The Selling Process
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. 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 person to be “tested”.
Is there a downside to having a selling process?
I have heard it argued that sales people are creative individuals who won’t be shackled by the rules of a process. A common source of evidence to support this argument draws attention to the typically poor and inconsistent use of CRM systems by sales people.
In my experience successful sales people always follow a strict process and in the absence of a process within the company they are working for at the time, they will use the process that has served them well in the past. If you try to impose a process on a successful person which is not as good as the process they already use then of course they will resist using yours. The non-use of CRM systems is a case in point where many are designed primarily for and by the marketing function and the sales people feel they are glorified data entry clerks who get nothing in return for their efforts.
A sales process therefore needs to be well thought out and implemented to deliver value to both the business and the user if it is to avoid becoming an expensive white elephant.
How should you approach the introduction of sales and selling processes?
We will cover this in more detail in a future article but here are some general principles.
- The introduction of a sales and selling process should have a purpose which can be demonstrated to deliver value to the business. For example; a common issue that many businesses report is a healthy sales pipeline bursting with great opportunities but no one is making decisions. In exploring such cases we typically find that many proposals are sent without establishing that the prospect is committed to making a decision. This would be prevented in most cases by applying a qualification and quantification process which tests the true position of the prospect in terms of how serious they are about wanting a solution so that resources can be (de–)allocated accordingly.
- Even the very best processes will fail to deliver good results if poorly understood or not accepted by the people who have to follow them. The best way to get a good result is to ensure all those who will use the process are involved in the work leading up to its introduction. An excellent source of information is to study a cross section of your people already involved in sales and selling to understand what makes the successful ones successful and why others struggle. This is the process used by Neil Rackham when he developed SPIN® selling. This will both provide valuable practical insight to what is already working well and it will also help to gain buy-in.
- Having decided what you want your processes to look like explore the market to find the best fit and then adapt it to suit your specific needs. Continue the process of consultation across the sales and selling teams to ensure continuing buy-in. As with any “packaged” business solution you shouldn’t be tempted too easily into changing your business to suit the package however, it is likely you will find some good ideas within proprietary sales and selling processes which may be worth adopting.
- Ensure the processes become embedded in the whole organisation. They need to feature in recruitment, induction, training, management, coaching and appraisal. They should also have a role in the development of sales targets and compensation schemes. In this way people will quickly come to follow the process on auto pilot as it is the only way the company conducts its business and this is reinforced by the actions and reactions of everyone involved.
- Periodically re-visit your processes to ensure they still fit your business and more importantly the way the market is working. Currently there is a lot of interest in social media as a business engagement environment so we all need to ensure that our sales and selling processes align with the way the market wants to work.