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Methodology & Process for short selling cycles

© Garsya | Dreamstime.comHere 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.

Selling tools

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.

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.

Addressing the complete sales cycle

There’s many a sales methodology in the market, but most focus only on large deals, and typically only on the skills required at the point of sale completely missing everything that must happen before an opportunity has been identified.

Such sales methodologies fail to assist businesses with their overall sales process and their need to ensure their energies are focused where they will gain maximum return from their sales and marketing budget.

Knowing how to deal with an opportunity is great, but how do you find one in the first place? If all you do is respond to inbound enquiries what control do you have over the pace or direction of the development of your business?

Comparative focus of different sales methodologies

Comparative focus of different sales methodologies

Performative Structured Selling®  provides the foundation for your own go-to-market model. It creates a lean, agile selling engine that addresses the complete selling cycle enabling you to build a manageable customer base from which you can then fill your pipeline with opportunities that you can objectively assess for your chances of winning.  This not only helps the sales force to use their time more effectively, but also enables your sales management to deploy their resources for maximum return.

The Performative Structured Selling® framework permits the flexibility to incorporate the things that are already established and working well within your existing processes, into the final solution.

Performative undertook three assignments for us between 2002 and 2005 including the customisation and deployment of Performative Structured Selling® of which the key principles are still in use today. We have come to realise the true benefit of this robust methodology as it remains a constant in the business regardless of the changes in personnel, market and proposition. The work done by Performative created a great foundation for what is now a very successful business.
May 2009

Want to increase the return from your Sales and Marketing budget? Get in touch with us to discover how you can tune your selling operation and build valued customer relationships.

Sales Performance Improvement

When something is not right, the pain points we recognise first and seek to address are often only symptoms.

  • Are the sales team are struggling to meet their targets?
  • In the search for new customers are marketing initiatives generating the response you need?
  • Do you find sales training effects are short-lived or negligible?
  • Do the new sales people you recruited live up to their promise?
  • Are you losing more deals to your competitors?

Individual symptoms, addressed in isolation can give short term relief but rarely provide a lasting result.

Performative recognises that while a remedy for the immediate pain is a priority, a holistic approach, diagnosing the root causes of under-performance would enable them to be addressed in the most appropriate sequence to assure sustainable improvement.

So how will it feel once we have completed a programme for you …

  • Customers will be happy and communicative at multiple levels, giving you advance warning of upcoming opportunities.
  • Your senior management will be able to identify and focus on strategic activities.
  • Sales management will have the tools to be in control, avoiding unpleasant surprises.
  • The sales team will be motivated and operating in harmony with the business goals.

arising from …

  • Your proposition, target markets, routes to market and collateral will be consistent and your outbound sales and marketing activities will be sharply focused.
  • You will have a defined end-to-end process from the initial identification of targets through the evolutionary cycle from suspect to prospect and eventually to customer, resulting in more closed deals.
  • Contacts and opportunities with least potential will be weeded out early; sales activity will be focused on contacts with the greatest potential.
  • Your staff will be fully familiar with the process and supporting tools, and understand the methodology sufficiently to immediately adapt to varying scenarios and customer needs.
  • Key customer account and new business activities will be balanced to achieve your business goals.
  • Your pipeline will be a known quantity, providing objective measures of business potential.
  • The pipeline will provide meaningful KPIs giving advance warnings of problems.

“Performative have unquestionably helped us to become better focused and more structured in all aspects of our selling activities. This has enabled us to accelerate the growth of the company with certainty which is a great foundation for planning and investing in our future.  Throughout the period of involvement with Performative we have found them very supportive and responsive and they have provided advice on a diverse range of topics. They are a great partner to have. “

If this is how you’d like your organisation to be, contact us now!

time allocation to team members

Challenges of the Sales Leader

The Executive as Sales Manager:

This is specifically focused on the executive, who does not have a sales background but who does have to manage the sales and selling functions of the business. This is a typical scenario for many owner managers but is also the position when someone from a different discipline, for example the FD, assumes responsibility for the sales and selling operations. One obvious thing to observe about this person is that as well as managing sales they will also have another job to do as well; CEO, MD, FD, etc.

