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Structuring Your Sales Process

Our process is a metamodel for the successful execution of enterprise sales, but to turn it into a more detailed blueprint, it must be customized according to the unique value proposition and offerings your company brings to market. We talked about how this work can be accomplished at the level of the individual salesperson, but to begin to realize the full potential of the process, it needs to be distributed over the entire sales, marketing, and support organization.

All four phases of the process must be aligned to your unique situation, but most organizations also find that there are specific phases of the process that are particularly important in their selling system. When you identify and focus on these areas, you will have honed in on the place in which your customers typically require the most assistance and in which you can leverage your ability to differentiate your company from your competitors.

You can use the simple matrix in Figure 8.2 to identify your focal point in the sales process.

The Problem / Solution Matrix

Figure 8.2:  The Problem/Solution Matrix

We assume that none of you fall into the lower left quadrant, because if the complexity of the problems you address and the solutions you offer are both low, you do not have an enterprise sale after all. If you do fall into that quadrant, you need to verify your finding, and if it is confirmed, start exploring whether you should maintain a salesforce. A Web site, direct mail, or some other self-serve model, such as that used in office supplies businesses like Staples and OfficeMax, is more efficient and cost effective in the simple problem/simple solution scenario.

It is normal to have different parts of your business fall into different parts of the matrix. A client provides automated document storage and retrieval systems and distributes them through Staples and OfficeMax. Their solutions range from literally the paper file folder to a sophisticated document imaging system.

Moving clockwise around the matrix, when the complexity of our customers' problems increases, but the complexity of the solution remains low, the Diagnosis phase becomes the most critical aspect of the sales process. As problems become increasingly complex, the customer's ability to identify and understand those problems decreases. Thus, salespeople must pay particular attention to the work of diagnosis. (By the way, when diagnosis is critical to the customer's success, you might want to consider charging for the service, as in a consulting/professional services business model.)

In the upper right-hand quadrant of the matrix, both problems and solutions are complex, and we would place special emphasis on the Design phase of the process. When problems and solutions are multilayered and complex, customers find it difficult to connect the two. Thus, the solution designer's ability to align the problem to the best solution becomes a paramount concern.

Finally, in the lower right-hand corner of the matrix, the solution is complex, but the problem is not. When this is the case, you should put special emphasis on the Delivery phase of the process. With transformative solutions, you need to concentrate on implementation, execution, and results measurement. (When Delivery is critical to the customer's success, you might consider charging a fee for that work, as in a professional services business model.)

The quadrant that best represents your business is a good place to begin analyzing and customizing the decision process that you will bring to your customers. Typically, organizations create a cross-functional team to undertake this work. This business development team usually includes representatives of each function directly involved in the sales process—marketing, sales, service, and support. It should also include representatives from other internal functions, such as product development and finance, and customers who bring with them the most direct perspective of all. Starting with your focal point in the sales process and moving through each of the other three phases, the team's job is to customize the process from three perspectives: the customer's decision needs, our competitive strengths, and our competitor's competitive strengths.

To ensure that you understand and incorporate the customer's decision needs in the customized process, you want the business development team to answer four questions about each of the phases in our sales process:

  1. What mistakes do customers commonly make in this phase of the decision process?

  2. What information do customers most frequently overlook or not consider in this phase?

  3. What are the most difficult things for customers to understand in this phase?

  4. What level of professional education or experience is required to understand this phase?

As the team members move from phase to phase, they need to be sure to consider each of the major decision elements in the phases of the process. Thus, in Diagnosis, they consider the analysis of the problem, its consequences, and prioritization. In Design, they consider the expected solution outcomes, the alternative approaches, the investment parameters, and the decision criteria. In Delivery, they consider implementation issues and measurement of solution outcomes. And, even though Discovery does not have a place on the matrix, the team can ask each of the four questions in terms of the optimal strategy for the initial contact (because this is the first place the customer is directly involved).

Once the team has examined and customized the sales process from the customer's perspective, it is time to turn the focus inward and ensure that competitive strengths of your organization and your offerings are incorporated into the process. For instance, in the Diagnose phase, the team would ensure that the process enables the salesforce to diagnose early and often for the indicators that your offerings address most decisively. That way, the salesforce can size up prospects and forecast its chances of winning the sale more efficiently and accurately. A forecast based on the customer's decision that indicators are present and that the dollar impact of the problem is significant, is more accurate than a forecast based on the salesperson recognizing the customer's "interest" in the solution. In Design, they would emphasize those areas where the competitive strengths of your offerings are a close match with the customer's solution outcomes and decision criteria.

When the team has explored our process from the perspective of your competitive strengths, the members should make a final pass through the phases. This time, they want to customize the process in terms of your organization's competitors. The goal here is to enable the salesforce to identify those situations—that is, the physical indicators, the solution expectations, and the measurable outcomes—in which the competition has a strong advantage. This information allows us to predict the outcome early in the sales process with greater accuracy.

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