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Defining the Sales Process

Many companies have established milestones and believe they have process. For traditional sellers, however, this is analogous to giving a destination without a map or directions and occasionally asking if they are going the right way. To chart a different course, it will be necessary to establish some definitions that we can build on:

Process: A defined set of repeatable, interrelated activities with outcomes that feed another activity in the process. Each outcome can be measured, so that adjustments can be made to the activities, the outcomes, or the process itself.

Sales process: A defined set of repeatable, interrelated activities from market awareness through servicing customers that allows communication of progress to date to others within the company. Each activity has an owner and a standard, measurable outcome that provides inputs to another activity. Each result can be assessed, so that improvements can be made to (1) the skills of people performing the activities and/or (2) the sales process.

Sales pipeline milestones: Measurable events that take place during a sales cycle that enable sales management to assess the status of opportunities for the purpose of forecasting. Ideally, most of these milestones are (1) objective and (2) auditable.

Sales funnel milestones: Measurable events that take place on specific opportunities that enable sales management to assess the quality of selling skills and the quantity of activity needed at the salesperson level. Again, these milestones are (1) objective and (2) auditable.

Because of the predominant perception that selling is more art than science, few companies have sales processes that traditional sellers can execute. We believe that this deficiency is the single most significant factor contributing to the disappointing results achieved with sales force automation (SFA) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. As suggested in the above definitions, the chances of building and sustaining an executable and therefore successful sales process are slim in the absence of the following prerequisites:

  1. Pipeline milestones

  2. Repeatable process

  3. Sales-Primed Communications

  4. Customer Focused Selling skills

  5. Consistent input

  6. Auditable input

SFA and CRM systems are among the most common sales-process management techniques today. The allure of these SFA and CRM systems is that they supposedly give companies better control over their sales efforts, culminating in more accurate forecasting. But most companies attempting to implement SFA or CRM have had only one of these six components in place—the pipeline milestones—and even this tends to be updated based mainly on the opinions of salespeople.

We'd like to drill down further into three of the remaining five areas with two goals in mind: (1) defining the component and (2) offering suggestions as to how to fill any voids that may exist. Then, later in this chapter, we'll return to the pipeline milestones.

Repeatable Process

We've already introduced this idea. What is the "code" that allows the traditional salesperson to become more customer-focused? What constitutes success, and how can more people achieve it?

We should point out at this juncture that most companies have more than one sales process. For example, the selling activities will vary when selling major accounts, national accounts, mid-size accounts, add-on business, professional services, contract renewals, and so forth. Most people quickly realize that one size does not fit all; in fact, it can be a recipe for disaster to impose a single sales process on all sales. (Salespeople are fully within their rights to complain about being asked to kill a mosquito with a cannon.) Later in this chapter, we will address how to handle these different types of sales.

Consistent Input

The majority of the input to SFA/CRM systems consists of salespeople's opinions of the outcome of sales calls they make. By definition, this input is subjective and variable. Compounding the problem is the fact that the positioning of offerings falls almost exclusively on the shoulders of individual salespeople.

Consider how odd this situation is in the larger context of a business enterprise. How many other functional groups get to make this kind of report on their work, without fear of contradiction? How many other numbers that are critically important to the corporation have so much subjectivity built into them?

Auditable Input

As noted above, many companies have defined milestones—that is, clearly identified steps in a sell cycle that are used to determine where the company stands vis--vis a given opportunity. But asking traditional salespeople to tell what milestones they have achieved invites them to provide the answer they think their manager wants to hear, and in some cases do so in order to secure their position for another quarter. Unless or until milestones have components specific to job title and business goal that can be audited by someone other than the salesperson, input will continue to be variable. More on this topic later in the chapter.

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