The global sales failure rate of a staggering 41.9%. It’s easy to blame outside factors—global competition, copycats, changing market conditions, or even a bad marketing process. But the truth is, if we’re going to turn sales performance around, we have to take a good, hard look at sales process. Here’s why.
There is a very fascinating book called “The Checklist” by surgeon Atul Gawande. The advice in the book is 100% applicable for sales leaders who are looking for ways to improve processes that positively impact performance. Atul makes the case that the volume and complexity of knowledge exceeds the individual’s ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably. With real-world examples, Atul describes how surgeons fail to consistently execute routine tasks, increasing the likelihood of complications that can cause patients to die.
The same is true in sales. A sure way to kill a deal is to miss a step in the sales process.
What I find interesting is that most of us hold the perception that surgeons are highly intelligent and knowledgeable and we trust our lives to them. But surgeons are not immune to missing details and cutting corners. Just as surgeons need guidance, sales leaders and team members do too.
What’s needed is a system that captures and encourages best behaviors and ensures that all sales people can and do carry out the right activities with the right people at the right time (i.e. helping buyers through their decision-making process), and provides visibility for managers to provide effective coaching and correction.
For instance, New Zealand-based SalesStar experienced a 67% win rate increase after partnering with Membrain to integrate their best practices and sales strategy with the system their sales people were using.
Contrary to popular belief, selling is really about helping people get from one point to a more attractive one. You need to help your clients see opportunities that they didn't know they could reach. In b2b sales, people at one company sell goods and services to help people at another company save or gain resources, money and intangibles, such as goodwill.
In order to help your clients, the value of your offering needs to be perceived as higher than the risks and costs associated with changing the status quo.
The spectrum of sales is vast, ranging from highly transactional to varying degrees of complexity. Usually, people think complexity increases proportionally to the price tag. This is not always the case; rather, complexity is determined by the perceived risk for the buyer.
For example, purchasing new computers for all employees may be expensive, but a budget will be allocated and the nature of the sale is actually quite transactional. Treating such a sale as complex would be a waste of time and resources, unless the selling company can skillfully reposition the buyer’s definition and change the decision criteria from that of a hardware purchase to a question of productivity boosts, time-savings and environmental gains. By reframing the conversation this way, additional avenues for bundled services may also open up.
This type of business creativity could convert a transactional, low-margin deal into a high-margin opportunity. To successfully implement and sustain such best sales practices, a more complex sales process and methodology is required.
Selling transactional products over the phone can work, although it’s getting more and more difficult because it’s not how most people prefer to buy. Nowadays, people tend to buy these kinds of products online.
That said, activity level is key when you have very short sales cycles, which is only possible if the buyer can make the decision alone and the product or service has a low perceived risk. In this equation, the old expression “it’s a numbers game” actually holds true. The person successful in this type of sale is not afraid of conflict, does not take “no” personally and is motivated by the competitive nature of getting to the “yes”. They often need to see quick returns on their efforts and tend to get bored when projects take too long and instead move on to the next one.
When the purchase becomes more risky for the buyer and more people are affected, the stakes are raised. One or two phone calls with a “special offer” will not do the trick. The sales person now needs to really understand the customer’s business objectives and prove she can help achieve them with the least perceived risk possible. Often, the sales person must be able to help reframe the customer’s priorities. This requires business acumen, industry knowledge and interpersonal skills.
If the solution to be purchased will affect many people and processes in the buying company, the perceived risk increases. When more people are impacted by the decision, their needs and fears need to be taken into consideration. In truly complex sales, there will be a lot of stakeholders on both ends and politics will come into play. Do you think a person successful in a transactional sales environment will automatically shine in this type of sales project? Very unlikely.
To help people navigate these complex environments, we need to provide the conditions for consistent success.
Wait, what's the difference? Sales process and methodology sometimes get mixed up, which can become very confusing and costly. In order to maximize the effectiveness of a sales team, there can’t be any confusion between the two.
Using a metaphor, I’d like to describe the sales process as a treasure map. It has a clear starting point and a big X marking the treasure. There’s never a straight line to get to the treasure and in sales it’s a journey you make with your prospect.
It’s not always clear from the beginning what the treasure will contain, but if it’s perceived to be substantial, there are likely to be many stakeholders involved and it will take some time to get there. The map will outline important milestones and provide guidance along the way, but the journey will involve many challenges to overcome, which will vary from case to case.
To make sure the journey is worth traveling and to maximize the outcome, the map needs to be complemented with techniques and skills on how to get to the destination. How and when you apply these on your journey, such as rapport-building, active listening, mindful questioning, framing and business acumen determines the success of your quest. Some of these skills and techniques can seem easy to learn on the surface, while truly mastering them can take a lifetime of practice.
Having the skills and techniques but lacking a map is ineffective. Having the map and lacking the skills and techniques is even worse. Sales process and methodology need to be combined for maximum effect. We can imagine methodology like topology on the map, now clearly seeing hills, valleys and obstacles and proactively being able to navigate through them. Another layer provides the structure to provide continuous learning and coaching while on the journey.
A lot of companies invest loads of money into sales methodology training, without providing maps and navigational tools thereafter. Research shows that as much as 87% of new skills is forgotten within three months if not reinforced in daily operations.
Another mistake is failing to educate the managers and providing them with the resources needed to ensure that the newly learned skills will be converted to successful behaviors.
The biggest mistake is not even realizing that a map and resources are needed; causing massive hidden costs such as high staff turnover, low win rates and eroded margins. Sales people, management and leadership need navigation equipment to create an interactive map combining process and methodology and always make the journey educational.
There are so many great resources available to learn more about sales process. How to get started. How to excel. And what not to do, which is equally important. See below for some of the absolute thought leaders and resources in this space.