It seems all professions have their own languages, short hand, and ways of communicating that is a complete mystery to everyone else. Recently, I was meeting with people in the Healthcare Industry (not doctors), and my head was spinning trying to keep up with the conversation. Likewise, I had a discussion with some Semiconductor Process Engineers, and I didn’t have the “secret decoder ring,” so I was struggling to add value to the conversation. (All this argues for business acumen training for sales people–but that’s a different post.)
In sales we have the same shorthand, we talk about selling processes, the sales cycle, funnels, pipelines, qualified prospects, and all sorts of things. Sometimes I think we make it even more complicated to add a mystique to what we do.
This point became very clear in a conversation with a very talented executive. He had recently take much broader responsibilities–not only running operations but running the sales organization. He was struggling to really understand the sales organization and how to drive performance–appropriately, he started honing in on the selling process.
In talking about the sales process and helping him understand it as a tool to understanding performance — both at an opportunity level and pipeline level, we started talking about project management.
On the operations side (they are a mid sized systems integrator), they had a very strong project management process in place. They had great discipline in looking at every client engagement–he told me, without this project management process, we would not meet the commitments we’ve made to our customers, we would not meet our target dates, and we would not be able to manage our resources in a manner to be profitable on the job. The project management process is the cornerstone to their ability to deliver on their commitments profitably.
We talked about the project management process. It had milestones and phases, it had critical activities identified, resource requirements, roles, responsibilities, key metrics, objectives and goals–for the project itself and for each major phase. He was extremely comfortable in talking about project management and very talented in coaching his people in sharpening their execution of the project plans.
I suggested, why don’t you look at selling and the sales process like a specialized case of project management? He looked at me as though I had two heads until we started walking through the sales process. We started looking at their different stages–prospecting, qualifying, discovery, proposal, closing, implementation. I asked him to think of those as milestones or phases that you go through in a project. We started walking through the activities and outcomes they had defined for each phase of their sales process-translating those to the same concepts he used in project management, we started looking at the metrics. He got more excited as we went through the conversation–the whole mystique of the sales process and funnel was removed–he said “Disciplined selling is nothing more than good project management–it’s identifying a goal, identifying all the activities and resources, aligning the interests of everyone involved in executing your project plan!”
He’s absolutely right–Our sales process and the customer’s buying process is very much like a project plan. The sales person acts as a project manager–developing the plan, aligning the resources (customer, partner, and company),and providing leadership in executing the plan. Many of the skills, disciplines, and approaches that we use in effective project management can easily be applied to sales.
Non sales people can much more easily understand the importance of the sales process and how to manage it by thinking of it as a form of project management. Sales people can improve their skills in executing the sales process by learning a little about project management–perhaps thinking of projects they have managed, reading a good book on project management. Sales people can more effectively engage people from their organizations to support them, by positioning the sales effort in project and project management terms.
Are you thinking of your sales strategies and sales process as projects? Are you managing them with the same discipline that projects are managed? Try it, you’ll find your results will improve.