The mere mention of process in selling generates an emotional charge. Lightning bolts fly as sales professionals take up sides. Hackles rise as a cadre of experience sales people stamp their feet and shout in unison – do you want me selling or shuffling paper? They pontificate on the “divine difference” between selling and most other activities. Advocates of a selling process retell story after anecdotal story of companies who put process to work. But proof has finally arrived.
Real research indicates there is a correlation between process and the customer’s perception of the selling organization. Further this research points out that companies viewed as contributing and business partners – all had a well defined process in place.
Unfortunately most knowledge-based distributors lack a bona fide sales process. And, each time distributor management decides to pursue anything relating to a process, their mental conviction is beat back with a number of reoccurring arguments. To illustrate, allow me to a few of the most common:
- Which would your rather me do, sell or fill out your paperwork?
- That process stuff works in other businesses but it doesn’t apply in ours. Our product mix / customer mix / industry are different.
- I already have a process for handling my territory and I have been doing this for 15 years.
- I am a sales professional. I don’t need someone telling me how to do things.
Plus setting up a process is no “walk in the park”. Selling is a complex point with many steps, sidebars and detours. Sales managers get lulled into believing a process is impossible simply because it’s complex.
In conversation, most sales managers believe they have a process. In research for my new book Target Driven Sales, we surveyed over 500 selling professions on the topic of a targeting strategy. Does a process exist? In the minds of the managers responsible for sales the answer is an astounding – yes! But the follow-up questions told a different story.
Follow-up questions asked whether the “process in place” had measures of success, documentation, training and a number of similar defining points. The largest single group indicated their process was “informal” with no documentation, no metrics and no system for training. Another definitive question measured the number and type of meetings used to manage the process. When meetings took place at all, they were characterized as loosely structured with no supporting data.
Excuse me – that’s not a process. All of these “informal processes” are nice. And you may have achieved some level of success using them. But they are not a process.
A process is an all-encompassing structure for specifically defining performance standards. They include:
- Documentation – so they are done with repeatability and in order to bring new employees up to speed quickly
- Tools – designed to make the activities more efficient
- Metrics – in order to gage effectiveness of both the process and people carrying out the process
- Continual feedback – opportunities for coaching, managing and directing the people responsible for the feedback
- Reinforcement – because we need to reward those who follow the process and re-educate those who do not
- Regular review – points where we fine tune the process to changing business conditions
Test your current system (we won’t call it a process anymore) to determine which of the above mentioned points are present. The whole concept seems just a little bit overwhelming – Sales is really a number of interrelated processes. And this brings us to question number three.
Question Three: Which parts of the sales process should we work on first?