A principle that we have long subscribed to is that you can lead or supervise people but you can only manage processes. Attempts to “manage” people typically descend into supervision and this in turn tends to focus on monitoring the quantity of activity whereas what matters is the quality and value of the outcomes achieved by the activity. Good sales managers know this and spend most of their time training and coaching their sales people to achieve better outcomes rather than supervising them to produce higher volumes of activity.

The key to effective leadership of any sales operation, regardless of whether the leader is experienced in sales and selling, is to have in place a well-defined sales methodology and a complete set of associated selling processes. The methodology represents the go-to-market strategy while the processes are the tactics used to implement that strategy.


allocate time to each

Make time for coaching individuals and the whole team

The processes define the stages and gates that need to be followed throughout the lifecycle which sees a suspect become a prospect, then a customer, then a user and eventually an advocate. The processes ensure there are standard outputs from the mundane routine parts of the job. Those outputs must benefit both the company and the sales person. The sales people need to be trained in the use of the processes and progress is then easily monitored by observing how potential deals move through the stages of the process.  Such movement should be driven by adherence to the “rules” of the processes. This removes the need for the executive to try to manage (in fact supervise) every individual action and item of activity by every sales person – now, management can focus on exploring the exceptions.

Because the executive will be wearing a number of hats, it is important to allocate regular time slots throughout the week which are reserved exclusively for managing the sales and selling functions.

Here are a few tips to guide the executive as sales manager:

  • Design the commission plan to encourage the behaviour and results required to meet the business goals.
  • Create a sales methodology and associated selling processes.
  • Communicate these to the sales people ensuring they understand why they are expected to follow them.  The objective is to create an environment which permits intelligent adaptation within a defined environment.
  • Induct new people and train existing people into the methodology and processes
  • Reinforce this by managing people via the processes – make your expectations clear and consistent, e.g. if you ask for weekly reports, ensure you read them and respond.  Be alert to anomalies which may indicate coaching is needed.
  • Monitor progress through a dash board consisting of a few KPIs, pay attention to the exceptions and act on them.
  • Set aside regular times when you are in sales manager mode and publish these
  • Make time to coach individual sales people
  • Make time to visit prospects and customers with sales people, not on your own
  • Have a sales meeting with the whole team at least once per month – discussing account issues and tactics helps everyone learn
  • Speak to each individual sales person regularly and if they are remote do this by phone
  • If you feel you cannot do any of the previous points then bring in help, either a dedicated sales manager or part-time interim assistance to cover specific areas for you.


The Outcome:

Over the one year period of the assignment, the customer achieved:

  • Revenue growth of 40% from $158m to $222m
  • Reduction in cost of sale from 9% to 7% equivalent to $8m
  • Reduction in the cost of marketing by $7m.

The Challenge

IMRglobal, a well-established IT solutions provider with a sales force operating in the USA, wanted to grow and expand its reach across the globe:

  • The company had just gone public and needed to conform to the rigorous NASDAQ quarterly reporting requirements.
  • The company embarked on a rapid programme of acquisitions (11 completed in 37 months) in eight countries across four continents.
  • Each acquired business brought its own approach to sales and marketing.  However, a consistent approach was needed across all business units enabling accurate and consistent reporting.
  • Previous consultancy advice, from a reputable company, had led to a global sales training programme, which had not been successful; there was no reinforcement after completion of the courses, there was no corporate sales methodology, and there was no consistent approach to sales management.

The Performative Solution

Performative analysed the situation and convinced the senior management that for any solution to have wide, deep and lasting effect, there needed to be a programme of change across the organisation – not just in the people, but also the underlying infrastructure, methods and processes.   A one year programme was authorised, with the key goal of developing a sales approach that could be easily and consistently implemented in each region.   In our roles as interim global sales and marketing VP the following was achieved during the programme:

  • Developed a new go-to-market model with a supporting sales methodology.
  • Overhauled and restructured the US marketing operation which also functioned as the global marketing function.
  • Profiled, re-structured and rebuilt the sales teams and their compensation schemes.
  • Developed and rolled-out sales skills and process education programmes globally.
  • Developed and implemented a new, more structured, sales management approach.
  • Recruited sales directors and sales managers for the US operation and supported other regions in similar recruitment activities.
  • Continued mentoring and support for a further 18 month period.