Our view is that a sales process represents the management team's best understanding of how buying cycles take place, and how to fit into those cycles.
As with most processes involving human behavior, there can and will be exceptions that must be made under certain circumstances. While some sales methodologies treat selling situations as being black or white, experience has taught us there are many, many shades of gray.
If the potential usages of your offerings are highly variable (i.e., consulting, professional services), process becomes more important. The worst-case scenario is a salesperson calling on a buyer who has a wide spectrum of responses and reactions without a plan of how to handle the call. In one sense, sales process tries to put structure around the number of sales calls made during a sales cycle.
Without sales process, every situation is an exception based on the seller's opinions. Despite the potential benefit of repetition, everything gets done "once in a row." This can be costly at several levels:
Salespeople are determining when and how to compete. These are people whose compensation is based on gross revenue, without regard for the amount of resources required either to win or to lose. Their qualification skills in filtering out low-probability opportunities tend to be proportional to their year-to-date quota positions. For someone behind quota who is working marginal opportunities, things are likely to get worse, not better.
Without putting structure around sales situations, selling organizations lack the ability to drill down and better understand the kinds of circumstances that are likely to result in unsuccessful sales cycles—or, conversely, are likely to lead to sales.
CEOs frequently proclaim to the investment community that their firms embody "best practices." Unfortunately, we rarely hear this claim made in regard to sales—probably because most companies don't do so, and wouldn't dare to claim to. In fact, when it comes to sales, they're not even sure that best practices exist. (It's an art, right?)
We believe that a milestone-based road map that can be audited is absolutely essential. Sales is less an art, and more a craft. While the design and implementation of an effective sales process are formidable tasks, the upside—having better control over top-line revenue generation—can be absolutely invaluable.