Published Monday, February 11th, 2013, by Norman Roth.
By Norm Roth
A couple of weeks ago, I sat on a panel with a number of peers. A couple of the panelists suggested the majority of companies they worked with had no sales process in place. I have a slightly different point of view, one that is perhaps worse news. Most of the organizations I work with do have a sales process in place; but they’re not working it!
It doesn’t take long to spot this. Just sit in a pipeline review and listen to the conversations between managers and sales people as they review their pipelines. What activities do they have outlined? Using these activities as a guideline, ask about some pending “deals”. See if the responses fit with the activities.
I recently sat in on one such review with a client. Their “process” listed two key activities within the “discovery phase”: 1) understand the customer decision making process and who is involved and 2) understand the criteria by which the customer will evaluate the purchase and justify it internally. Great criteria! So we reviewed some deals that had already progressed to the “proposing” or “closing” stages of their sales process. I attempted to verify a few criteria-based questions: “How does our solution look based on their justification criteria?” “Who is involved in the decision making process, who’s the real decision maker?”
By the time these sales people are in the proposal or closing phases, they should have easily been able to answer discovery questions; but they couldn’t. They may have made a feeble attempt; only to jump right into talking about what they were doing to win their deals. Hmmmmmm, what’s up here? Clearly they aren’t using the sales process.
A sales process helps sales people manage opportunities from the initial qualification through closure as effectively and efficiently as possible. If the sales reps aren’t using the process (and it’s an appropriate process), then they aren’t performing at the highest levels possible. Additionally, since the pipeline is an aggregation of all the deals sales people are working on, the integrity of the pipeline and its accuracy for forecasting are immediately suspect.
Deal reviews will quickly expose a lapse in process. Reviews are most effective if they are initiated by talking about where we are in the process – that means using the process to inspect the deal, using the process to provide a road map on next steps, using the process to assure you are competitive, and using the process to make sure you are creating value for the customer. Everything else is a drill down into the details of the activities.
Now, if your sales people aren’t following the sales process, but consistently winning business – reassess and update your sales process. Make sure you review and update your sales process periodically. If there are major changes in market conditions, if there are major changes in your target markets, if there are major changes in your solutions – you probably need to update your sales process.
Once it’s updated, make sure managers and sales people are using it. Make certain your process reflects current best practices for winning business.