If you look back through business history, the evolution of the sales process was an attempt to adapt the methodologies of manufacturing or computing to sales. Essentially you have certain inputs that go through a specific process; given the same inputs and the same process you should end up with the same results every time.
While that was certainly a bright idea on someone’s part, there are some key differences between a sales process and a manufacturing or computing process. First, “inputs” (leads) going into the sales process are going to have variables that computing or manufacturing inputs would not. Second—and most importantly—a manufacturing process is done with precisely performing machinery, and a computing process is performed with mathematical exactitude every single time. A sales process, however, includes the human factor and the infinite variations therein.
Fortunately there are ways to overcome these variations and fine-tune an accurate sales process so that it is at once a methodology, a set of performance benchmarks and a group of metrics for predicting future sales.
#1: An Established Sales Process
It might seem redundant or silly to start off with “you need a reliable and accurate sales process” but it actually isn’t.
This is the part that is too often skimped upon; a sales process is often “decided” and implemented before really digging in and doing the research necessary to make it all it should be.
The best way to start the evolution is to meet with your best closers, your top sales reps, and get them to describe every single action taken from lead to close. Use those actions to establish your initial sales process. Then test that process in the real world—see if all the other salespeople can follow it, and if it results in viable sales.
Once it has been proven, do not inscribe it in stone and make it unchangeable. The business environment is dynamic and if there’s one thing you can always count on is change. Make sure the sales process is reformulated whenever it is seen to be outmoded or not as effective due to changes in the market or business climate.
#2: Don’t Skimp on Sales Process Training
It isn’t enough just to email the new sales process to the sales force and say, “Now we’re doing this.” Sales reps—especially the less experienced ones—are bound to interpret the various stages of the sales process in any number of ways, not all of them correct.
Hold a seminar off peak business hours, or have a group educational meeting on a Saturday. Get everyone together, whether it be physically or online. Go through every step of the sales process and make sure they understand it. Actually drill each step of the process so it can be readily seen that salespeople are applying it. Invite questions about the sales process from reps (they might be afraid to ask for fear of appearing “stupid” or some such) and get them all completely answered.
#3: Be Able to Measure Results
A good part of the reason you want an accurate sales process is so you can actually view and measure the progress of sales as they go along, and monitor sales rep performance. Without a sales process, the only real measure of success you have is the total number of sales closed and the total dollar figures. By the time those calculations are made it is actually too late—and the view of sales is far too broad—to make effective changes in salesperson behavior or approach.
Once a sales process has been established, you need to measure the results of each step of the sales process for each sales rep and collectively. How is that best done? By monitoring buyer action. If a particular sales process step is completed, the buyer should be moving forward to the next stage. Establish and implement ways to measure that forward movement and you will be able to predict and enact more precise control of your sales pipeline.
#4: Pull It All Together in the CRM Solution
Today’s leading-edge CRM solutions make your sales process completely visible, measurable and usable. Because CRM is laid out as an exact reflection of your sales process, sales reps can easily follow it and use it to control and predict their sales pipelines. Metrics for each sales process stage can be easily established, and clearly indicate which sales are taking too long at various stages, which are moving along well, which reps are performing and who needs help. Today’s CRM solutions are also flexible and can be altered or changed as the sales process changes.
The dynamic nature and necessity of the sales process means that traditional CRM applications—which were complex, did not follow the sales process and were difficult to change—are out. A company cannot truly implement and follow a sales process unless the CRM solution chosen can be that sales process and can be easily adjusted for change made in the process as a result of a dynamic and progressive business environment.
So while an accurate sales process may not be as exact as a computing or manufacturing process, by following these guidelines it can be made to be a highly accurate method of controlling, measuring and predicting sales.
See our other articles on sales process measure and control.