Neal Benedict
September 1, 2016

Imagine being delivered a new piece of Ikea furniture every week of the year.  It comes in its generic brown box with only the minimal identifying marks.  You unpack the box and realize there are no instructions (process) telling you of how to assemble the parts.  You lay the pieces out on the floor and begin to visualize a way to put it together.  You eventually match the pieces, find the holes and find the corresponding hardware that fits.  You slowly assemble what begins to look like a table and realize it was a desk all along.  You partially disassemble and reassemble to the desired result.  It took you 4 hours to assemble a product that should have taken 1.  Now assume you have to do this over and over again with a completely different piece.  Yes, over time you become more adept at the assembly, but never quite become as efficient as you could be with the instructions or the assembly process.

This of course isn’t a perfect analogy.  However, imagine if your sales team had to try to sell to different clients with different needs each and every time by starting from scratch.  This scenario happens all too often in sales organizations due to a sales process that is either ad-hoc or simply doesn’t exist.

An article published in the Harvard Business Review by Jason Jordan and Robert Kelly in 2015 reported that companies that had a formalized and well understood sales process outperformed those who didn’t by 18%.  I doubt this number.  However, not because it is too high, but because based on my experience it doesn’t appear high enough.  I also believe that having a credible sales process has positive impacts beyond revenue.  A robust sales process has positive impacts on forecasting, time spent on sales related activity, how a sales manager spends their time and how senior management sees the sales organization.

Here are some clear benefits of having a documented sales process.

  • A road-map to repeatable success to guide sales along the way
  • A shortened sales cycle
  • An established guide to what “good looks like” for everyone to strive toward

However, having “just” a sales process often isn’t enough.  Often times sales organizations implement a generic sales process that comes off the shelf with their CRM.  They assume that because they have sales stages in CRM that they have a sales process.  This is seldom the case. (Please see my previous article Aren’t my CRM and My Sales Process the Same Thing?).

Imagine your sales process looks something like this:

It’s not a bad place to begin and I have witnessed organizations starting here.  However, at this stage (if you go no further) it really is nothing more than a process in name but it has no teeth and lacks the clarity needed.  It doesn’t necessarily reflect the way your clients buy or what activities or events lead to a next step in the sales process.

Implementing a reliable sales process is like implementing a new language.  Each step along the way needs to be defined, communicated and reinforced.  If the “qualification” stage means one thing to you and another to me, there is no way for us to effectively use the term to communicate.  Everyone in the sales organization must understand and agree on the meaning of “qualification”.  Only then can we begin to have a productive discussion on how we manage that phase of the process.

Keep in mind that a sales process is a road-map to help your sales team close more deals in less time.  Yes, it is a coaching tool, a management yardstick and even a planning tool, but first and foremost, it needs to be about closing more sales.

Building Your Sales Process

1. Begin by mapping your clients buying process.

By understanding how your customers buy you can then construct a more “responsive” sales process that enables your sales team to help the buyer at the right time.

2. Map your selling process to the customers buying process.

Build a detailed step by step process that includes sales stages, what needs to happen at each stage and what needs to occur before the opportunity can move ahead in the sales process (exit criteria).

3. Ensure you have the tools needed at each stage.

Each step in the sales process has defined criteria that should to be completed at that stage.  The sales team needs tools such as collateral, success stories, training, technology and etc. at each stage in order to execute efficiently.

4. Train on and enforce the process

In order for your sales process to take hold, you have to provide regular reinforcement.  The sales management should engage the sales team using the language of your sales process.  Make sure the team is clear on the exit criteria to move to the next stage and hold them accountable.

5. Continuously improve

Keep a close eye on how the sales team is using the process and the areas where they may be struggling.  This could mean that you need to look at that stage and make changes to ensure the requirements of that stage are both clear and effective.

Good organizations with high performing sales teams follow a sales process.  However, the sales process varies and should be customized to the organization.  A one size fits all approach doesn’t work when implementing a sales process.  A good sales process…

  1. Reflects the customer buying process
  2. Is detailed but simple to understand
  3. Doesn’t have too many stages
  4. Is supported by sales enablement and tools
  5. Is reinforced
  6. Is measured and improved

The bottom line is that having a good sales process is like having a good map.  It’s a critical tool to help you reach your destination and in an efficient and timely way.It frees your sales team to be creative as they find ways to delight the customer.  Don’t under estimate the power of a sales process that reflects the way your clients buy, that is well communicated and reinforced in your organization.

The first step is always the most difficult.Just get started.  It won’t be perfect the first time but that’s OK.  Don’t let that deter you.  Using a sales process as your road-map for success, you won’t remember a time when you were looking at a pile of unorganized sales tasks that took you forever to assemble.  You will be an effective and efficient sales team executing each step of every deal to maximize opportunity and minimize risk.

A sales process is critical.  Don’t put it off.