Most organizations I work with have a sales process. But when I look at it, it’s not THEIR sales process.
Sure it’s a sales process, but it’s not theirs. That is, they’ve leveraged the same generic sales stage steps that came with their CRM system. Or they’ve used the generic sales process from the sales training company they last used. Or it’s the process they put in place 10 years ago.
It’s a sales process (or some semblance), but it’s not THEIR sales process.
Often, coincidentally, they aren’t using it. Sales people say, “It doesn’t work.” It’s easy to understand, why would we expect someone else’s process to work for us?
The generic sales processes too many organizations use, perhaps supplied by a sales training vendor, or copied from a book, represent the composite of hundreds of other organizations. They represent a composite of B2C, B2B, B2B2C, transactional, complex, short cycle, long cycle and everything in between. They represent the processes for manufacturing, high tech, consumer products, financial services, healthcare, pharma, professional services, natural resources, transportation, distribution, process, and other industries. They represent the sales processes of giga-global enterprises, large corporations, small and medium size businesses, solopreneurs. They are the sales processes for European, African, Southeast Asian, China, Japanese, Korean, Australian, Eastern European, Middle East, Russia, South-Latin-North America.
These sales processes represent the collective recommendations of hundreds to thousands of organizations the training company or the consultant have worked with. But they don’t represent YOUR Sales Process.
Your sales process is always unique to you and your customers. It is based on data–your past history of success in engaging your customers as they buy. It represents the things your organization does consistently, and in a disciplined manner that causes you to effectively capture the attention of your customers, help them navigate their buying process, create value that is meaningful/impactful to them, distinguish your offerings from competition, and, ultimately win their business.
Analyzing who you win with, how you win, how you differentiate yourself, the most impactful ways you engage customers, and other factors give you your sales process. It’s not one or a few wins. It’s not what one sales person does=even if that person is a high performer. It’s the collective experience of your organization and it’s history of winning.
Loss analysis doesn’t help a whole lot. It gives you patterns of what you do to lose–clearly you should stop doing this things, but it doesn’t tell you what you do consistently to win.
It takes work to develop YOUR sales process. You need to collect and analyze data, you need to interview your customers. You need to look for the patterns that drive success. It’s not a lot of work, but you still have to understand, specifically, what drives success.
Once you’ve engineered YOUR sales process, then it requires ruthless execution. People who aren’t using it, are “voting” for failure–after all the sales process is based on what drives success. Managers who don’t reinforce it in coaching sessions, are managing for low performance, not top performance.
No, YOUR sales process doesn’t last forever, the world, competition, and your customers change. Your business model changes. You need to tune, re-engineer your sales process based on those changes–the shifts in patterns, changes in results.
Our jobs as sales professionals and managers are to maximize performance and the results we produce. Why use someone else’s formula for success. Their business is different. Figure out your own formula for success and execute, execute, execute!
“I’ll Know It When I See It.” I hear that phrase way too often.
I hear it when I’m talking to a manager about hiring new people. Usually it’s in response to a question I ask like, “What specific skills, experiences, competencies, attitudes, and behaviors are you seeking in the ideal candidate?”
Or when I talk to someone about their search for partners or strategic alliances. Usually, in this case, it’s in response to “What’s the profile of the ideal partner?”
Often, when I talk to a sales person about qualifying prospects. They seem somehow to feel or intuit whether a deal is real, whether it’s the right one, whether the customer wants to change.
Or when I’m trying to understand their sales process, “How do your customers buy, what are the critical things you have to do to align with their buying process and help them navigate it.” There the response is a variant of “I’ll know it when I see it,” it’s, “When you’ve done as many deals as we have, you just instinctually know what to do.”
Each time I hear those words, I ask the follow up question, “Well how will you know?” It’s usually followed by a lot of hemming, hawing, big arm motions, often with phrases, “I’ve been doing this a long time….” or “It’s easy to recognize…….”
Sometimes the response is a list of very broad generalities. Then when I press for more specifics, there’s an exacerbated sigh with the familiar, “Well you just know!”
