But I already have a sales process...

George Brontén

According to science, you are less beautiful than you think. When you get up in the morning, comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face - and you take a look in that mirror, it turns out that what you see there is not what your friends and associates see. To them, you look much worse.

This fact is based on several studies cited in Scientific American, in which participants were shown pictures of themselves, one enhanced and one not, and asked to identify which one was the non-enhanced version. Most people chose the enhanced version for themselves but, presented with the same task on someone else, they chose the correct version. Ouch.

And it’s not just looks. Similar studies cited in the same article show that people consistently overestimate the likelihood that they will engage in a desirable behavior, while accurately estimating the likelihood for others. In one well-known example, participants were asked whether they were better than or worse than most drivers. Ninety-three percent rated themselves as “better,” even though statistically that can’t be accurate.

In other words, you’re really not as great as you think you are.

Depressed yet?

Not as depressed as you will be in a minute. Take a look at the same principle in action in your sales department. When I ask groups of sales professionals if they follow a sales process, most of them say yes. When I ask those same groups to describe their process, almost all will stumble over the answer, describe it as the drop-down menu in their CRM, or outline a process vastly different from the process outlined by everyone else in their department (each of whom also has their own unique “process”).

In other words, just because you think you have a sales process, doesn’t mean you do. And whatever you are calling “sales process” probably isn’t as great as you think it is.

Why your process isn’t as robust as you think

According to CSO Insights, a formal and/or dynamic sales process correlates strongly with top sales performance. Yet the vast majority of organizations have an ad hoc process at best. Among those that have made the investment to develop a formal sales process, many have placed it literally in a binder on a shelf, where it gathers dust while salespeople continue winging it.

If you think that your process is robust, but your team is still struggling to achieve consistent effectiveness, odds are that your process is at least partly to blame. Let’s take a look at what a robust sales process is and is not.

What a sales process is not

A sales process is not a drop-down in your CRM

Many popular CRMs include a built-in (and/or customizable) set of stages with which you can label opportunities. These are usually some variation on: Prospect, Develop, Propose, Negotiate, Close (Won/Lost). While categorization is useful, these dropdowns are a tracking mechanism, rather than a guide for salespeople to move prospects toward the sale, and they are often highly subjective.

A sales process is not the same as a sales methodology

Many popular methodologies contain the kernels of a sales process. For instance, the Sandler methodology’s famous “submarine” shows seven stages: Bonding and rapport, Upfront contracts, Pain, Budget, Decision, Fulfillment, Post-sell. This is more useful for guiding the salesperson than a drop down menu, and it can form the beginning of a sales process, but it is still not the fully articulated and dynamic sales process an organization needs to drive sales effectiveness.

A sales process is not a strait jacket

One of the most common complaints about formal sales process is that it will limit the salesperson’s freedom and turn their job into a series of uncreative steps. In fact, a well-designed sales process does the opposite. It makes the standard aspects of the sales process routine, and frees the salesperson to use their creativity and intelligence where it matters - much as a pilot and a surgeon uses a checklist to make the standard aspects of the job routine, so that her creativity and intelligence are freed up to respond to unexpected situations when they arise.

What an effective sales process actually is

An effective sales process is a dynamic, milestone-based framework that guides salespeople, step by step, in moving buyers from prospect to satisfied, profitable customer. It will usually consist of stages, milestones, content, and key activities, and should always be based on best practices. It should help salespeople to from making simple mistakes that can kill deals. A dynamic process provides salespeople will serve them with the right playbooks for each stage of the process and based on the unique characteristics of each particular customer and situation. A continuously optimized process collects and analyzes win/loss data and feeds new best practices back into the system on a consistent basis.

The elements of an effective sales process

In order for a process to be effective, it has to be more than a document in a binder on a shelf, or a drop-down in the CRM. It must guide salespeople through each deal and support them in performing at their best every time. For that reason, an informative and actionable sales process should incorporate:

  • Stages, milestones and activities based on best practices
    For more information on how to build your sales process, start here.
  • An appropriate methodology
    The methodology gives salespeople the methods and tactics to move buyers through the sales process. Without it, most salespeople may know what they’re supposed to do next, but not how to do it. Our Top 10 Methodologies white paper can help you choose the methodology that’s right for you.
  • Solid skills training
    While the methodology provides tactics, skills give salespeople the ability to execute those tactics - what questions to ask, how to ask them, when to ask them, etc. Without skills, methodology training is a useless exercise in knowledge gathering. And there will be no progress through the process. 
  • Sales enablement
    Sales enablement in this context gives salespeople the tools and resources to execute on the process. It may include as-needed training videos and other content that reminds salespeople how to do the next thing. It can also include customer-facing content for the salespeople to use at the appropriate point in the sales process, such as email templates, whitepapers, storytelling outlines and case studies.
  • The right technology
    To avoid the dusty-shelf problem, the sales process should be built directly into the salesperson’s daily workflow. The right technology platform, such as Membrain, will support process, methodology, skills training, and sales enablement all in one place.

Take a look in the mirror

Now, take an honest look in the mirror. You may not be able to take off that unwanted ten pounds or change the shape of your nose, but you can change the shape of your organization with an effective sales process. What will it take for you to do that?

Design your own process in our free excel tool here

George Brontén
Published January 18, 2017, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.