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    Organizing sales process workflows within your CRM

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    User adoption is one of the most frequently cited barriers to sales process effectiveness. According to many estimates, CRM adoption rates hover around 25% or lower on average. These are appalling numbers.

    While there are many reasons for it, one of the biggest barriers to adoption is the fact that the standard process workflow doesn’t reflect the reality of how salespeople actually work. CRM is the tool most often used to implement and reinforce sales process, and the simple truth is that traditional CRMs were designed for data input accountability and reporting, and not for optimal workflows that guide and support sales people in their daily work.

    Workflows—why they matter

    When you look at the way that salespeople actually work, their time is generally divided into three (often unequal) segments, which may be mixed and matched through the course of the week. In larger organizations, these workflows can be divided between separate teams.

    1. Prospecting and qualifying
      This is a high-volume workflow, often involving many interactions with large quantities of contacts. This is the “hunt” portion of the sales process, and it requires a fast pace and structured follow-ups.
    2. Opportunity management (and account planning)
      Though it may take more of the salesperson’s time, this is a less activity-focused workflow, involving deeper conversations and fewer contacts. This is the more strategic portion of the sales process—it’s slower, deeper, and requires a solid ability to build relationships, customer understanding and ability to design solutions, and to move the prospect forward in their decision processes, as well as collaborating effectively with colleagues and multiple stakeholders.
    3. Analyzing and optimizing won and lost deals
      This is a different type of workflow altogether, possibly involving large amounts of data viewed in aggregate at various intervals. It tends to be collaborative in nature, and is the workflow most often neglected in busy sales organizations.
    What good is activity without progress? Informative and actionable sales workflows is the difference that makes the difference.
    George Brontén

    These workflows each have their own rhythm separate from the others, but in traditional CRM they’re handled in a similar manner. Although contacts may be “marked” based on where they are in the sales process, there’s no separate workflow management for each. Other than a tag or two, leads look like prospects look like opportunities look like customers, and the activities involved in managing each stage of the relationship is handled in precisely the same manner. It seems to be based on the assumption that everyon knows what to do with whom and when, and are just required to log everything so that we "save it in the database" and can pull out reports to see that "activity levels are on par" and that there is a forecast report available for the next board meeting.

    This weakness makes it easy for salespeople to fall into a bad habit of over-focusing on one type of activity over another, and it’s hard for the salesperson or their coach to identify an appropriate balance of activities and to know if activities lead to progress. When using systems only to log activity, it becomes a best effort environment, where each sales person does his best, without the guidance of best practices that should have been captured by the sales teams over time. This also negatively affect ramp up times of new hires, as there's no "map" on how things should be done. It risks creating a sales culture that is reactive rather than proactive.

    A better system divides up the workflow types directly inside the CRM, for easy management.

    Such a system provides a variety of benefits, including:

    • Helps salespeople better organize their time and activities
    • Helps coaches see where individuals salespeople need the most help
    • Provides better quality data to iterate process and workflows

    To show how this works, let’s take a look at how our software, Membrain, divides the workflows, and the benefits that division provides.

    Workflow one: prospecting and qualifying

    Activities in the prospecting stage may include cold calls, email, LinkedIn engagement, booking meetings and any number of other activities designed to gain access to potential clients. In prospecting, the activity level is usually high and efficiency is important.

    Hence, the workflow needs to reflect this and also provide resources for learning, product information, email templates and other content to help the salesperson become more efficient and effective at these activities. Once the salesperson has gained access to a potential prospect, the goal is to qualify customer fit according to a set of criteria and then work to find out if there’s a possible opportunity before converting the prospect into a sales project.


    By managing the prospecting workflow separately from the later stages in the pipeline, salespeople and their managers can quickly see how many leads are in this stage, and what needs to happen for each one to move to the next stage or to be disqualified out of the process. One way of looking at it is as a pre-qualification stage, where leads from marketing efforts are to be managed.

    Prospects only move out of this workflow and into the opportunity management workflow when specific criteria are met based on the company’s unified definition of a qualified prospect. This function makes sales analysis and forecasting more accurate, creates clear and unified definitions of both win rates sales cycles and helps salespeople and their managers get a handle on whether the salesperson’s selling time is effectively balanced between the two primary workflows, prospecting and opportunity management.

    Workflow two: opportunity management & account planning

    Planning and executing sales opportunities as well as planning to maximize accounts is the main workflow in which most salespeople will spend the majority of their time in a complex sales environment. Only fully qualified prospects move into this workflow. From here, the salesperson and managers can see where each opportunity is in the process, as well as how they’re moving through it and whether there are any problem areas to address. While efficiency is important, effectiveness is much more important. In a complex selling environment, each lost account and opportinity hurts and we need to truly make sure to execute well.


    By designing the opportunity management process as a milestones-based progression, we can differentiate between busy-work and progress, which is very important; because, what good are 1000 calls, if they don’t get the customer to progress their buying decision? Also, a well-defined and visualized process allows us to highlight “pause moments”, where we stop and make sure that we’ve completed important steps and activities that could jeopardize the deal if missed. A classic example of this is when sales people stress to later stages with a single stakeholder, hoping that this person will bring the other people on the decision team along with him. Hope is not a strategy and that approach rarely works. It also creates bloated pipelines and incorrect forecasts. Hence, we need to systemize how best practice selling needs to be done within the opportunity management process. And make it easy for both salespeople and managers to get an overview of what has been done and what needs to be done next to maximize the chances of each opportunity.

    Because it is separate from prospecting, it can have specific learning and enablement content embedded directly into it, customized for the stages, activities and milestones in which the salesperson will engage - "content in context". Using dynamic plays, the process can change based on information captured about the customer throughout the sales cycle.

    Workflow three: analyze win/loss to optimize the sales process

    The analytics workflow allows salespeople and sales leaders to easily see how salespeople are doing and where they’re having trouble. Because qualified prospects are managed separately from leads, it’s easy to see how healthy or unhealthy the pipeline is, and where it needs attention.


    The analyze and optimize workflow provides valuable insights that can be fed back into the process to improve performance. For instance, if our win/loss analysis shows that we have a greater chance of winning new customers in a specific industry, we can choose to adjust our qualification criteria to focus more on this space to increase our sales effectiveness. If you learn that you often lose against a specific competitor, add a dynamic play that helps salespeople to overcome the hurdles presented by that competitor, using specific messaging and customer success stories. Over time, adjusting your qualification criteria and capturing knowledge and best practices from the field within your dynamic process, will create a sales infrastructure that your competitors envy, increase your win rates and boost revenues!

    To provide these optimized workflows, our customers use Membrain to complement their existing CRM, such as Salesforce or SAP, or as a standalone sales platform (we include a CRM database), while other organizations develop proprietary technology to accomplish this. Whichever way you do it, make sure to convert your sales process into informative and actionable workflows and make how you sell your competitive advantage!

    Click here to schedule a personalized demo of Membrain

    George Brontén
    Published May 4, 2016
    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. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn