A couple of weeks ago, I was on a panel with a number of peers. A couple of the panelists suggested the majority of companies they worked with had no sales process in place. I have a slightly different point of view, one that is perhaps worse news. Most of the organizations I work with have a sales process in place.
At least that’s what they say. They’ll even pull out a piece of paper, a flow chart, or show me their CRM system to prove they have a sales process. I’m always curious, so I ask a lot of questions and generally I find a couple of things at play:
1. While a company may have a sales process, it has not been updated to fit current market realities and priorities.
2. The managers and sales people just aren’t using the sales process.
It’s actually pretty easy to see this. Just sit in a pipeline review and listen to the conversations managers and sales people have in reviewing their deals. As they discuss the deal, look at the activities they have defined in their sales process. Ask a few questions about the deal, using the activities as a guideline for your questioning. See if the responses are aligned with the sales process. For example, the other day I was sitting through a review with a new client. They had two key activities in the discovery phase of their sales process: Understand the customer decision making process and who is involved. Also, Understand the criteria by which the customer will evaluate the investment in the solutions and justify it internally. Great criteria! However, we were reviewing a number of deals that were in either the proposing or closing stages of their sales process. I started asking some questions, “How does our solution look based on their justification criteria?” “Who is involved in the decision making process, who’s the real decision maker?”
If these deals were truly in the proposal and closing phases of the sales process, the sales people would have had very clear responses to those questions. They didn’t–they mouthed some nominal responses, but really didn’t answer the questions—–then they went on to talk about what they were doing to win their deals. Hmmmmmm, what’s up here? Clearly they aren’t using the sales process. A few more questions and you can determine whether the sales process is out of date or just not being used.
The only reason to have a sales process is to help sales people manage opportunities from qualification through closure as effectively and efficiently as possible. The activities identified in the sales process are a result of analyzing both how customers buy, and the activities critical sales must undertake in facilitating the customer’s buying process. If sales people aren’t using the process (and it’s an appropriate process), then they aren’t performing at the highest levels possible. Additionally, since the pipeline is an aggregation of all the deals sales people are working on, the integrity of the pipeline and it’s accuracy for forecasting are immediately suspect.
Sales people not using the process are not performing as they should. Managers not assuring their sales people are using the sales process are being irresponsible–both to the sales people and to their organizations. Deal reviews are most effective if they are initiated by talking about where we are in the process—that means using the process to inspect the deal, using the process to provide a road map on next steps, using the process to assure you are competitive, and using the process to make sure you are creating value for the customer. Everything else is a drill down into the details of the activities.
As I mentioned, one of the reasons sales people and managers don’t use the process is because it has become irrelevant. Over time, the way your customers buy changes. Markets, competition, and your solutions change. What may have been a great sales process 5 years ago, is probably irrelevant today. If your sales people aren’t following the sales process, but consistenly winning business–reassess and update your sales process. The only thing worse than not using an irrelevant sales process is using an irrelevant sales process–but you will see that with plummeting win rates, long cycles and loss of competitiveness. Make sure you review and update your sales process periodically. If there are major changes in market conditions, if there are major changes in your target markets, if there are major changes in your solutions–you probably need to update your sales process.
Organizations that don’t have a sales process need to have one. Organizations that have a sales process but are not using it are fooling themselves.
If you want to drive the highest levels of sales performance, make sure managers and sales people are using it. Make certain your process reflects current best practices for winning business. Everything else is a waste of time.