“I’ll know it when I see it!” When I hear those words, I cringe. To me, it’s a huge red flag, usually confirmed by their inability to respond when asked, “Well, how will you know?” In my experience, the person saying those words is either clueless–but doesn’t recognize it, or too lazy to do the homework critical to getting what they want/need, not what they get.
If you’ll know it when see it, then you should be able to articulate it to great detail! Yes, if you’ve been doing it successfully for a long time, you should have the specific data and information needed to answer that question. You should know:
When recruiting, “People who are successful in our organization have these specific skills, competencies, behaviors, attitudes, experience. They display it in these ways…. They produce these results… ” You can write it down, weight each one and use those criteria in your recruiting/interviewing process.
When looking for partners/alliances, “Organizations that have this vision, these values, the willingness to take these risks, invest these resources, share in the returns/rewards…. They have these specific capabilities, priorities, goals…..” You can list the specific attributes of organizations that make great partners and produce great outcomes.
When developing a sales process, you can be very specific, “When we do these things, with these customers, and these people, at this time…….it always produces good outcomes.”
“I’ll know it when I see it,” is a statement about pattern recognition. It’s important, in everything we do, to recognize the patterns that drive success. “What makes a successful sales person, What makes a successful partnership/alliance, What causes us to win, What do people respond to in our marketing programs, What do people respond to when we are effective in our prospecting, How do the best sales people spend their time, What happens when we do effective coaching, …..?”
The answers to all of these are usually staring us in the face, they are the patterns of success–the things that more often produce successful outcomes. Patterns of failures are less helpful–they tell us what we shouldn’t be doing, but don’t help much about identifying the right things to do.
We have to drill down in each of these, we have to understand the detail, we have to articulate it very specifically. It becomes a checklist, a process, a template, a script. All of these things, based on rigorous analysis of past success help us execute the right things more consistently.
But that’s tough stuff, it requires disciplined analysis, data and leveraging that data to understand, rigorous and critical thinking. Then testing through consistent execution.
But it’s this rigor, this discipline, this analysis that separates top performers from everyone else.
As a caveat–for a future post, when you have done this, and are executing with precision and consistency–and it isn’t working, it means something has changed, your customers have changed, your markets have been disrupted, something is different. Time to look for the new patterns.
Postscript: For one of the best discussions about how to do this in building a high performing organization, make sure you read Mark Roberge’s “The Sales Acceleration Formula”
One of the things that separates top performers, individuals and organizations, apart from everyone else is the consistency of execution.
Consistency of execution has 3 core elements.
- Knowing the right thing to do to drive the expected results.
- Doing those things consistently, day after day.
- Continually sharpening them, improving executions (As Stephen Covey would say, “Sharpening the saw.)
At an individual level, sales people may have remarkably similar backgrounds, experiences, capabilities. They’ve gone through exactly the same training, they are using exactly the same tools. But there are real differences in performance. There are differences in “make up,” and basic characteristics that drive individuals that impact performance, but one of the most basic differentiators is consistency of execution.
We’ve all experienced moments of inspiration and brilliance. We’ve all seen and personally experienced spectacular performances at one time. A sales call, perfectly executed, that exceed both our and our customers’ expectations. A deal strategy perfectly executed–aligned with the customer buying process, the customer is engaged, we are addressing their issues, creating value, addressing competitive issues, helping move it forward until, ultimately, we get the order.
If we’ve been selling for some time, we’ve probably been through a lot of training, we’ve read some books, we have some experiences under our belts. We know what we should be doing. We know what creates success.
Often, the only difference in performance becomes consistency of execution. Top performers do the right things with the right people at the right time more often.
When I speak with top performers, they always have a “formula.” And they stick to it. They may not know how to express it, but they know what it is. They know, “I have to do this many prospecting calls this week to make my numbers.” They’re driven less by the goal management has set, but they have internalized their personal experience, they know what works, and the do it every time.
Likewise in qualifying opportunities, they know what to look for, they know how to listen to what’s said and not said. Every time the qualify a prospect they go through the same mental checklist.
Regardless of what it is–planning a call, developing a deal strategy, improving share in their account, managing their pipeline, they know what works, and they do it consistently–almost reflexively.
