At the heart of every high-growth predictable revenue machine is a strong sales process. It’s the backbone that supports organizational scale. It enables accurate forecasting and lets sales and marketing work together constructively. It also facilitates fast root-cause analysis when quarterly sales go sideways, and allows leaders to quickly correct course.
In the past few years, I’ve personally built, advised, or consulted with over 500 sales organizations. In each case, sales process is a major focal point.
What I've learned through that experience is that, first, there is no single "right" sales process for every team. Leaders need to understand their market and their internal dynamics to come to the best decision for that moment in the company's evolution. Second, building a world-class sales process is a process of its own, and you need to crawl before you run.
While the outcome will be different for every team, here are the evolutionary steps to take in order to achieve sales process greatness.
Crawl: Consistent action and documentation.
There is no sales process that is worse than not having a process at all. So pick any rules and follow them consistently. At this stage, it's less about whether they are the "right" processes and more about whether the team can act against them without deviating. So make a quick decision on re-opening lost opportunities versus creating new opportunities in the CRM or calling a lead first versus emailing the lead first. It matters less which rule you pick, and much more that you pick and start forming muscle memory.
It's unfortunate to have bad sales processes, but it's debilitating to have a broken sales process.
Next, enter data into the CRM religiously. Log all of the key steps in the sales process, and don't give reps a pass on poor data quality. My rule here is "Structured data > Unstructured data > No data." Whenever possible, use a pick list in the CRM to keep things clean (structured). If that isn't possible, neatly organize your text (unstructured) into fields by topic. And avoid at all cost the "no data" entered scenario.
Walk: Objective selling stages and activities.
With key rules in place and a lot of data entered into a CRM, next up are selling stages and key activities.
There are three rules to follow when creating sales process stages at this step in the process journey:
- Each stage is self-explanatory and easy to understand. Test this with a new hire that only has a week on the job. If he/she doesn't get the difference between Stage 1 and Stage 2, the stages fail this criteria.
- There are identifiable differences between each stage, and it is clear what moves an opportunity from one stage to the next -- for example, know when to upgrade a lead to an opportunity. Reps must know what makes the stages different, and what needs to be done to get a deal to the next stage.
- As the stages advance, meaningful progress is made toward a purchase decision. While this may be an overly linear way of thinking about the sale, it should be "roughly right" most of the time and illustrate positive progress toward ringing the sales gong.
These rules help avoid a comically bad sales process where the stages are, for example, "Might," "Could," "Would," and "Should" (yes, these are a real examples). To get to a better, but still imperfect, process you should use stages such as "Demo Scheduled," "Demo Complete," "Trial," and "Contract Sent." In the later example, each stage is self-explanatory, it's clear how they are different and how to get from one to the next, and when an opp does go to the next stage, progress is being made toward a sale.
As for sales activities, keep the list manageable and focus on only the most important steps. Think about where reps spend their time, and where the organization spends its money. Aim to keep the list at five different sales activities, and avoid unnecessary minutia such as "Lunch Meeting" or "Out of office meeting."
Run: Assisting the buyer's journey.
The CRM is running and a good -- but imperfect -- sales process is in place. When the time comes to take the next evolutionary step, the shift moves away from an internal selling process and toward the customer's buying journey.
Getting it right in this stage is challenging, and the right answer will be different for every company. Focus on the process for getting there by leaning on these core tenants of a Sales 2.0 (or are we on 3.0 already?) process:
- Stages are the buyer's process, not the seller's steps. It's no longer about how a rep sells, but rather how a customer buys. Identify those key stages, and replace "Demo Completed" and "Trial" with "Evaluating Solutions" and "Technical Fit Assessment."
- Establish buyer and seller Exit Criteria for each stage. To leave a stage and progress to the next, a rep must prove that certain criteria are met. The Buyer Exit Criteria is something the buyer's must do to show their journey is progressing. For example, this could be confirming the statement of needs, or making an introduction to the boss. A Seller Exit Criteria is something a rep must do before leaving the stage, like mapping out an org chart or sending a "champion letter." In both cases, the Exit Criteria must be objective (there is a clear-cut answer as to whether it's been met) and auditable (the manager can prove that it happened).
- Allow buyer's to follow their own path. This is the trickiest part. Step away from the 100% linear way of thinking, and acknowledge that different customers make decisions differently. Allow the prospect to do a technical fit assessment before the demo, if that is how they buy. Think less about the order in which things need to be done, and more about the list of activity that needs to happen in order to win. Let the buyer direct the order of operations.
This sales process utopia gives low performing reps enough guidance to move opportunities in the generally right direction, while enabling all-star reps to identify key areas where they can influence the outcome of an opp by helping the buyers along their journey.
Now, while every team wants to implement best practices, not everyone is ready for it just yet. Start by understanding where the organization is today in terms of the process maturity, and remember that every team needs to crawl before it can run.