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Sales Process, A Special Version Of Project Management

by David Brock on April 30th, 2012

Recently, I met with the executive team of a large consulting/systems integration company to discuss Sales Processes and why was critical for their organizations to have a sales process.  Before we started to discuss the sales process, we talked for some time about their business.  I asked, “What’s most critical to your success in delivering these complex IT projects to your customers?”

They all quickly responded, “It’s really two things, it’s the quality and experience of our people and it’s our project management approach.”  I asked them to talk about their project management approach.  They started to describe it with some precision.  They described critical success factors like:

Starting with the end in mind:  They worked with their customers to explicitly define the end goals and objectives, the target dates, what success looked like, how they would measure it, and so forth.

From this, they worked backwards from the end goals and target dates to determine what critical activities were required to achieve the goals, when they had to happen, who would be responsible for each, what the sequencing was, what the critical dependencies were and how they would measure their progress.

They went on to describe their project management process.  They had established a template they applied to every project.  It forced them to identify key milestones for each project, they were spaced through various phases of the project.  They said getting the customer on board with this project plan, and tracking to the milestones and objectives was what separated success and failure.

I asked them more about the process–naively, I thought it was just a generic process. but they said I was wrong.  They had built a process that was based on what made them successful.  They showed me critical milestones they had in their process.  They told me that based on their past experience — projects that have gone really well, those that had failed, they knew certain things were key to success.  They said if they didn’t do those, projects tended to get delays or problems would pop up.  They knew those things were critical to their success.

We talked a little bit more, I was struck that their process seemed to be ingrained in the way they approached the business.  They just seemed to naturally talk about what needed to be done, why.  They could look at projects that were at risk and quickly develop corrective action plans to resolve the problems.  One thing that struck me was they believed their process was a critical differentiator–their approach set them apart from their competition.  It was something they featured when they spoke to prospects.  It was a key tool to convincing their prospects they could do the project in a superior fashion, they would meet the goals and delivery dates the customer established.

In talking about how they sold, they said the project management process and the skills and experience of their people were critical differentiators in selling.

At that point, one of the executives started getting a little impatient, he said, “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about our project management process, but we’re here to talk about our selling process.  I’m not clear what it is, or why we need to have one.  Can you share your ideas about this?”

Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty savvy about reading signals and cues from prospects and customers, so I decided to switch gears and talk about the selling process, otherwise I might lose them.

So in responding to his query, I looked around the table, and said, “Well in a way we’ve been talking about the sales process already.  You should think about the sales process as a special application of a project management process.”

I paused and looked around the table—all of a sudden there was a different look in their eyes.  They suddenly got it–we didn’t have to go much further, other than discussing, how would develop the sales process.

Every company has project management processes–whether it’s how you deliver projects to customers, or how you complete projects within your organization—development projects, marketing projects, internal sales projects.  We know how to do project management.

If you are struggling with your sales process-think of it as a specialized case of project management.  It has a clear end goal and a target completion.  There are clear milestones–these might be the transition from prospect to qualified, from qualified to discovery, and so forth.  We know there are critical activities we must do based on our past experience.

If we understand project management, establishing the sales process is easy.

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  1. David,

    I see you wrote this a year ago, but this is a very interesting post since I have been given lot of thought to this.

    For companies that are using Agile/Lean/DevOps for development must, I think, use that for sales to keep the entire delivery of excellent customer experience under one common end-to-end methodology.

    I am not sure whether you have written about this or not but would like to get your thought on this whether it makes sense to have an end-to-end agile/lean methodology that includes sales, marketing, alliances, customer development and support. Thanks.

    • Jay: It think Lean and Agile methods are the next frontier for driving sales and marketing performance. I’ve written quite a number of articles about it (just look in the categories box and select lean sales and marketing.) Additionally, I will be releasing an eBook with a collection of my articles on this in the next few days.

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