Sales process. You hear about it everywhere. It’s become axiomatic: Get your process straight before you automate. It’s true, it’s important, and it’s provided my partner and me and a lot of other consultants a good living. But is it real?
If you ask consultants how sales happen, they’ll say “process.” If you ask sales reps what happens, they’ll say “magic.” And they’re both right.
Question: Have you ever pursued a sales opportunity and done everything correctly according to your own process, or perhaps a training program you went through, and at the end still lost the deal? Question: Have you ever done everything wrong, something like Bill Murray does sales, and still had business fall into your lap?
If you answered yes to either or both of these questions, you’ve experienced magic, In the first instance it’s bad and in the second good, but it’s still magic. And to pretend that it doesn’t exist invites all manner of trouble. Now, can we have a little less bad magic and a little more predictability of outcomes? The answer is yes, and it can pay big dividends, but you can’t eliminate all magical events and you may not want to.
One of the main reasons to map sales processes is to attempt to improve them. Better process execution means improved consistency and predictability of expected revenues and results across the sales force. Enormous productivity gains are another benefit, by allowing you to better synchronize, allocate, and apply resources. For the moment, suffice to say, having a handle on what the process is, is a good thing.
However, most of the work that’s been done in process, process improvement, and automation comes from manufacturing. Much of what’s been learned there can be applied in some fashion to sales. But some cannot. In manufacturing, standard inputs operated on with a standard process yield standard outputs. Key to enforcing all these standards is
the ability to tightly control the quality conformance of the inputs, process execution, and outputs.
But controlling conformance in sales process, particularly execution (the stuff going on in the box) is not so straight-forward, First, with field-based sales, what’s actually being done is often occurring at a remote location. Unlike retail sales or inside telesales, where recordings can be employed to inspect behavior and provide a basis for feedback, field sales take place in uncontrolled places.
Every situation the process is applied to is unique. Each call has its own array of variables, many of them emotional. Unlike a manufacturing environment, where rational, objective, and measurable actions occur, the environment of sales calls may have none of these.
Even if you were willing to pay for four-legged calls sales rep and an observer or coach what is the objective measure? The process says you’re to identify and meet the various buying influences. You, as observer, tag along and, sure enough, the sales rep goes in, shakes hands, and a pleasant enough discussion ensues.
Did the rep execute the process? And how well?
Yes, you can observe that he or she shook hands with the prospect. But even an observable behavior (shaking hands) is subject to huge variation the vice grip, limp wrist, dead fish, and so on, all meet the process requirement. But the nonverbal, totally subjective, and completely irrational aspects of something so seemingly simple demonstrate the problem of strictly extrapolating manufacturing’s lessons to sales.
Even this traditional greeting is now taboo in the Covid-19 era.
A much better indicator of how the process is being conducted is to record the buyer’s actions and commitments. Back when we did sales process work with clients defining and documenting their sales processes, we would always have them record what the buyer actions were at each of the milestone steps toward a sale. These actions should be observable and represent commitment on the part of the buyer to advance the sale.
Even more appropriate today is mapping the customer’s buying journey (process) and then aligning your sales process to this.
RECORD AND LEARN
In the example above, the buying influence also shook hands, but a more compelling action would be his or her identifying other key influencers and an expressed willingness to introduce the seller to them. This is observable, demonstrates some level of commitment, and moves the process toward completion.
In your search for sales technologies, finding applications that provide the ability to record or check off buyer actions is an important criterion. Analytics and identifying successful patterns are how things can get better over time.
The opportunity management system component of many CRM programs claims to provide roll-up forecasts for groups (regions, countries, product lines, etc.), but if there’s no clear, quantifiable standard for what is being measured, the numbers lack integrity (see “is Your ROI Bogus”). It’s like collectively trying to build a structure but having everyone using a differently calibrated yardstick. The result is chaos.
Having a single process definition that everyone measures with, and against, begins to provide the kind of detailed picture of operating reality and rational process improvement that sales management seeks and moves toward the predictability senior management wants. Still, we’re talking about people here, not machines.