One of our favorite questions to ask of professional sales people and their leaders is “What is your sales process?”
The reason we find this question so powerful is that it not only gives us a sense of the individual’s consideration for what they do day-in, and day-out, but it also tends to expose a far-too-often flaw in the approach to sales they are following; the process is too inwardly focused on the sales person’s activity and the selling organization.
An obvious thing we routinely hear from senior leadership in organizations is a desire to see more sales. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. However the mind-set many of these leaders have is that simply doing more of what they are doing will yield the results they seek. For example, they may be thinking “We’d like to double the size of the sales team.” Or “We think we need to lower our prices to gain more traction.”
While perhaps flippant concepts, when we unpack the aspiration what we invariably find is that what is really desired is greater efficiency in the sales process, both in terms of time to close deals (do it faster) and resource consumption (do it with less staff). This means we then need to evaluate the sales process itself. We seek to identify where is there ‘waste’ or inefficiency in the process? And this is where we see a common theme emerges.
What we frequently find is that the sales process tends to be based on the actions of the sales person or team, and entirely neglects the customer and their buying process. For example, KPIs for the sales people and managers may be based on the number of calls made, the number of demos, or the number of proposals sent in a day, week, or month. On the surface, this understandable. The logic goes like this: “The more customers I call, the more the deals I can likely land. So if I want more deals closed, make more calls.” Similarly, “If I send more proposals, the number that are accepted (won deals) should increase as well.” Pretty solid logic.
Unfortunately this entirely belies whether or not the prospective customer is qualified and in buying mode. For example, we can send a proposal, but is the customer first ready to buy a solution like ours, and did they ask for the proposal because it is time to make a decision to address their problem? Worse, and what’s not typically considered or understood is that taking a sales action (e.g., sending literature, doing a demo, sending a proposal, etc.) at the wrong time in the buying process is fraught with problems and risk, and has a significantly negative impact on sales efficiency.
When we take sales action (perhaps in order to achieve KPIs) even though that action is “out of phase” with the place in the customer’s buying process, there are a host of issues that may surface, including but not limited to:
- We lose control of the sales process. This is the dreaded “Thanks, I’ll contact you if we need anything else” message.
- We empower the customer to better negotiate with us.
- We provide competitive intelligence to our competitors.
- We confuse the customer because the information we provide may get compared to other solutions types unrelated to ours. For example, if the customer wants to increase their production volume, they have multiple options such as automation, hire more staff, etc. If they are still considering which of these “approaches” to their problem to pursue, sending detailed technical specs on our automation approach runs the risk of everything mentioned above, as well as confusing the customer since they may not be deep enough into the analysis of automation solutions to understand our differentiation and value proposition.
The result of a sales process doing this is fundamental inefficiency, and a decreased win-rate. Deals are slow to close as they frequently stall in the sales cycle, and sales professionals keep investing time in deals that are in a bad place, wasting time (and money). Close rates suffer, sales cycles are lengthened, and cost of sales is higher than it need be.
The cause is not sales people not doing enough, but not doing the right things at the right times based on the buying process of the customer. And not all buying processes are the same.
The buying process will follow – at a high level – a similar cycle. But how that cycle is adopted will vary by everything from the industry to the specific customer (based on their policies and procedures), to the type of solution being bought, to the size of the financial investment.
Based on this, the most efficient and productive sales organizations we’ve interacted with have a deep understanding of the buying process of their customers, and have aligned their sales process to match that. Conversely, the sales organizations we’ve worked with that have significant sales efficiency issues tend to be those that are focused on the work the sales team is doing by volume, rather than by timing synchronization with the buying process.
So which describes your organization? Have you mapped your sales process to match the customer’s buying process? Have you even considered the customer’s buying process?
If you’d like help with this, give us a call.