Any high-growth business strategy must begin with a consistent and disciplined sales process that is easily understood across the sales organization. Salespeople and their managers need to use the same vocabulary, and view selling opportunities as having sequential stages that must be completed before a suspect becomes a prospect, and a prospect becomes a customer. Following a consistent process reduces the anxiety and uncertainty common among both salespeople and sales managers because everyone knows what is expected and needed for every sales pursuit. Having definite requirements and policies on when and how to give a demonstration, prepare a proposal, or send a sample helps the sales force proactively control the sales process versus simply reacting to requests from potentially unqualified prospects. Better preparation, deeper research, and clearer goals for each stage of the selling process will result in a more effective sales team and better business results.
A standard approach to pursuing and tracking opportunities is a smart way to assure that all sales activities are aligned with organizational goals and the overall direction of sales management. Consistency also reduces the amount of non-value added sales activities such as drafting letters, writing reports, and having lengthy phone calls to determine what stage is next in a sales opportunity. Having standard terminology saves time and minimizes confusion.
Sales managers benefit from standardized CRM Sales processes because it is also easier to determine how each salesperson is performing. Opportunities that are stalled in one stage can be identified and resolved. Salespeople benefit from standardization because they waste less time determining what information is missing and what the next step should be in the workflow. Sales appointments become more productive because they are only conducted when qualified as part of a planned sequence of events.
The high level steps to implement a sales process are:
- Document your sales process
- Design your implementation
- Train your sales team
- Support the implementation
Some companies adopt branded systems such as Sandler, Solution Selling, Dale Carnegie or others. Others develop their own systems with distinct terminology; perhaps a hybrid of popular systems or a mix of the techniques used by the company’s most successful sales performers.
A standard sales process allows companies to more easily analyze events and make sense of trends. As a regional sales manager at a mid-sized organization observed, “The only way to discover what’s working and what’s not is to measure the individual steps of the sales process. If you know the percentages of prospects that proceed through each stage of the process, you accurately predict how many sales will close in the future, based upon the current pipeline. You can also compare the performance of team members and take appropriate action, like additional coaching, in order to ensure that the team remains productive.”
Applying Best Practices to Sales
Most organizations are not strangers to processes, systems, and re-engineering. For example, in the manufacturing industry, plants and warehouses couldn’t operate profitably without them and no business manager would let accounting and purchasing departments improvise. The more complex the task, it’s more likely that the effective principles and processeses for successfully completing that task have been defined and codified. In other words, much of the business world is already highly process-driven, systematized, and automated.
Yet, oftentimes, the sales department hasn’t been automated. For example, in a recent study of distributor respondents, eighty-eight percent indicated that they do not have a documented, formal sales process. Given that sales is fundamental and represents a large expense item, it was quite surprising that written sales processes were non-existent for the majority of the study participants. Without such a document to provide a consistent road map, executives have no choice but to depend on the creativity, work ethic and luck of individual sales reps and their managers.
Organizations without a documented sales process often exhibit several common symptoms, such as a disconnected and manual approach to selling and a lengthy cycle time to find prospects, get quotes out the door, and close orders. This may in turn lead to irritated prospects, who expect a rapid response to their inquiries or request for a proposal. . In addition, top sales employees may become annoyed. They want to sell, not figure out the best way to put prospects in the pipeline, create quotes, enter orders and track shipments delivered. Other symptoms of process deficiencies include abundant and costly errors, evidenced by expedited orders and high volumes of returns, and inadequate margin on too many quotes, resulting in deflated profitability. This may lead to stagnant sales from the most important customers and cause engineering and other departments to be pulled into disarray when the sales team gets a request for proposal or learns about a bid opportunity.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many executives voice issues similar to these, yet the remedy seems to be incredibly difficult. Sales teams are often extremely autonomous, and management struggles to avoid “big brother” accusations and micromanaging. Despite these legitimate concerns, it is not that difficult to successfully implement a standard sales process.
When reviewing the various sales methodologies and processes available, make sure your final selection is repeatable, predictable, and scalable. What you want is a sales process that is simply enough that, over time, it will become second nature to the sales staff. Also, make sure that it isn’t too complicated, or the sales team will not use it.
The elements of a sales process typically include:
a common vocabulary for describing the activities involved in selling
- clearly defined stages of selling
- an agreed upon checklist of what it takes to move from one stage to the next
- consistent guidelines for information to be gathered and given at each stage
- clear expectations for how long each sales stage should take
- concise definition of suggested next actions
When smart organizations are designing a sales process implementation, they focus on change management, not sales training. By implementing a formalized sales process, businesses are fundamentally changing the way people do their jobs on a daily basis. There will be natural resistance. To develop a change management plan, make sure you can answer the following questions:
What motivation do sales people have to use the new system?
- What potential barriers are there to implementation?
- How can I overcome those barriers?
- How will I know if the implementation is successful?
- What should I expect during the transition?
- Who can people go to if they have questions?
Follow the Leader
One of the best ways to make sure implementations “stick” is to have the management involved. One recent study found that when sales training is reinforced by management, the sales skills taught during training produced a 15% permanent increase in productivity.
Management needs to be involved in more than a cosmetic fashion. A senior member of the management team needs to attend the training, and this same manager should inspect the sales activities for a period of time to make sure they continuously are consistent with the new sales introduced during the training.
At the end of the day, the challenge with adopting a new sales process is getting everyone to follow it. Sales management must lead by example in sales meetings and on sales calls. An automated workflow reinforced by a CRM system that quickly prompts a salesperson to enter required information before moving to the next sales stage is invaluable. Standard reports and online visibility into the sales pipeline can help monitor the progress of opportunities over time so that both the salesperson and the sales manager can spot when an opportunity is stalled.
As one sales leader summed up his company’s recipe for success: “Our company can’t grow consistently unless the sales process is repeatable, not arbitrary. For us, it is a condition of employment – you have to embrace the standards, follow the processes and use the CRM system.”
About Commence Corporation: Founded in 1988, Commence develops and delivers a diverse suite of award winning CRM software that integrates people, processes and technology. Available on-premise or online, Commence CRM solutions are utilized by several thousand businesses to streamline sales and customer service front office business processes. As a result, Commence clients increase workforce productivity, generate positive customer interactions and reduce operational cost.