As we discussed last week, very few companies currently have an effective, actionable sales process in place that meets the needs of the current market environment for their industry. This failure of sales process has led to a global sales effectiveness crisis that gets worse every year rather than better.
One reason for this failure is that the task of bringing sales process up to best practice standards is complex and can be overwhelming. Leaders invest in sales methodologies, training, and technology, without getting at the root of the process problem, because they don’t know that a granular and dynamic process is achievable. To overcome this obstacle, I’ve attempted in this article to outline a staged approach that helps sales organizations to achieve a best practice process that is easy to follow in daily operations, even in a complex sales environment, to consistently reach targets.
1) Understand the customer’s why
Every effective sales process starts with the buyer. What drives the buyer’s decision to consider a change and possibly involve your organization to assist? What are they after, in real terms? Too often, sales process focuses on answering buyer’s questions without answering what the buyer is really after, their “Why?” An effective sales process with a built-in methodology helps sales people figure this out. Buyer interviews, salesperson interviews, and industry research can help to define the answers that we integrate into the process.
2) Define milestones
Most companies already define sales process stages—“engage,” “design,” “present,” etc. What most fail to define are the milestones and key steps within those stages. Milestones can include understanding where the buyer is in the process, and ensuring that we engage all the relevant stakeholders. At different milestones, you may need to use scorecards to determine how much company resources should be invested into the sales project.
Place each milestone within the appropriate stage, and train salespeople to meet them within those correct stages. This will immediately address the common problem of presenting solutions and discussing price too early, by reminding sales people to wait for the right time in the process. It will also address problems with sales process hand-offs, by reminding everyone when to complete the hand-off and how to do it. And, of course, it will make it easier for salespeople to help buyers move from one stage to the next.
3) Build in skills and resources
With milestones defined and put in their proper places, it’s time to get even more granular by providing salespeople with the specific skills, activities, and resources to move from milestone to milestone. For instance, under “buyer’s industry,” case studies related to that industry should be available for the sales person to share with customers. For other milestones, there may be particular methodology-related training or activities that apply. Bake them into the process to help salespeople move from milestone to milestone.
4) Continuously improve
Once the sales process is built and salespeople are trained, it’s not enough to simply let it do its thing. Leading sales processes continuously improve by soliciting and responding to feedback from reality—from the salespeople, from buyer behavior, from win/loss analysis. Take this feedback and codify the winning activities and resources into the process, build in activities to prevent the bad things happening, and remove activities that have neither a good nor bad effect. This latter activity ensures that the process remains relevant, actionable, and that salespeople aren’t wasting their time. Done right, the process becomes your “structure capital” to speed up the time to ramp up time for new hires, minimize costly sales mistakes (reading tip: stop killing deals), create more accurate forecasts and consistently reach your sales targets.
5) Align process with technology and systems
All the training and process building in the world won’t do much good if salespeople aren’t equipped and held accountable to follow the process. Likewise, if the process is perceived as more work than it’s worth, salespeople will find ways to go around it.
Traditional CRMs do a good job of collecting information about what stage a sale is in and what activities salespeople have engaged in, but a terrible job of providing the tools, resources, and accountability to aid salespeople in following the company’s sales process and using best practices.
To do a better job, companies must invest in technologies that turn process and methodology into second nature by providing salespeople with guidance, reminders and resources. Using sales enablement software (like Membrain, for instance) allows sales leaders to build in not only checklists, but also videos and content that explain why each element is important, content to send to the buyer based on their place in the process, dynamic reminders when steps are missed, and access to training content relevant to each step.
Such a technology system creates an environment where the salesperson grows with every deal, while providing feedback to leadership for continuous improvement.
There’s no doubt that such a system takes time to build, and also no doubt that building it will drive exceptional sales performance. One organization that has implemented both the process and the technology system to support it describes the result as “increasing sales efficiency, reducing subjectivity, and enhancing forecast accuracy.” Others cite increased productivity, stronger pipeline, and less time wasted on poor quality opportunities.
Where is your organization in this? Is your sales process still too high-level, static, or dead? Make plans this year to start building the process that will drive your organization to its next level.