Everyday I speak with sales executives and professionals about how to improve sales, both driving more sales and improving overall productivity and effectiveness. One of the first things I ask them about is their sales process: Is it current? Are they using it?
Not surprisingly, this is where the “Well, uh……kinda sorta….” I’ve written about this issue extensively, I won’t repeat myself. If you want, re-read the article, But We Have A Sales Process……. I’d like to focus on another issue–critical for sales executives in leading the organization, critical for all sales professionals in maximizing their performance in the organization. Using the sales process cannot be optional! Using the sales process must be an element of how we evaluate and measure people’s performances in our organizations. Using the sales process is a condition of continued employment!
“But Dave, that’s awfully draconian, you can’t be serious!”
Actually I am, and yes, as a sales executive, I have fired people who have refused to use the selling process. No, I’m not being dictatorial, I want to stimulate creativity and innovation in the sales organization. However, the sales process represents the best practice execution of our business and sales strategies. It represents the best practices in aligning what we do with our customers’ buying processes. It is a guide to showing each sales person how to be most productive and efficient. It represents our collective experience in what makes us successful in winning business!
If the sales process truly represents all these things we want to achieve, as individuals and the organization, why wouldn’t we want to enforce using it — not just for the sales people, but for management? Aren’t we focused on achieving the best results possible, as effectively and efficiently as possible?
Unfortunately, too many people seem to think of the sales process providing a suggested—use it if you want, but as long as you are producing the numbers. That argument just doesn’t make sense to me, yes they may be making the numbers, but if they are doing it at a tremendous cost to the organization, is that sustainable? From a management point of view, the sales process is a cornerstone to our ability to manage the business. It’s what we base forecasts on, it’s what we look at to make sure that we are achieving our goals. If people aren’t using it, how do we know what’s happening? How can we commit a forecast that has integrity?
I’m all for creativity and innovation, but letting everyone do their own thing is chaos–not creativity. Being part of an organization, means executing the strategies and processes the organization has identified as critical to achieving its goals. Hopefully the strategies and processes (particularly in selling) are not so narrowly defined that they restrict all creativity.
What happens when I find someone that’s not using the sales process? First I try to understand why they aren’t using it? Maybe they don’t understand it, maybe they don’t know how it makes them better sales people (or more effective sales managers/coaches). I look at their performance, perhaps they are doing something that should be incorporated into our process–we should always be seeking to improve our processes. I work with them in getting them to understand how they can be much more productive and effective by using the process and help them develop an execute a plan that gets them back on target.
But what if they don’t do it? Well, if after understanding, diagnosing, coaching, they still aren’t using it, they are gone. If they won’t execute the sales process, they either don’t have the skills/capabilities or they are not aligned with our goals and strategies–choosing not to be as productive as possible. We can’t afford this in the organization.
Would you do this even for the top performers? The short answer is, Yes. But the question doesn’t really make sense, if they aren’t executing our strategies, if they aren’t aligning what we do with our customers’ buying processes, if they aren’t being as productive and efficient as possible, how could they be a top performer? Sure they might be producing big numbers, but at what cost? Are they doing that by creating all sorts of exceptions within the organization? Are they pissing customers, or the people in our organization off? Are they booking bad business? Are they making commitments that we can’t or don’t want to deliver on?
In my experience, consistent top performers use the process rigorously. They are the one’s I count on to help continually improve the process.
If we are serious about personal and organizational effectiveness, then the sales process is not optional.
What do you think?
Hi Dave: Great blog that is sure to create strong opinions. Here’s mine: following a process–any process–for the sake of following it, risks not fulfilling the results the process was designed (ostensibly) to achieve.
As a salesperson, I have worked with many employers that maintained sales processes that were made obsolete by the “facts on the ground” in the current selling situation. Had the salesperson stuck to the company sales process mandate, the opportunity would be lost, and the salesperson reprimanded for not calling “the audible”–to use a football term that fits here.
Salespeople can’t assume that a company’s sales process always reflects collective wisdom or best practices. Why not create a culture where people feel unencumbered when calling legacy practices into question? After all, some processes are maintained because that’s the way things have always been done. An effective salesperson gives priority to managing outcomes, and knows when to call audibles and to change when the situation demands it.*
Aren’t sales organizations really better served through salespeople who know how to innovate and “make the call,” and then share their experience so the sales processes and insight can be improved?
