What is a Sales Process and Why Do I Need One?

by | Jul 3, 2010

What does “sales process” really mean anyway? It seems like everywhere you look, sales trainers and gurus are talking about sales process. At the same time, small businesses are struggling to manage sales people and meet revenue targets and they’re not even sure why they need a “sales process”.

I think that the sales training and consulting business has a huge opportunity to help small businesses if they communicate what the benefits of their methodologies and expertise more clearly.

What is a Sales Process and Why Do I Need One?

Water leaking from holes in bucket

I also think small businesses have tremendous opportunities to increase their top and bottom lines if they begin to think about their approach to selling as a process.

We just all need to get on the same page. In working with small businesses to implement web based CRM software, what I see is that business owners and sales leaders hope the CRM solution provides them insight into the behavior of their sales team, the ability to collaborate as a team easily and some visibility of future sales.

Unfortunately, many sales leaders expect the CRM solution to establish the process for them.

Equally unfortunate is the fact that many CRM vendors are happy to pretend that their CRM software can provide that process. It just doesn’t work. One size does not fit all. In fact, even two competitors in the same market will follow very different approaches to marketing and selling and those differences are often their competitive strengths.

So what is a “sales process” anyway?

Well, at the risk of offending some of my more brainiac friends in the sales training world, I think the answer is pretty simple.

A sales process is a series of steps designed to accomplish two things –

First, match the company’s interaction with the prospect or potential buyer to the typical process that buyer follows in investigating and selecting solutions. Example: If you’re selling something that people buy all the time, then they want to know how your product or service is different from what they normally buy. You contrast your product to the popular competitors in your niche and ask for the order. However, if you’re selling business solutions that are purchased once in a lifetime or once every few years, then your first challenge is more to help the prospect determine if they really need your solution. That becomes a much more drawn out and educational series of activities.

Second, the sales process should be measurable. It’s a series of objective steps taken by the buyer and by the sales team that tell you how close you are to an order. It’s not different that establishing a manufacturing process. If you build homes, you don’t send the painting crew to the site while you’re still pouring the slab, even if the customer tells you he wants to see how the kitchen colors are going to look in the morning light. These steps should be designed to be followed in a certain order. The steps in the process are sequenced so as to ensure that time consuming and costly sales activities are reserved for the most qualified and high value prospects and to provide prospects and potential buyers with information about your products and services and the problems they address in a way that opens their mind to a new way of doing things.

I find that most companies shopping for web based CRM software are focused on analyzing and measuring what’s happening in their sales efforts but, they’re not really sure what the process is. They see sales as a sort of art that they often don’t understand. Many times they’re hesitant to tell their sales people how to do their jobs. The business founder may not have any selling experience and therefore feels it best to leave the method to the sales people.

SALESOn the other hand, most sales trainers and marketers are focused on creating a specific way of introducing and selling products and services based on the unique characteristics of the niche you’re going after.

So, we have the vast majority of small businesses trying to measure sales where there is no process which limits the measurement to vague and generic things like number of calls made, number of meetings held, number of proposals created, etc. These are all great things to measure for many businesses but, can encourage the wrong behavior and be extremely harmful to sales. If you begin to track the number and dollar volume of proposals sent by each sales person and even reward the “leaders” in this area, what you’ll get is sales people spending way too much time with prospects that are not likely to buy just so they can send them a proposal. There has to be some data about the prospect that qualifies the proposal as being worthwhile and the customer as being a likely buyer.

At the same time, the business owner wants to see this type of information before they invest in relatively expensive sales training and consulting.

So you see the quandary of small business selling… Business owners trying to measure a process that doesn’t exist by making a small investment in CRM solutions before spending larger amounts on sales consulting to define a sales process!

We’ve just released a simple guide to identifying your own sales process so it can be managed in a web based CRM here.

As mentioned before, I think that web based CRM providers are feeding this quandary by trying to give small businesses what they want – a process. They say “Don’t have your own process, well take mine!” That’s not likely to work out well.

I suggest that a more successful approach would be for the business to determine what process is in place today. There is one, even if leadership doesn’t know it. Ask the top producing sales people. They’ve worked it out for themselves. Start measuring that process. That way your measurement of the process is not likely to encourage any behaviors that they aren’t already focused on. The data you gather will provide insight into where the greatest opportunities for improvement are.

Clearly, you’ll need to select a web based CRM solution that allows you to easily create and measure your own process. There are some out there 😉

We’ve released a very simple 10 step guide that allows non-sales guru business owners to determine what their sales process is and begin measuring it from the beginning. That way 2 or 3 months into implementing your web based CRM software, you’re not staring at useless reports of calls made knowing that many of the calls being counted weren’t even related to moving a sale forward. You’ll be looking at data that has meaning in your business.

The fringe benefit of this approach is to involve your sales team in the process from the outset. You’re starting with their process not yours. When you suggest areas of improvement, it will be based on hard data they entered into your web based CRM.

Check out our step by step guide to identifying your sales process so it can be managed in a web based CRM here.