Here we look at the topic of Sales Processes and Methodologies in the context of businesses that have relatively short selling cycles involving a small number of touch points with the prospect. Typically this also involves comparatively straight forward propositions (products and services); the basic nature of the product or service offering is consistent, requiring sizing and configuration rather than customisation for instance. We are looking primarily at the B-2-B environment but the concepts could equally apply in certain retail environments.
Examples of businesses with short selling cycles might include; those selling to the domestic market within peoples’ homes such as home improvements and renewal energy solutions. In the B-2-B sector it might be companies who sell business and office services & products; printing & stationary solutions, photocopiers, accounting, legal and HR services. Other examples might be open training courses or IT break/fix support.
Today there are so many options available to us when considering routes to market we all have to be very careful to choose the right mix and blend to deliver the optimum result and hence the best return for the time and money invested.
For companies with relatively straight forward propositions and short selling cycles the go-to-market strategy might, for example, be a combination of; trade shows, selective networking by senior people, LinkedIn activity by marketing, inbound enquiries to the website, and referrals. Whichever route, identification of the USPs which distinguish you from your competitors will be key.
One of the earliest attempts to formalise an approach to marketing may be the most suited in this scenario – AIDA; attention, interest, desire & action. Although over 100 years old, this simple formula still holds true and is a valuable guide when planning your go-to-market strategy.
For the prospecting cycle, SPIN® (situation, problem, implication, need) may be well suited to planning and conducting the meetings or discussions with prospects as it provides a method for structured questioning.
What should your Sales & Selling Processes cover?
Regardless of the size and complexity, or not, of a set of processes they all follow certain fundamental principles.
- Taken together your sales and selling processes must define a complete set of contiguous steps which take you from first identification of a suspect through to completion of a sales bid (win or lose). Look at it as a roadmap for a journey, where each step must have an exit route which leads you safely to the next step.
- The backbone of any selling process is qualification and quantification to enable the person engaged in selling to analyse a new prospect or a new opportunity in a systematic way, understanding the relationship required by the DMU and DMP and leading to a calculated judgement of the likelihood of the prospect becoming a customer (qualification) and the likelihood of an individual opportunity leading to winning profitable work (quantification).
- If the nature of your business means you need to actively manage the relationship with your customers after a deal has been done, your processes need to ensure a smooth transition from selling to delivery and account management mode such that the on-going management of the relationship satisfies your needs, meets your standards and delights your customers. This would be a typical scenario if your proposition involves the delivery of an on-going service or projects over a period of time.
- At each step of the process you need a proper hand-off especially if different people are involved at different stages along the way. These are the procedures or rules which govern the process. One of the most common causes of apparently good opportunities suddenly turning negative is failure to complete each step and/or failure to brief thoroughly when passing from step to step.
In summary; your processes should create a complete set of fully integrated steps and include the rules to get you successfully from step one to the end or to help you understand at an interim point that the journey should be abandoned.
Model for a simple process
The easiest way to illustrate this is to consider a real business scenario;
- The business sells a product plus on-going service cover which is used by small engineering firms to reduce waste at the production stage.
- The DMU typically consists of one to three people (business owner or MD, finance person and production manager)
- Your approach to market will have been defined in your methodology (example provided earlier). The output will be suspects; people who appear to have the potential to become customers but on occasions closer investigation qualifies them out; too big or small, already got a competitive solution, no budget, etc.
- What you now do is follow up with these suspects by the phone, as appropriate arrange an appointment to meet them or arrange a demonstration and then you either get the order or not.
Having established this simple scenario you can design the key steps of your selling process; CADO (Conversations, Appointments, Demonstrations, Orders).
The rules for completing the “CA” steps will be contained in your qualification process and your quantification process will define the rules for the “DO” steps. Taken together this provides a smooth and continuous journey.
As you apply CADO to your business you will start to build up valuable information about conversion ratios between steps so, for example, you may find that 100 conversations leads to 30 appointments which lead to 15 demonstrations which produces 5 new orders. You can now use the 100:30:15:5 ratio to plan and manage your marketing and selling efforts and you can also use the ratios to inform your sales forecasting process.
If your business plan means you need to win 5 orders per quarter then you know you need 100 new conversations per quarter. This in turn will tell you how much effort you need to put in to your marketing activities.
Measuring and managing conversion ratios between critical steps in the sales and selling process provides a very valuable KPI as it helps to make the future order and therefore revenue position more predictable.
Successfully implementing processes
Reviewing what we said last month here are a few simple rules:
- Ensure the introduction of a sales and selling process can be demonstrated to deliver value to the business.
- The processes should be based on capturing what already works well so you need to engage the people already doing the job and use them to help define best practice; what works and what doesn’t work. This will help them to understand and accept the process when it is rolled out.
- Ensure the processes become embedded in the whole organisation – make this the one and only way that business is conducted. When new people join they will need to be inducted into your approach to business as well as understanding your products and services.
- Periodically re-visit your processes to ensure they still fit your business and more importantly the way your market is working, taking particular note of trends in customers’ demands and competitive activity.
Two of the most useful selling tools are qualification and quantification. The basic principle is to create a “profile” of an ideal potential customer or an ideal business opportunity that you would like to win. Once the profiles are established you equip the sales people with a series of structured questions which enable them to assess each prospect and each opportunity against the profile to see how good the fit is.
Qualification and quantification tell you two key things; should you invest your effort and if so what is the most effective way to invest that effort to get a satisfactory outcome. Qualify early, qualify hard and most importantly re-qualify frequently throughout the selling cycle; don’t be shy to say no as soon as your qualification assessment tell you the likelihood of them becoming a customer is diminishing.
If you are going to implement a supporting software solution, having decided what you need your processes to deliver, explore the market to find the best fit with Total Cost of Ownership in mind and then adapt it to suit your specific needs. Don’t adapt your business needs to suit limitations of a packaged solution. The key here is the word “needs”.
CRM is a useful tool although it is most useful to those engaged in marketing and sales rather than selling. The people involved in selling need a contact management system but do not typically need the other things that a powerful CRM can deliver.
In the model above we introduced the idea of CADO and conversion ratios. So, a useful sales tool would facilitate measuring the numbers and actual conversions between stages thus providing valuable management information for reliable sales forecasting.
The arrival of powerful mobile devices such as tablet computers means the sales people can have selling tools easily available when meeting prospects and customers. For example, if what you sell requires an upfront capital investment then the prospect will be interested to understand the financial position and will want to know what the Return on Investment (RoI) will look like. Equipping the sales person with a RoI calculator on a tablet computer means they can enter the actual figures in front of the prospect gaining agreement that what they are entering is correct and in this way the prospect becomes more engaged and will be more likely to feel a sense of ownership for the resultant financial illustration.