This belief is sustained, in part, by the existence of customer-focused salespeople with innate skills who make selling look so easy. But there are two problems with this assumption. The first is that, as we’ve already seen, there aren’t enough customer-focused salespeople out there to go around—perhaps 10 percent of sales professionals.
The other problem is that it presents a self-fulfilling excuse for not getting better. If selling is an art, and I’m not an artist, then I’m off the hook, right? All I can do is plod along in my traditional selling mode and hope for the best.
We don’t agree. What if we could codify the “artful” behaviors of the customer-focused sellers? What if we could build those behaviors into our sales processes and messaging? The truth is that all salespeople, and in particular traditional salespeople, can become more customer-focused, and can produce at higher, more predictable levels. In fact, we have found over the years that a traditional seller following a good process is likely to outperform a naturally talented seller who is winging it.
Sometimes we cite the example of two different kinds of musicians—those in a jazz trio and those in a symphony orchestra. The jazz musicians improvise, in real time. They rarely play the same piece the same way twice. But if you dig a little deeper, you find that there is a great deal of structure and discipline behind most of their improvisation. Meanwhile, the musicians in the orchestra try their hardest to play a Mozart piece (for example) perfectly. For the most part, the members of the orchestra couldn’t write music like Mozart’s. (No slight intended; how many of us can?) But because Mozart’s music has been codified, they can replicate it, and brilliantly.
Naturally talented sellers are very similar to jazz musicians. We can launch a new company with a few naturally talented salespeople (the jazz guys), but to build it big enough to go public and capture its share of market, we will need to teach traditional salespeople (the orchestra) to execute a customer-focused sales process. We have to teach the orchestra to play a little jazz. At the risk of overworking the metaphor, we have to look for the structure that underlies the jazz.
In the enterprise selling world, there are many complicating factors—multiple decision makers, platform sales, commodity sales, relationship sales, application sales, new-name sales, add-on sales, sales through channels, and so on. When we work with our client organizations, one of our first tasks is to help them document, define, and understand all their sales processes. In other words, we help them codify their selling behaviors for the different selling situations they encounter.
Is this necessary? We think so. Many companies define the what, in other words, the things that should be done at each step in their sales process. Most are not so good at codifying messaging that guides the behavior of their sellers and provides the how for these same steps. Unless you establish a set of standards or rules—the how—at each step of the selling process, you have to depend on unreliable data (i.e., the opinions of those around you) or data that come far too late (i.e., your closed orders). If management can proactively assess the quality of what is in the pipeline and help salespeople disqualify low-probability opportunities earlier, pipelines won’t be filled with hopes and dreams. Without a process, conversely, management tends to be a series of autopsies performed on dead proposals or lost orders. With process, corrective surgery might have been possible, and the outcome could have been a win.
Have you thought about your sales process? CRM works best for companies with well-defined processes already in place. Automate chaos and it’s still chaos.
Larry Tuck, editor of CRM magazine, 2000