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I Won’t Use The Friggin Sales Process!

by David Brock on November 21st, 2010

I seems every time I write a post about the sales process, I get comments that it is not reasonable to force sales people to use the sales process.  They include, “forcing someone to use the sales process removes their creativity from the opportunity,”  or “I’m an experienced sales person, I know how to do deals, I don’t need to follow any company process,”  or “it’s wrong to force high performers to do something different from what they are already doing.” 

In some ways, I’m sympathetic.  If a company has a bad or outdated sales process, then forcing sales people to use the process is counterproductive—fix the process first, then show the sales people how they can be more productive and effective using the sales process.  With a great sales process, it becomes very simple, sales people close more business and make more money.  The organization closes more business and makes more money.  Simple!

But for every other reason, I am absolutely unsympathetic to sales people who don’t use the sales process or managers that don’t show sales people they can be more productive using the sales process.  My reasoning is:  If the sales process represents the best experience in closing deals, if it is based on maximizing the probability of winning, on reducing the sales cycle, on maximizing deal profitability, then it’s foolish for anyone not to use the sales process.  If the sales process is the road map to success, helping sales people win more deals in a shorter period of time, then sales people should clamor to use the process.  If the sales process maximizes the productivity and results of the sales person, then any manager not making sure their people understand and use the sales process is not doing his or her job.

In my view a sales process is not optional–at least if you want the highest levels of personal and organizational performance.  It’s not optional for management.  Managers must make sure they have designed a sales process that maximizes performance.  Managers must make certain the process is current and competitive.  Managers must train and coach their people in how to use the sales process to produce the best results.  They must use the process in every review they do and set an example in their own personal performance.  Any manager choosing not to do these things is telling his management and his people, “I am not trying to maximize the performance of my people and my organization.  I’m not interested in my sales people being as successful as they can be.  I’m not interested in making the organization as successful as it can be.”

It’s not optional for sales people either.  Sales people refusing to use the process are the same, they are opting to perform at lower levels than they could.

“But Dave, that’s awfully simplistic, things aren’t that black and white.  Sometimes our sales people do much better not using the process, or by putting their own spin on the process.”  It’s a fair argument, but actually, I think when this starts happening consistently, it’s actually an indicator that the sales process needs to be reviewed and updated.  When the sales process doesn’t serve the sales people and they start doing their own thing and producing better results, then the sales process needs updating.  The faster things are changing–competition, market conditions, the way customers buy, the products and solutions offered, the more we have to update our sales process.   In today’s markets, I tend to recommend the sales process needs to be formally reviewed semiannually. 

There are no excuses for not having a good and current sales process.  There are no excuses for management not to use the process.  Likewise for the sales people.

Am I being too hard-nosed or simplistic?

As a side note, don’t forget to get your free copy of our Sales Process and Sales Process Self Assessment eBook.  It’s a much more detailed review of developing, implementing, and managing your sales process.  Click on the link to get your own copy!

  1. I have heard this same complaint many times all ranging from the sales process to scripts. I don’t remember who brought this likeness to me but I would like to share it with you.

    “An actor uses a script, even though you do not notice it. Even though he uses a script and a process he can be creative in his role and give it life. He has been given lines and still he can make the role completely his own.

    If the actor can, so can a salesman. We can put our own feelings, voice and usually even words into the sales process and scripts. As long as we follow the rules that apply.”

    This says enough for me, if anyone tells me they cannot use a script because they cannot sound natural, it isn’t the script that is the problem.


  2. Two thoughts. First, an excellent sales process is a roadmap from target to close. You don’t have to work in sales or sales management very long to learn that there are occasions when the roadmap provides no guidance; there are more than enough opportunities to be creative in finding a way through those areas.

    That said, as a salesperson, the process isn’t the best place for exercising your creativity; value-creation is. Salespeople get in trouble when their “creativity” causes them to skip important objectives outlined in the sales process. It usually causes them to violate some of the iron laws of sales and causes them to lose what they might otherwise have won.

    This isn’t creativity. Creativity is found in applying your business acumen to your client’s challenges.

