Goldilocks and the sales process

Goldilocks and the Three Bears was penned by British author and poet Robert Southey.  When first published in 1837 the lesson of the cautionary tale was one of respecting the property of others and the consequences of “just trying things out” that don’t belong to you. 

Today the tale’s moral has been reframed to illustrate the lesson – you have to keep trying until you find what is “just right.”  This modern interpretation provides a lesson about the use and misuse of sales process.

Whether talking about porridge temperature, chair size, bed softness, or the amount of structure for a sales process, “just right” seems to be somewhere in the middle. 

In the last ten years a substantive amount of time, effort, and money has been devoted to the topic of sales process.  The typical reasons for putting in place a common sales process often sound like this:

  • “We have very aggressive sales targets and we’re just not getting there.”
  • “Our sales people are spending too much time on forecasting and it’s not even accurate.”
  • “We’re not leveraging our own best practices – a lot of our sales reps are simply doing what they did the last time.”  
  • “Our customers’ buying process has undergone dramatic changes but we’re still selling like we always did.”

Some sales leaders have not gotten around to putting in place a sales process and others have tried and have been somewhat disappointed with the results.   However, few would argue that the right thing to do is to have everyone do their own thing – that is not the road to success in today’s market.

On the other hand, some have argued that more of something is not necessarily better.  For example, Brent Adamson outlines that argument in Sales Process Compliance: Too Much of a Good Thing

In many markets the buying process is going through transformational shifts. As Adamson notes: “We are now living in a world where a standardized sales process will only get us so far.”  Driving compliance around a sales process will “lead to success only when we can predict in advance what success looks like.” 

So, what’s the best path forward? Put in place a sales process but recognize there must be protocols for dealing with the variability and dramatic changes in the buying processes in your customer base. Lack of a sales process makes the consistent achievement of revenue goals more difficult.  On the other hand, unalterable commitment to any system in a dynamic environment negates your ability to deal with the ever present new and unknown.

If Robert Southey were to write a sales process sequel, the moral of the story might be something like this: Be inquisitive – try it.  Introducing a well thought out sales process can contribute to replicating success and scaling the business.  But, beware of false rigor – excessive rigidity, over zealous compliance, and unnecessary paper work tend to suppress innovation and discourage the very best among you.        

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©2011 Sales Horizons, LLC 

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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