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Don’t Trust Your Sales Process, Challenge It, Break It!

by David Brock on February 4th, 2015

Anthony Iannarino wrote a post, “Trust The Sales Process.”  It’s a great read, but I’ll take a contrarian approach.  Sales people shouldn’t trust the sales process–they should challenge it and try to prove that it’s wrong!

Before I go further, I have to admit I’m playing some head games with you, I actually agree with Anthony, but think we need to approach it a little differently.

The Scientific Method:

To provide a little context to my argument, many of you know I fall back to my background in Physics and science.

When a scientist develops a new theory, say E=MC(2)  (Thank you Albert), scientists start conducting experiments to disprove the theory.  The idea being, they could probably construct endless experiments proving it, but the most rigorous way to prove it is to try to break it.  But to show the theory is wrong, they just have to have one case.  A strong theory stands up, scientists can never find a case to prove it wrong.

So perhaps the toughest test of our sales process is not declaring it right, but trying to prove it isn’t representative of the collective best practice — at least conceptually.

The first thing is, “Why should sales managers trust the process?”

I hope the answer is obvious, if they signed off on the design and definition of the sales process, then they should believe it and trust it —otherwise they are wasting the organization’s time and ability to achieve results.  Not believing totally in the process is kind of like our friend Albert saying, “Say guys, I had a little too much beer last night, I’m just kidding about this E=MC(2) stuff……”

So before managers inflict any process on their people, they need to test it, they need to sign off on it, and they need to support it rigorously.  If they aren’t fully behind the process and using it, then we will never get adoption of the sales process.

I think this is one of the huge issues we face in sales process adoption, if sales management doesn’t fully embrace the process, if they don’t use it in every deal review, every call review, every pipeline review, then we are wasting sales people’s time by trying to get them to use the process.

The second, and more difficult issue is, “Why should the sales person trust the process?”

I speak with sales people all the time.  They whine about the sales process.  They talk about how it doesn’t work, how their customers and deals are different, how management doesn’t understand.

I then ask them, “Have you ever tried using it?”  You can guess the response, most never have–they may have tried some parts of it, but they’ve never used it rigorously.   Because it’s different from what they do, rather than trying it, testing it, they immediately reject it.

Given people’s natural reluctance to change, and so many sales people’s propensity to avoid structure/process, it’s not surprising we get this resistance.

As you introduce the sales process, you should challenge your people to find the holes in it, to try and prove that it’s wrong.  The result it produces is actually pretty powerful:

Presumably, you designed your sales process, starting with How Does The Customer Buy?  You developed the sales process based on your collective best experiences in winning business.  The resultant sales process should be superior to any single approach by any individual in the organization.  (It stands to reason–you taken all of their best practices–not just one person’s).

As you implement it, challenge the people to break it.  In doing this, they start using and testing the sales process rigorously, challenging it, trying to break it, trying to prove that it doesn’t work.

There’s real power to this, not just the reverse psychology aspect of it, but in several other ways:

  1. Challenging the process drives broad testing of the process and tuning, improving it based on the experiences of the sales people.  However thoughtful our design approach, until it is tested in dozens of real sales opportunities, we never know until it’s tested in the real world.
  2. The only way they can legitimately claim it doesn’t work, is to use it rigorously and through that use try to show it’s wrong.
  3. By challenging the process through application, people start to understand it, they start to understand how it helps and improves upon what they currently are doing.  If it doesn’t, then we’ve done a bad job of process design.

I admit, I’m playing some head games here, but try it with those that resist the process.  Through challenging them to prove the process doesn’t work, it causes them to learn and own the process in ways that we can’t achieve if we merely train them, then enforce compliance.

I absolutely agree with Anthony that we have to trust the process, we have to know that if we keep applying it, it is more likely to produce successful outcomes than anything else we do.

But just like in relationships, trust has to be earned.  Perhaps, then, the best way to accelerate the development of the trust is the counter intuitive approach–challenge sales people to use, prove it wrong and break it.

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  1. I wrote about a Challenge to a “Sales Enablement” based Sales Process in a large Blue Chip almost four years ago.

    Here is an update.
    It was not working! The Revenue Goals, and in particular, the Customer Defection Rate was increasing. A ‘Cabal’ of Top Performers initially used passive resistance, then Active resistance including resignations, before finally Sales Leadership responded. It proved to be a Very Expensive mistake.

    Many lessons were learned, but in my opinion, Dave Brock is offering you the BEST advice: Let, no ENCOURAGE your Sales force to actively Challenge, Test and IMPROVE your Sales process.

    I would build on Dave’s idea simply by adding Keep your Customers Actively involved in your Selling Process, they often spot it failing BEFORE you do!

    Great Blog, dave.

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