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Sales Goals Or Sales Process, Which Is Most Important?

by David Brock on July 8th, 2010

Geoffrey James wrote an interesting article at BNET, Sales Goals vs. Sales Process:  Which Is Most Important?  Frankly, the question confuses me, it assumes that sales goals and sales process are mutually exclusive.  Geoffrey seems conflicted, as well.  Later, using the example of an Olympic athlete, he states, “For the Olympic athlete, the process leads naturally and progressively towards the goal.”

The whole point of a sales process is that it is goal directed.  The best sales processes represent the organization’s best experience in winning business–achieving goals.  The only reason to have a sales process is because it provides us a road map to effectively and efficiently achieve our goals.

I think that’s what is missed by a lot of people in developing and implementing sales processes — and a reason why so many sales professionals resist “process.”  Too often, organizations develop a process, thinking the process is an end in itself, not a means of achieving goals.  Organizations sometimes get consumed in the “elegance of their process.”  Many years ago, one very large organization I worked with had done a huge amount of work in developing the sales process.  The end results was a nine page single spaced checklist, attempting to outline everything that might accur in a sale.  The process was comprehensive–but it was complicated, the design team had lost sight of the purpose of the process.  They were consumed in their task–designing the sales process, losing sight of the purpose:  Closing more business more quickly.  As you might guess, the sales process was never used by the sales people.  It was too complicated, too bureaucratic, and did not contribute to their ability to achieve their goals.

The whole point of a sales process is that it is goal directed.  I think James confuses things, focusing on the end — “quota attainment, closing the deal.”  A great sales process has interim milestones–goals–go/no go decisions.  For example the goal of all the activities we undertake in the qualification step of the selling process is to determine if we have a qualified opportunity.  The goal of the activities in the discovery phase of the process is to understand what the customer is trying to achieve, alternatives they are considering, and how they will make the decision.  These interim goals keep us on the path to achieving the end goal.  Without these interim goals, we could be executing a lot of activities, but not know if we are achieving the right outcomes for each activity.  My good friend Anthony Iannarino, calls this “checking the box.”  We go through the motions of the activity, not paying attention to why we are doing the activity–consequently it becomes meaningless.

Here’s an example, it came up with a client last week.  They were reviewing their work on developing their sales process.  At one point in their process, they had identified an activity, “Meet with decision makers.”  I immediately went into role-play, shook each of their hands saying, “Hi, I’m Dave Brock.”  Having done that, I checked off the box on the piece of paper they had given me. When they recovered from this, we talked about it.  I told them I had successfully completed the activity, but it had contributed nothing to moving me forward in the sales process, improving my knowledge about the deal, or improving my ability to present a winning response to their needs. 

Each activity has a purpose or outcome, we are not executing activities for activity sake.  I think this is one of the reasons that so many people resist sales process–it has been badly designed, focusing on activity for activity sake, rather than activity oriented toward specific outcomes or goals.  Using the previous example, the activity would have been far more impactful if it was changed from “Meet with decision-makers,” to “Meet with decision makers to understand who is involved in the decision, their roles, and the criteria they will consider in making their decision.”  An effective sales process has a goal or an outcome in each step of the process.

I think James’ article reflects the problems many sales executives and professionals have with sales processes.  We really don’t understand why we are doing the process. Consequently we design processes as and end, not a means to achieve our goals.  We think processes are a series of activities–they are, but the activities are outcome oriented and goal directed.  They provide us interim milestones and checkpoints on effectively and efficiently achieving our goal.

Which is most important, the sales process or sales goals is the wrong question.  How do we define a sales process that most effectively and efficiently helps us achieve our goals is the issue we must all be confronting!

Having trouble with translating your activities into meaningful steps to achieving your goals, call me, I’d be glad to share our experience in helping organizations do this!

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  1. Rick Howe permalink

    Excellent post and right on target!

  2. Dave,

    Excellent points. …and I remain frustrated by this ongoing debate. How about thinking in terms of “What?” and “How?”

    The “What” is the sales process. Say it’s 5 or 6 stages with clearly defined milestones (as you suggest) for completion of each. Defined, by the way, in the context of what the customer has done and/or committed to. Nothing the least bit complex.

    The “How” is the collection of Sales Best Practices. And there could, actually should, be a whole lot of them with lots of detail and in some cases, complexity will be a fact of life.

    If a rep consistently reaches the milestones for each stage of the process, who cares how many of or even if the best practices are used? If a rep is not performing, NOW it’s time to focus on the “How.”


  3. Hi Dave, another excellent post. After reading Geoffrey’s post, I couldn’t help but feel that he is confusing goals with quotas. If he means to ask – should we focus on process or short term quotas? – than I think he is right in promoting process as more important. Racing to meet “a number” rarely results in a favorable outcome (just look at how the stock market’s obsession with quarterly profits has worked out). Goals on the other hand are quantifiable outcomes of strategy; if we seek to do x, we measure our success by achieving y.

    I think Todd is on to something by suggesting that we ask questions to arrive at a process, but I would replace “what” with “why”. Working backwards from our goals, by asking “why is this goal important?” and then “how do we achieve this goal?” is the way to build process. By continuously asking “why” and then “how”, we arrive at a process that is both goal oriented AND meaningful/understandable at each step. I believe that most salespeople are like me in that they shun process for process’ sake. Working backward, defining our rationale throughout, creates a process that I can buy in to.

    Thanks for raising a great topic!

    • Keith, Todd: Thanks for your comments. They are outstanding suggestions for helping organization build and tune their sales processes. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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