Every once in a while, I find a consistent problem in businesses that surprises me — not just because it’s unexpected, but because it’s widespread. Companies — large, successful, forward-thinking companies — haven’t adopted a formal, written sales process. Even companies that have embraced standardization in other departments, and see the benefits of formalized process in the rest of their business, seem unwilling to extend this systematic approach to sales. Why?
It all comes back to company culture, and sales is one area of business that can be resistant to change or team unity. I’ve seen companies put too much weight on a “sales star” who’s effective at closing business. Out of laziness, the company assumes that if it creates a process of any kind, they’ll be telling that successful unicorn salesperson how to do their job. But there are multiple problems with this approach: scalability, adaptability and predictability to name a few.
It’s not scalable, because each person follows their own process. It’s also not adaptable, because each sales representative is doing their own thing. There’s no reason a company should change what some are doing based on the results of others; it isn’t uniform to begin with. Lastly, it’s not predictable because the lack of a standard process means elements can and will change without having the accountability of a consistent approach.
But here’s the thing about that irreplaceable sales star: If you can improve the rest of your salesforce through better processes, that star becomes replaceable. There are several benefits to having consistency and a written process over an ever-changing, “star power” approach:
- The incremental improvement of your entire sales team allows your business to scale its sales success.
- Consistency allows for an economy of scale when applying scarce resources (development, IT, marketing) to address sales challenges.
- An analysis of results can reveal trends and help you find and exploit the SWOTs of your business.
- You can provide more focused feedback around critical, competitive issues to identify winning strategies and separate them from ineffective ones.
- You can enable faster implementation of improved strategies, tactics and tools to more of your sales teams.
But to get the best results for your business, your sales team (the front line where your customers engage with your entire corporate strategy) needs to be aligned with the rest of your business. Can you imagine a development team that wasn’t aligned? Projects wouldn’t get completed, functional requirements wouldn’t be met, and budgets would be squandered. Development simply can’t be successful and effective unless your efforts are structured and centered around an end goal — when your product, marketing and management teams know what your sales team is doing.
How do you get started creating a documented sales process? Here’s an example of the steps my business implemented with one of our clients:
- Get your entire sales and marketing teams in one room. It’s OK to meet virtually, but for this exercise, it’s ideal to meet face-to-face.
- Have the group define your prospect’s needs. Ask your team, “What does a prospect go through to work with us?” Focus on your prospect’s journey before they even speak with you.
- Draw your prospect’s journey. It’s best to use a whiteboard for this, so you can easily erase and modify in front of everyone. Outline everything that a prospect does, and what your company does, to help that prospect become a customer.
- Focus on any bottlenecks and determine why they exist. Make sure that every stage of your process has the ability to gauge buy-in and client fit.
- Document your whiteboard. These notes are incredibly valuable for your sales team to have. Take pictures of your whiteboard notes or create a collaborative live document, like a Google Doc.
- Establish accountability. Hold your sales team accountable for executing the documented sales process. You should also run your process through a feedback loop and update it based on significant findings from your data.
By establishing a written sales process, each member of your sales team can confidently take ownership over their success. They can effectively nurture leads, close better deals, and continue to improve their selling skills. This collaborative method enables you to create an intuitive, aligned sales team that overall will yield a higher return than that one rockstar on your team.