Anatomy of a sales process


It is a poor excuse to say that having a sales process is either outdated or not necessary and stifles the creativity of the sales person.  The concept of a process in this regard is a misinterpretation or perhaps a confusion with a sales script.

A sales process facilitates a common destination but a choice of routes, it is merely a way of ensuring that by the time the destination (deal closure) is reached, some required waypoints have been visited.  It doesn’t dictate the route nor the vehicle for the journey, only that on reaching the destination all the essential elements are in place for a successful delivery.

“A well thought through sales process which is embedded into the planning, action, reporting (and coaching and development) generates more consistent sales results and also saves time on identifying the minimal to no hope deals.”

A common process; enables you to induct new team members so they can get up to speed quicker, enables switching or sharing of accounts between the team without adversely affecting the customer, avoids losing essential actions down the cracks, and facilitates consistent, reliable management information for pipeline forecasts.

Your sales process helps to distinguish you from your competitors.  It minimises your risks of wasting effort or of upsetting your customers.  It enables your sales force to share successful experiences and avoid painful mistakes, but it focuses on the What not the How.

So where do concepts such as SPIN, Challenger Sales, the Blue Sheet, Key Account Management etc fit in?

Your sales process and sales methodology walk hand in hand, but the process covers cradle to grave whereas many of the common methodologies have a narrow focus in terms of discrete stages in the sales process.

For instance:

  • Huthwaite’s SPIN® provides a structured questioning concept useful  in preparation for and conduct of a meeting with a suspect or prospect; likewise AIDA.  They are each only A way, not necessarily THE way
  • Challenger again addresses a questioning style in order to elicit a buy response from your ideal target
  • Miller Heiman’s blue sheet allows for management of opportunities and bid responses
  • Key Account Management maintains customer contact for ongoing business

But what were the target market selection criteria, what territories were allocated, what distinguishes a likely buyer from a tyre-kicker, what must happen before resources can be allocated, who has what level of authority for key commitment?  By defining some of these aspects you facilitate the smooth progress of revenue generation regardless of personnel and market changes.  You also instill some consistency into the data quality of the pipeline regardless of the source of the lead.

So, by definition, a process has inputs, utilises resources, and follows a sequence of steps, or sub-processes, in order to produce outputs or outcomes.

The sub-processes of a sales process might be:

  • Market selection, for which a stage-gate process may be appropriate.  This would then feed its outputs of “ideal” customer profile into a lead generation process.
  • The lead generation may be automated to elicit in-bound leads from marketing, exhibitions, web enquiries.  Alternatively it could be driven by outbound messaging; by calling, visits or email,s identifying the pain points and your value offerings tailored to each specific target.
  • Leads need to be reviewed to minimise effort which might otherwise be wasted chasing an elusive blue bird to the detriment of a real opportunity.  As the opportunities evolve, continual review of the pipeline maintains the focus on realism over optimism.
  • The opportunity pursuit or bidding process determines the strategy and resources required for a successful pursuit of a viable opportunity, ensuring the key customer stakeholders are known and in active dialogue to shape and hone the proposal and thus avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • The feedback or review process establishes the strengths and weaknesses perceived by the recipients of your proposals, win or lose, and your service delivery to enable you to improve your success ratios and satisfaction levels.
  • The account management process maintains contact with customers past and present through sales and delivery/service personnel to build a trusted advisor relationship for ongoing renewals, extensions, cross-selling, up-selling, and acquisition of referrals and testimonials.
  • The sales management process encompasses converting business goals into target planning and territory allocation,  incentive setting and motivation, coaching the sales people through each stage of interaction with a prospect or customer as appropriate, pipeline review and team building, all with the aim of achieving or exceeding the business goals in a predictable manner.

In many businesses the game of chess is a useful metaphor for selling.  The selling activity found in most B-2-B transactions will involve multiple interactions between the supplier and potential customer, which have a purpose and structure.  As with chess that structure can be summarised, at a high level, as; opening, middle and end game.  The supplier will take actions (make moves) which have a purpose in themselves but are also intended to trigger a reaction (a counter move).   In this way the selling process (game) can progress through its series of connected phases to the ultimate goal (end game) of winning an order; check-mate.

Just like chess pieces, each participant in the relationship has their role to play, be they sales manager, sales person, or delivery bod on the supply side; decision maker, sponsor, or user on the purchasing side.  The sales person asks questions to enable the conversation (game) to progress, information to be garnered and the intention, commitment and resolve of the other side to be “tested”. True chess grand masters will not leave it there though, they will analyse the moves and counter moves after the game has ended, and of others’ games, so they are better prepared for future contests.

Performative Structured Selling® provides a methodology to match the full sales process, helping you on your way to becoming a sales grand master.

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