By contrast, others know what works, but they don’t do it. Perhaps they forget. Perhaps they are looking for shortcuts. Perhaps they are distracted or disorganized. Every so often, things come together and things work exactly as they should. I think back to Hannibal, the Colonel on the A-Team — the movie — saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.
The worst performers are more likely to be oblivious to what they’ve done. Better performers probably recognize it, but then they move on to the next thing, forgetting what created the success.
Instead of doing what has worked in the past, they may start doing the right things, but get diverted, lose focus, or forget.
Everyone knows, the sales process works. If we follow the sales process, we are increase our ability to win, we connect more effectively with the customer. But we get rushed or we get distracted by other things, so we start skipping steps, or making it up.
Everyone knows, pre-call research and planning works. But we were distracted by doing something else, find we aren’t prepared, but figure we can shoot from the lip, getting by.
As managers coaching our people, we need to keep focusing on consistency of execution. We need to catch our people doing things right, reminding them of what happens when they are doing those right things. We have to sit down, going through their past wins, analyzing them, looking at the patterns, then start replicating them.
Athletes do this all the time. They focus on the right things, practicing it over and over until it becomes “muscle memory.” Whether it’s perfecting a golf stroke, a tennis serve, a swimming stroke, hitting a base ball, passing a soccer ball. They strive to get their minds and bodies to execute consistently, almost reflexively.
Organizations are not dissimilar. Effective organizations don’t necessarily have the best strategy, but they have the best and most consistent execution. We see thousands of organizations have moments of brilliance. They bring the right products to the right customers at the right time. They develop and grow the right customers. They bring on the right people. They make the right investments.
But then they fade. They aren’t able to repeat of sustain the performance. It’s not a strategy issue, it’s the inability to execute consistently. To be always firing on all cylinders.
As organizations struggle, too often, they don’t examine what caused them to be successful. Instead the create “strategies du jour.” Trying something today, never giving it a chance, jumping to something new tomorrow. They never stick with something long enough to learn what works and what doesn’t. They never recognize those patterns of success, replicating them and growing their experience base.
Some of the highest performing organizations aren’t those that are first to the market. They don’t necessarily have the hottest most exciting products. They may not be in high growth markets. They may, in fact be a little boring. They know what works and they do what works every day.
As an individual, you already know what works. You know what you should be doing and the right way to do things. Are you doing them every day, day in day out? Are you doing them when you encounter resistance–you know executing consistently always helps you overcome obstacles.
As a managers, are you continually coaching your people, looking for that consistency that drives sustained performance. The worst thing you can be doing is shifting priorities, changing direction. Look for the patterns that drive success in each individual and the organization as a whole. Keep doing them, sharpen the execution, get it to be “muscle memory.”
The final element of consistency in execution is sharpening the saw. It’s constantly trying to improve what you are doing. It’s building on the base of successful experience but trying to do better. Whether it’s shortening a sales cycle, reducing number of calls to close, improving the impact of each meeting. Organizationally, it might be improving communication and alignment, improving hiring, creating better customer experiences.
Top performers are always tinkering, building on what has worked, trying to improve.
The first version of this post was titled “Tell Me That You Care.” It was a very wordy saga about a near tragic customer relationship/customer experience with Bank of America.
It had all the makings of a financial thriller: A damsel in distress–my wife along with her personal and her company accounts. A dashing hero– OK, maybe not so dashing. There was fraud, criminal activity, police, suspected identity theft, financial malfeasance. certified documents being sent, missed commitments, dashed hopes. Everything but the sex–well, at least that’s not a part of this story.
Like many of these stories, an unexpected plot twist at the end. The reader of these stories thinks that truth, justice, fair play wins at the end. That people working together can solve a problem, and live happily ever after.
The problem was solved, we are living happily ever after, my wife’s accounts have now been moved out of Bank of America and rest safely with a competitor.
As I was about to publish this saga, I realized the title was all wrong. As I said, it was titled “Tell Me That You Care.” That was my mistake, I trusted what they said, not realizing it wasn’t what they did. Everyone we dealt with at Bank Of America, said, “we care,” at least for a period of time, when it was clear they didn’t.
