Best practices for improving sales process

Sales Process

Sales Process

Listen to a conversation about the need for improving sales process and it usually begins like this:

  • “We have very aggressive sales targets and we’re just not getting there.”
  • “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.”

Whether or not you have consciously decided to address the topic of improving your sales process – it is happening everyday.  It is whatever your salespeople are doing on a given day to improve their navigation of the customer’s buying process. So it makes good sense to gain control.  If not you will end up with everyone doing their own thing and having a fair number of sales reps being less effective than they could be if you pursued a systematic approach to improving the sales process.

Today companies in most markets are undergoing transformational changes. They are changing what they buy, how they buy and what they are willing to pay for it.  If customers change their buying process, you need adapt and adjust you sales process.

If you commit to developing a more effective sales process, there are two fundamental best practices that deserve attention.

1. Start with definitional clarity.  Defining the term “sales process” is a classic example of the blind men and the elephant.  Everyone touches the “elephant” but when they compare notes there is no agreement on the nature of the beast.

Sales process is a concept that unfortunately means something different to everyone with whom you talk. Some would say if you put in place a new questioning model you have changed your sales process. Others would say that is simply adopting a new questioning model. Try it.  Ask around – it is a good bet you will get not just different answers but entirely different types of answers.

To make something better everyone needs to have a clear and common vision of the topic at hand – it’s about being on the same page.

Our best suggestion is to restrict the term sales process to mean the overall set of steps you take from the beginning to the end of your sales cycle to win the business and avoid using the term interchangeably with concepts related to sales models and frameworks.  So if you decide to put in place a new questioning model, you have not changed your sales process.  You have just adopted a new questioning model.

2. Avoid unbridled compliance.  It is not a good idea for a whole bunch of reasons to have everyone do their own thing – that has never been a road to success and it is a particularly unwise journey in today’s market.  That’s an easy one.

On the other hand, in today’s disruptive buying environment it is equally true that unbridled compliance to a standard sales process can have its own pitfalls.

An obvious example of this would be a company that has separate sales forces for different markets such as a national account sales team and a territorial sales team.  The most effective sales process for these two markets would be substantially different.  The somewhat more understated point is the caution holds even within a given market.

On the sales process within a given market, on a scale of “everyone does their own thing to blind compliance” we suggest being somewhere in the middle.

Summary point.  A company is wise to introduce a well thought out sales process because it can contribute to replicating success and scaling the business.  But, beware of overdone rigor and excessive compliance.  The latter will tend to eliminate innovation and discourage the positive deviants among you from exploring the ideas that will define what success looks like tomorrow.  Unalterable commitment to any system in a dynamic environment negates your ability to deal with the ever present new and unknown.

There are a couple of keys to making all this work.

  • Know the adopted standard process really well – make sure you don’t end up deviating out of lack of awareness and knowledge of how the process works versus a planned deviation.
  • If you are going to deviate seek advice from someone like your sales manager so you do it smartly.

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©2016 Sales Momentum® 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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