The benefits of having a defined sales process
Whether you have a formal sales process or not, most successful sales people actually use one even if they are not aware of it. The word “process” comes from the Latin procedure, to proceed and is a series of operations or stages which lead to an end product or outcome. Regardless of the product or service your organisation sells, or the size of your operation, it can benefit from identifying and defining the sales process. Without having a sales process, how can you really manage your sales operation? You know what is, or is not, achieved. You do not necessarily know how it was achieved, or why it was not. Management is about achieving results and doing so consistently. To do this you need to understand the how and why. These are the elements you can monitor, act upon where necessary, refine and correct. Achieving your results is an outcome of doing the right things right – and this is where your sales process helps. If you miss out on possible sales and have no clear sales process, you do not really know where it went wrong and, consequently, what to correct or improve.
Organisations which have a clear sales process and integrate it into the way they sell, their sales management and customer planning will be more successful in:
- targeting prospects
- qualifying leads
- effectively presenting features and benefits
- effectively cross and up-selling
- sell value and discount less
- introduce new products or services.
Those with no process, or who do not make their process integral to their sales operation measurably underperform in these areas.
The key principles for any sales process are that it needs to be a logical flow, easy to breakdown into its component parts, able to be monitored, adaptable to suit different selling situations and it can be changed to allow for market conditions. The concept is not new – the Xerox Corporation first identified their sales process about 50 years ago! When working with our clients we have found some sales processes can seem to be very simple because that is appropriate for their market, whereas other might appear complex as their sales cycle and steps are quite involved. Too often organisations develop a sales process which fits the way they think they like to sell without paying enough attention to how their customers buy. Having said this, not every customer buys in exactly the same way so creating a sales process to accommodate this variety is a challenge!
In identifying the best sales process for your organisation it makes sense to start by defining the buying process(es) of your main customer groups. You may find that there is more than one buying process, depending on whether it is a potential new customer or repeat business. However, there may be a number of similarities between them and you can allow for these in your process. Some organisations actually have a structured buying process, especially for significant purchases. Even without a formal process your prospects and customers will go through a series of steps, almost a personal buying process, even if they are not aware of it. Their process might work at two levels, the more formal steps which may be required by their organisation and the informal and personal thoughts they use. Many years ago when I was going through my training as a new salesman, I recall that we were told that the prospects will ask the following questions:
- Will I see this person?
- Do I want to give them my time?
- Do they seem to know what they are talking about?
- Would I do business with their company?
- Do they provide something which we want or need?
- Do I want to deal with the salesperson and their company?
(I’m sure there is another question which I have missed, but it was a long time ago!) Basically, to be successful a seller has to be able to get a “yes” to each question. The sales process needs to help to achieve this and, at the same time, reflect the more formal buying process.
We have been involved with helping organisations to develop sales processes from scratch for new sales operations as well as identifying the best process for established teams. Experience shows that where you have an existing sales operation it is very effective to use the sales team, or a cross-section of them, to work together to identify the steps they go through and arrive at a consensus as a basis for your sales process. (It can help to have a facilitator for this.) We identified a process with the following steps:
- Establish relationship
- Create opportunities
- Identify solutions
- Look after account
This example gives an indication of a simple process where the labels have been able to spell out a word which helps people remember the process. To move this process beyond what is a fairly obvious set of steps, and appears to be totally focused on the selling organisation we have another level of detail. It is this which makes it unique for the organisation where it is used. Against each of these steps are two additional, and much more detailed, stages. On the one side we look at what the customer’s expectations would be at that step and on the other we list the specific best practice activities and behaviours required from the seller. It is driving down to this level of detail which makes it a really effective tool, even if it goes into what might seem to be a statement of the obvious!
For many organisations trying to sell in the present market there seems to be a disconnect between their sales approach and the way in which customers are buying. Too often they come into the buying process once it is well underway, which makes it difficult to influence things. Developing the right sales process for your organisation can help you to reduce the frequency of this happening within your team, and increase the possibility, or even probability, of gaining more sales. Figures from CSO Insights show that organisations in one industry sector alone felt that having, and using, a sales process improved sales performance by over 80% (of which, over 30% was a “significant improvement”.)
As a sales management and a sales development tool a good sales process can help everyone concerned and improve the effectiveness of outsourced sales for startups the sales operation. For sales managers it can be built into both planning and reporting systems. Knowing where people are in the sales process can improve the accuracy of forecasting, and also help to identify any patterns where problems occur. By having a better grasp of the steps in the process the sales managers, and the sales people, can spot difficulties a lot earlier and take action rather than getting more irate after sales targets are missed. When carrying out field visits and sales coaching, the sales process provides a “template” or baseline to assess and coach against. If you have broken down the process to identify the specific behaviours and skills for each stage it is clear what is required for any training or development. When bringing in new sales people, a good sales process can help you to recruit, it enables you to be clear about what is expected so that the applicants can decide if it is right for them. The sales people can use the process to help them identify their own strengths and areas for development. As a tool it provides a huge support for all involved. The well defined process does not have to restrict good and successful sellers as they will already be following most of it. However, even they might find that there are some elements where they can improve further!
There is so much evidence for the power and effectiveness of a well defined (and utilised) sales process, it makes me wonder why so many organisations do not have one, or use the ones they may have. Less than 40% of organisations have a formal sales process, and within that figure, many do not insist on it being an integral part of their overall sales operation. CSO Insights also found that “revising the sales process” was the joint 1st priority for sales managers to improve sales effectiveness. It is not that difficult to develop your own process and to make it detailed whilst fitting with any formal buying process and the individual’s questions listed earlier. If you already have a sales process, when was it last reviewed or revised? Whatever your situation, ask what is stopping you from doing something about the sales process? Get on and do it. All of the evidence is that it helps sales performance. Think of it as a “must have” and not a “nice to have”. Your good sellers will be following a process of their own, often without realising it, and it provides a great basis for managing and directing the sales operation. It does not restrict the top performers. What it can do is lift the middle of the road performers and the under-performers and improve sales results.