Well, that’s not quite true. The branch manager didn’t seem to care until he saw the size of the accounts. Not huge, nothing to break the bank–so to speak, but larger than a lot of their other customers. Enough to have a private banking relationship and our own personal banker.
The credit card people and fraud people kept saying they cared, but they kept forgetting that we had filed a report, kept asking us to file, kept switching us from one department to another department, with 30-40 minute hold times. Four weeks after reporting the fraud, we finally got some forms to fill out.
The suspected identity theft? Well the timing of the transactions, the way things were done required–at least we feared–access to a lot of personal information. When expressing that concern, I was told, “But you don’t understand, we’re Bank Of America, that could never possibly happen…..” But when I showed the paper trail my sleuthing had uncovered, the response was, “This is very unusual, let us get back to you in a few days.”
A few days stretched into a couple of weeks, and now about 5 weeks. The branch manager remembers the issue, doesn’t remember the commitment to follow up, even though documented in a letter. He says it’s the fraud department’s responsibility.
The fraud department says, it is clearly not our fault, it was something we never knew about, and we have no liability. But they can’t/won’t share any other information.
We think, though are not sure, there wasn’t an actual identity theft problem, but we remain alert, with reports into the credit reporting agencies.
During the process, not satisfied with the local response, I try the branch manager’s boss. His assistant expressed what seemed to be genuine concern and said he would call back shortly. Half a dozen unreturned follow up messages later, we still haven’t heard.
At one point, I suspected, maybe we were going about this wrong. These weren’t millions of dollars we were talking about. The fraud itself was less than $800. I know companies like Bank Of America prefer to had individuals and small companies deal with electronic channels.
I tried navigating the phone systems, pressing 2, 3, 6, or 7 whenever appropriate, holding patiently, never getting the right people.
I tried the web site, perhaps an online chat, perhaps an email……. All to no avail. I spent a couple of hours combing the site, but couldn’t find anything the way to accomplish that. It may be there, it may be my user error, I’m generally good at finding these, regardless how difficult they make it.
I guess dealing with individuals is just to sloppy and time consuming.
The branch manager has washed his hands, saying, “You have to be patient. We are researching, it’s in the hands of the fraud department. We take your issues very seriously, We Care.”
I finally ended up at the web site again. I stumble on a page, What We Stand For, with an open letter from the CEO, Brian Moynihan.
That page and other linked pages clearly outline the commitment to the customer, the value system and all sorts of stuff intended to communicate, “We Care.” Whether you are an individual or a large company, or an institutional investor, Bank Of America cares about their customers.
Then I reflected, everyone constantly was saying they cared, but no one was demonstrating it. No one was showing me that they cared.
I was reminded that customer experience has nothing to do with what you say, the words used in brochures, by employees, or even by the CEO.
Customer experience is about the experience itself. It’s about what you do, how you demonstrate that you care–or in this case don’t.
Now, I suspect there will be another ironic plot twist. Since this blog is fairly widely read and it is syndicated in a number of sites that draw far more readers, it will probably get reasonable visibility.
I suspect the Bank Of America social media trolls will find this and raise the alarm, “We’re getting bad press on social media!”
I know EVP’s, SVP’s and others will come out of the woodwork, reaching out, saying “We Care.”
I’m sure they will express lots of heartfelt apologies and want to fix things. They may blame the branch manager–who did handle this poorly, but was just doing what he had been trained to do. He’s creating the Bank Of America customer experience he’s been trained to create.
It’s ironic, social media works! But it’s the wrong solution. Creating great customer experience should be part of the way you work and engage customers every day. Customers shouldn’t be forced to go to extraordinary measures to get the service you claim to deliver.
But since great customer experience ends up being lip service for too many, too many are forced to air their problems–as warnings to others—on social media. Great customer experience isn’t about managing social media reputations.
No matter how much they might express, “We Care,” they never demonstrated it when it counted. The bottom line, is my wife and I no longer care. We hope another institution cares. We will see.