    Second, the reason I remain sales process agnostic, not subscribing to a single sales process brand, is because best practices have to be continually reviewed and refined to deal with the changing realities. All sales processes should come with a built in expiration date, at which time they are reviewed, evaluated, and modified to take into account the changes in the sales organization, the changes in their client’s environment, and the ground truth that the sales force encounters when competing for opportunities.

    • I agree that each sales process should be continually reviewed and enhanced, modified or replaced. I have worked with many different sales methodologies that are branded and tailored for each implementation. I find that the sales process should always be custom to reflect the way the customers buy as well as the idiosyncrasies of the organization. I only say this because some of us use these terms interchangeably and inappropriately. It is more than semantics and critical in my opinion to get them both right..

      • John, you make a great point. There is a lot of confusion between sales methodologies and sales process. The sales process must be unique to the organization—how their customers buy, the culture, strategies and priorities of the organization. The sales methodologies–offered by leading training companies need to be adjusted to incorporate the organization’s process if they are to have the impact they should.

        Thanks for the great point.

  3. If you want to have your own sales process than start your own business… You realize soon enough that it’s harder than it looks.

    Managers can actually do significant harm by allowing “hot shots” to do something different and demanding that the “newbes” and “below quota” earners do something else.

    The process is designed to put maximum revenue into the sales dudes pockets. Despite the sense that your sale manager has it “out for you”, he old rathe just have you be successful…

    Dan Waldschmidt

  4. A sales process/buying cycle is about working with the customer so they understand and commit where the sweet-spot is so your product or service can create value.

    Value creation is delivered on a number of levels Independent, Political, Tactical and Strategic. Some or all of these levels of value are delivered when you take the customer through your sales process and requires varying levels of creativity to ensure you maximise on every opportunity.

    A sales process should allow you to use your creativity.

    • Kenny, thanks for the insightful comment. Well designed sales processes don’t limit creativity, but actually free sales people up to be more creative–but within a structured context. The sales process is like a road map–it provides general guidance to achieve your objective, but doesn’t define each twist, turn, pothole in the road. Think of the formula 1 race driver. They are on a well defined track, but their skill and creativity is what differentiates them and causes them to win. A great sales process is the same.

  5. I do agree that having a good process is important. All good results in business are usually achieved through great systems or processes. From my experience however you can have the best process in the world but if you don’t have the right people with the right attitude you have nothing.
    There is a tendency to focus on process and not on the people.
    Process can sometimes stifle the natural skills people have
    For me the best sales people particularly in today’s climate have more determination than process. Too many lack that vital ingredient and no process will give them that

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment Ronan. It’s an important balance-focusing on people with the right mentality — executing the process with precision. Process is important, but we often forget the people aspect in implementing the process. We need to train, coach, and get them to understand what’s in it for them and how they improve their own personal productivity.

      If the process doesn’t help each sales person become more effective, then it’s not a great process. I wrote a blog on this topic, the Sales Process, Elegant In It’s Simplicity, Natural In It’s Execution. It hits on the issues you address. Thanks for the great comment.

  6. David, you and I must be talking to similar people.My example that works to explain the importance of a sales process begins by asking if the person had a special Aunt, Grandmother or someone else who cooked a wonderful dessert or special meal? I then ask them what was so good about that eating experience? Usually somewhere in the conversation, I hear something like “no matter how times I ate it, it was always as good as the first time.” Then I asked why they believed that to be true? Again the answer is she or in a few cases he always made it the same way. Then I smile and wait for the “ah ha” moment. The final remark centers around the word consistency by using the same recipe or process delivers a quality product or end result. So why wouldn’t you apply that same reasoning to your selling efforts?

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith
    Author of Be the Red Jacket in a Sea Of Gray Suits

  7. Mark Selleck permalink

    Dave, I agree that most sales processes are outdated and not very good. However, the question of using or not using the sales process is a vague question. What exactly does it mean to “use the sales process”? What level of detail constitutes “using the process?” Does it mean that you have to use the 9-Block Vision Processing Model if you use the Solution Selling methodology? (Not that it is an ideal or current methodology…) Do you have to get a signed Sponsor Letter? Too many sales processes are over-engineered – they are much too prescriptive about highly specific behaviors, they force artificial documentation and they don’t keep the end in mind – the desired outcomes.