* Top questions to ask about audibles:
1) was the desired outcome achieved?
2) did the change violate any law, regulation, or standard of ethical conduct?
3) was a company asset put in great risk or jeopardy?
If the answer to question 1 is ‘yes’ and questions 2 and 3 are ‘no,’ it was probably a good call.
Andrew, great comment, nothing like a great debate with terrific ideas from several points of view. We can only get better, as a result.
I agree with much of what you say. The reason/excuse many people don’t follow the sales process is that it is hopelessly out of date and irrelevant for current strategies, priorities, market conditions. Shame on management for being so irresponsible–I would tend to amend the title of the post– Sales managers, keeping the sales process current, competitive, and reflective of best practices is not optional, it’s a condition of your current employment.
When a great sales person is not following the sales process, it probably tells you the sales process is not appropriate. In my experience, the great sales people have always pushed the envelope–you want them to, that’s how manager can improve the overall organization.
The “audible” concept is a terrific concept. Football teams have plays–or processes, they recognize some of these need to be modified and adapted on the fly. Well designed sales processes should accomodate and encourage audibles. I think the mistake too many organizations make is they try to make the sales process to tightly defined, too rigid,or try to achieve a false level of precision. As an example, many years ago, we worked with a Fortune 100 organization. After some research, with the customer we defined a process that had roughly 5 stages and roughly 25 key activities (across all the stages). We implemented it, started getting tremendous results in improved win rates, improved effectiveness, and shortened sales cycles. Some “staffy” decided they could engineer it to make it even better. The result was 17 stages, on 9 pages single spaced with about 234 key activities! You can imagine what happened.
I like to say a sales process should be elegant in its simplicity, natural in its execution. Watch the best sales people in the organization, they all follow a process, probably a pretty common one. They make it look simple. Collecting their best wisdom is a great way to develop a great process.
Regarding “was the desired oucome achieved,” stated otherwise, does the end justify the means? It depends on what we define as the outcome. Does it mean getting the deal–but at tremendous cost, risk, etc? Does it mean getting the right deal–for the customer and for our company? A good sales process maximizes the latter set–across the entire organization.
I have to apologize for being a little hard nosed about this. I see too many people, managers and sales people alike prepared to abandon disciplined, focused execution (which is accomplished with great process). They will create all sorts of excuses. It is management’s responsibility to make sure the sales process is current, competitive, and represents best practice. It’s their responsiblity to engage the sales people in doing this and to make sure the sales people understand the process and how to execute it. It’s management’s responsibility to coach and develop people in the execution of the process. It’s sales responsibility to execute it, but not blindly, to call audibles when the process does not apply, to deviate from it in exception–and to let management know they have made an informed decision by doing this. It’s sales responsibility to push the envelope, to help management find better ways and constantly improve.
Despite, my strong opinions, I think we are really in violent agreement on this. I’m just being a little stubborn and hard-nosed to drive the point home.
As always Andrew, your thoughtful comments spark a discussion better than the original post. Thanks for your support and contributrions!
Dave: Great perspective, and I agree with much of your idea. I thought about this a quite a bit more. If the sales environment is transactional and highly repetitive, processes must be well defined and tight. At the extreme of the “transaction sale” end, selling a McDonalds Happy Meal requires a specific set of steps that must occur in sequence. Similarly, an selling a new automobile demands rigorous attention to the sales process. A car salesperson who bypasses the dealership’s process and lets a newly-financed vehicle off the lot without proof of insurance jeopardizes his company’s financial security (as well as his own). As you said, steps need to be followed. In order. Period.
But as a vendor’s product becomes less tangible (consulting services, for example), and sales cycles become longer, sales processes must be flexible in order to achieve a successful outcome. In football, the play plan becomes unavoidably obsolete the instant the ball is snapped. Same with selling. Competitor tactics, personnel changes, economic forces and more pull the rug out from under the best account plans.
Processes that have worked in the past can be effective guidelines, but most sales managers need an account executive who can make a quick adjustment when there’s no one to ask at the moment of decision.