales team effectiveness. Melissa in her blog considered the question of sales effectiveness and by asking good questions suggests some of the opportunities that are out there for companies to capitalize on.

Here are Melissa’s questions. Can your organization answer these questions?

  1. “Okay, tell us again, what’s your value proposition? Why should customers choose you over the competitors?” It’s so basic, isn’t it? Yet, I continue to be amazed at how difficult it is to answer this question well. With the constantly changing competitive landscapes and customer needs, every company should take a second look at what they are pitching and why it still resonates today. I’m sure, for most, the value proposition needs a face lift.
  2. “What is your sales process and how does your organizational structure map to it?”
  3. “Do you think your overall cost of sales is where it should be? What makes you think that? Are you comparing to an industry standard or mapping to a projected financial model?”
  4. “What key measures are you using to track sales effectiveness? Do you have a sales dashboard?” Is it cost of sales as a percentage of revenue, close ratio, sales person productivity? Something else? You can’t really optimize if you don’t know which lever you want to move.
  5. “If you believe there are two ways to drive sales–increase the funnel and/or increase the close ratio–what are you doing to achieve those increases?”
  6. “Is sales compensation driving the right behaviors?” Is there enough of a variable compensation component to make a difference?
  7. “It’s a new world, how are you taking advantage of it?” Partners are willing to talk, new talent is on the street, customers are looking for high ROI offerings, social media is changing how people communicate. Are you experimenting?
  8. “Do you have the right people?”

Check out Melissa’s entire blog post here: Eight Questions To Assess Your Sales Organization

Sales Organization Phases

I heard an interesting talk this morning at the CFO Forum hosted by Broadpeak Collaborative in downtown Chicago.  The speaker was John Aplin, Managing Partner of CID Capital. During the talk, John described the two different phases in an organization’s development.

The first phase is the entrepreneurial or creative phase.  Those who have been in start-up organizations or have worked with them will easily recognize this phase. They are characterized by a creative drive to solve problems and a lack of organization or management controls.  As John observed, it is at this stage in a company’s life when legends are created.  It is the stories of amazing herculean feats to close deals with key customers that live on in organizations and shape their culture.

It is also in this creative phase that the seeds are planted for the “control crisis” that occurs as organizations reach the point when they need to evolve to the next phase – the administrative or maintenance phase.

At some point organizations reach the point as they continue to grow when they cannot maintain the quality and service levels that they want to provide to their customers.  In order to maintain the expected level of quality they need to create and build the repeatable business processes that can be measured and managed.  These business processes not only allow a company to continue to grow but also are essential for that growth.  They also plant the seeds for the next crisis. The “stagnation crisis” occurs because companies become too internally focused and too married to their business process that they can no longer change.

While this description of a company’s life cycle is not particularly unique, I had a sense of hearing it again for the first time as I think about the challenges that face business owners and sales leaders as they lead their team and about the work that I do with these teams.

The sales team is, in most cases (all?), the group that will hold onto the creative phase and resist evolution to a mature and business process focus the longest. They frequently work shoulder to shoulder with the heroes and heroines of the corporate legends who got it done for their customers, who brought in the tough deals against the odds.

They are close to the customer and sometime during their past sold for organizations that had become too bureaucratic.  They have felt the pain first hand when they cannot deliver for the customer.  They are the customers’ protectorates and advocates, being unresponsive are their greatest fear.

But even here, even in sales, at some point a company needs to introduce a level of structure and yes, a process to continue to grow.  Or perhaps, I should say especially in sales.  At an individual level, the best sales people recognize that much of selling is a disciplined process – calling and following up, qualifying opportunities.  These are not random occurrences but refined sales techniques that the best sales people have developed over time.

The trick is to introduce this discipline across the organization without stifling the creativity that is also so much a part of the developing relationships with customers. So what is an organization to do? Step lightly. Collaborate with customers, and with the sales and marketing team.  Recognize that less maybe more, especially as you begin the journey.  Minimize what is required and back that up with metrics and evidence that proves to the whole team, why what is required is a better way. Encourage and incorporate innovation into the process.  Maybe even build a process to keep listening to the customer in order to fend of the ‘stagnation crisis’.

People can survive their life crises by enduring them, companies cannot.  If companies do not face their crises, they will flounder and collapse. There is an uneasy tension between creative and administrative that constantly needs to be rebalanced. Face the uncertainty, take a step forward but don’t stand still.

Want To Improve Sales? Track, Measure, Adapt

No company has ever gotten everything right on the first go around. Even if you were the first to do so, the world changes and you need to be ready to change and adapt. Many companies’ under performance is due to breakdowns between strategy and operations. A critical step is to capture performance metrics on your sales process.  These metrics enable you to learn from your own experiences, to test new approaches and adapt so that you are continuously improving. These metrics will enable you monitor progress and see where there are challenges that need to be addressed.

Developing discipline around measuring and adapting your sales process provides a foundation for identifying and capture best practices. Develop the habit of investigating ‘why’ things are happening. Monitor your sale funnel. Where are opportunities dropping out of the process? Who is able to shorten the sales process?  Talk to the sales team about what they are doing and what is working for them. With your sales process in place and a closed-loop management system you can test your theories and measure the results.  If the results justify it, you can adapt your sales process to spread new ‘leading practices’ across your team, improving everybody’s performance.

Creating discipline for seeking out and documenting best practices enables you to retain lessons learned within the company instead of having the insights walk out the door with the latest sales rep that leaves for the competition.

Standardize and Document Your Sales Process

During my last post, I highlighted the challenge of high turnover which exists in many sales organizations. The thought that I shared was to suggest building an operating model within the sales organization that takes this reality into consideration instead of hoping for the day when turnover can be reduced. Probably, the most critical step to building this operating model is to standardize and document your sales process.

It is important at this juncture to differentiate between a sales methodology and a customized sales process. There are a number of sales methodologies out there – Target Account Selling, Spin Selling, Solution Selling, etc. Methodologies give you a framework for outlining what you need to do and for training selling skills:  find the economic buyer, build rapport with your prospect, close the sale, etc.

In addition to sales your methodology, a sales process further outlines the ‘how’ and gives the sales team a “recipe” to follow. My roommate in grad school was one of those rare individuals who could open up the cupboard and make a fantastic meal with whatever scraps of food he found on the shelves. Most of us are not that talented. Perhaps we can manage scrambled eggs easily enough, but what about making Eggs Benedict without a recipe for Hollandaise sauce? or tackling a five-course meal and having it all ready at the same time? Similar to preparing a complicated meal, the more complicated the customers buying process is the more critical it is to define a sales process. The sale process defines what a sales ready lead it, what steps should be taken & when to qualify the lead, it defines how to engage other members of the sales team into the selling process and it captures different sales stages and what activities should be happening to shorten the sales cycle. The sales process helps everybody remember critical activities and thereby increases the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Detailed documentation of your sales process will be particularly useful in helping to get new employees up to speed. Recent research showed ramp-up time for new reps was over seven months for half of the companies surveyed. Any improvement to reduce this time, even by one month, will have significant impact on generating revenue and hitting quarterly and annual targets. With any volume of new sales representatives due to growth or turnover it will become hard, if not impossible, for the manager to keep up with the ‘windshield’ time required to on-board a new employee. The detailed documented sales process compliments the management coaching to help the reps be successful as quickly and independently as possible.

Whenever possible standardize your sales process across teams, divisions and departments. Your sales process gives you a language to use to discuss events and opportunities within your organization. It facilitates the sharing of information up the organization as well as across the organization. The more terms are standardized, the easier it is for this flow of information and learning to occur.