    So if the sales process defines in gory detail how to go about understanding the customer’s business requirements, with some ‘proprietary’ approach (the 10 Block Business Requirements Envisioning Model…) that includes getting the CEO to sign off that you understand, and that’s the level of scripted detail you mean by “following the sales process”, then I’ll disagree wholeheartedly with requiring compliance with such a detailed, play-by-play approach. That level of detail doesn’t survive contact with the real world.

    On the other hand, if by “following the sales process” you mean that they need to understand the customer’s requirements, educate the customer to shape those requirements, understand the decision process and the impact of current and future state, etc. then of course, that makes total sense. These are key objectives along the sales cycle that are similar to Commander’s Intent. The issue isn’t whether they’re following highly prescriptive steps at the detail level, the issue is whether they are achieving the Commander’s Intent. If they’re not understanding the customer’s business, or not fully understanding the decision process, or they’re not doing a good job of showing the return on investment, then those are the issues. In other words, a manager would coach the rep on how to build a business case, or how to figure out the politics behind the decision making process, instead of berating them for not following a process. If the rep needs to be fired, fire them for not achieving the Commander’s Intent (understanding the customer’s business requirements, showing the business value, etc.), not because they didn’t get a signed Sponsor letter. (Asking a customer for a signed Sponsor letter can easily communicate a lack of trust, and is a good example of a highly prescriptive step that can backfire in the real world.)

    That said, most sales people will embrace anything that helps them sell, and so if they’re not embracing a sales process, either it’s not good, or they don’t see how it helps them sell, or there is something in the environment that is getting in the way. Blaming the rep for not following a process is usually a fundamental attribution error, as the real problem lies somewhere else. What looks like a people problem is usually a situation problem, and what looks like a rep problem is typically a manager problem. It could be, for example, that they don’t know HOW to figure out the decision making process – it’s that they can’t, not that they won’t. Of course, that becomes a manager’s job to teach them and coach them. It could be that the sales manager isn’t asking the rep about the business impact of current and future state, and frankly, it’s usually the sales manager’s fault that the process isn’t being used, not the sales rep. If I ask every rep for every deal what the business impact of our solution is, then the reps will learn very quickly to always know what the business value is.

    IMHO, forcing a process and using threats including employment to enforce compliance is almost always a clear indication that either something’s wrong with the process or the manager doesn’t know how to sell, coach or enable.

    • Mark, thanks for taking the time to provide such a thoughtful comment. I think we are in wild agreement. I won’t respond to everything you’ve said here, partly because my response would be yes–and here’s more supporting evidence. Also, as it turns out I’ve actually written in separate posts about almost all you’ve covered. (Take a look at the Formula One post and the one Sales Process–Elegant In It’s SImplicity, Natural In It’s Execution). However some thoughts:

      1. As you point out sales people are generally rational, if the sales people are not following the process (particularly if they are producing results), it’s probably the fault of the process, not the sales people. The process needs to be fixed.
      2. There are too many cases where the sales process is over engineered. I once worked with an organization that had a 9 page single spaced sales process. You can guess how well that was followed. I like to compare a sales process to a road map. It provides general directions to efficiently get to the right destination. But it doesn’t describe every twist, turn, pothole, road condition, etc.)
      3. “Following the process” means being thoughtful about the process, not blind execution. Clearly, even with a well designed sales process, not everything will apply all the time. The thoughtful sales person and manager recognizes this and understands how to deal with it.
      4. However, if (and a big if) the sales process is well designed, and accurately reflects best practices in winning more business, reducing cycle times, and increasing deal profitability, then the sales person who chooses not to follow the process is choosing not to perform at the highest possible levels. It is irrational for a person not to perform at the highest possible levels and irresponsible for the manager not to try to correct the situation through coaching, development, etc.
      5. It’s management’s responsibility to make sure the best possible sales process is in place. That it base on best practices, and the experiences of the highest performers (and the lessons from losses). It’s management’s responsibility to assure the process is current, reflective of the customer buying process, and competitive. It’s management’s responsibilty to show the sales people What’s In It For Them in using the sales process and how they can sell more and make more money. It’s management’s responsibility to coach and develop people in executing the process. It’s sales responsibility to then embrace and execute the process–thoughtfully, not blindly.

      Great and very thoughtful comment. Thanks for taking the time to contribute. I hope I see you here more!

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