When I ask sales managers whether their company has a sales process, most say, “Yes, of course.” When I ask them to describe it, few can demonstrate a clear and actionable command of that process. In most cases, salespeople and managers from the same organization will describe vastly difference stages, milestones and steps, indicating that the company has no shared view of the process at all.
Even among organizations that have defined a clear sales process, few of them have a system for tracking progress through it, integrating best practices and holding sales people accountable to that progress and methodology. This is a problem. Sales effectiveness is in crisis, and lack of effective sales process and execution is the culprit. Here are four ways that many organization’s sales processes are failing (also, check out our free sales process tool just below).
Most sales people, when pressed, can name the stages of their company’s sales process: “Research,” “Engage,” “Design,” “Present,” “Negotiate,” etc. They also know some of the activities that should take place during each stage. But that’s as far as they can go. Just because the seller is in the “engagement” stage is no guarantee that the buyer is aligned, nor does it tell the seller what to do to move them into the next stage.
A better sales process includes milestones within each stage. In the early stages, milestones include understanding business drivers, knowing who the relevant stakeholders, their priorities and how decisions are made, and various milestones related to qualifying the prospect. Milestones in later stages might include truly understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the competition (including the status quo), working with client stories and references and creating a business case.
But even a process with defined milestones falls short if sales people lack the skills, resources, and content needed to bring the buyer from one milestone to the next within each stage. This is where sales enablement and training comes in. What questions should the sales person ask? Which pieces of content should they share? How do they know when they buyer is ready to move to the next stage? Waiting too long or trying to early can be disastrous, yet most sales processes don’t provide clear guidance to the salesperson on these critical points.
One common objection to the idea of a granular sales process is that every sale is different. This is especially true for complex sales, where multiple decision makers are involved and there are many moving pieces. It’s for this reason that sales processes often stay at the high level of “stages” that can be more-or-less applied regardless of the complexity of the sale.
Many think details like milestones and important steps should be left to the individual sales person to figure out. “Hey, sales is an art and not a science, right?” Wrong! That’s the type of thinking that leads to long ramp up times for new hires, poor forecasts, and decreasing win rates.
A successful process is dynamic, changing as the conditions of the specific sale change. For instance, if the salesperson knows they’re up against a particular competitor, a dynamic process should prompt them to tailor conversations and content to address perceived strengths and weaknesses against that competitor.
Additionally, there are usually different types of sales processes within the same company: new customer acquisition and account based selling require different approaches to be accounted for. Likewise, different product and service lines may require a different sales approach based on the level of complexity.
Having a sales process is great—adhering to a seller-focused process heedless of what the buyer does is suicide. Many sales processes focus on what the seller should be doing at each stage, and fail to align those activities with the buyer’s process. It’s a natural mistake, because the seller’s activities are visible and trackable, while the buyer’s behaviors may be less so. This makes it hard for the two to get in sync.
In one common example, a salesperson thinks he’s just waiting for the order to come in, but meanwhile the buyer is discussing the project’s priority and deciding if they really want to do the project at all at this time. The seller thinks the buyer is in the “negotiation” stage when the buyer’s actually still in their “consideration” stage. This lack of alignment arises when the sales process fails to account for buyer activities and behaviors.
If your sales process was written years ago and hasn’t changed since, then it’s dead. Buyer needs and behaviors change constantly. The marketplace changes constantly. New best practice research comes out constantly. Effective sales processes are a work in progress, routinely updated as deals are won and lost, new competitors enter the market, the economy changes, and as the company’s own positioning and capabilities change.
Do any of these failures sound familiar to you? You’re not alone. In my work with sales organizations, I’ve rarely encountered one that has already nailed all of these elements of process. If you’d like to know what to do to bring your sales process up to the next level, read the following discussion on how to build a sales process that drives consistent sales results and continuous sales process improvements.
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. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.
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