If you ask most executives if they have a sales process, they’ll immediately say yes. But when you ask them to describe their sales process, their descriptions vary wildly. To some, a sales process means milestones in their sales pipeline. To others, it means weekly call patterns. To others still, it means a key account plan.
We observed this troubling phenomenon while conducting research for our book Cracking the Sales Management Code. Without a common understanding of the term “sales process,” sales managers can’t coach or communicative with their sellers as effectively. They also find it extremely challenging to automate, measure, and improve their sales process quite challenging.
The 4 Foundational Sales Processes
Our research revealed four basic sales processes that encompass the most important activities of every salesperson’s daily effort. Once we incorporated these four processes into our sales management training programs, our clients’ sales managers found it much easier to measure, manage, and coach their salespeople. It turns out that having clear definitions for your sales process matters a lot.
The four fundamental sales processes are:
A call management process improves individual interactions between a seller and a buyer. Typically, there are three stages: Planning, execution, and debriefing. During the planning stage, salespeople answer these questions:
What is the objective for the sales call?
Which questions should you ask?
What objections do you expect to encounter?
This process helps salespeople successfully navigate complex, multi-stage. Many sellers engage in opportunity planning when they pose questions such as:
What business problem are you trying to solve for the customer?
Who are the stakeholders you need to engage?
How will you position yourself against the competition?
Account management process maximizes the long-term value of select customer relationships by continually aligning your company’s capabilities with the needs of your customer. Account plans help guide your account management strategy by answering questions such as:
What are your company’s goals for the relationship?
What are the customer’s business needs?
What plan of action will keep the relationship healthy and profitable?
This process helps salespeople allocate their effort most efficiently among different types of prospects and customers by prioritizing buyers according to their potential value and then mapping call patterns to maximize the seller’s expected return. Territory plans are common for field-based salespeople who must answer the questions:
Who are the top customers and prospects in my territory?
What level of attention does each deserve?
How will I ensure the right level of service to each?
These four processes encompass a salesperson’s fundamental goals: Make better sales calls, pursue and win deals, acquire and grow customer accounts, and maximize the value of an assigned territory. If salespeople do these things well, success is sure to follow.
But Do I Need Them All?
As we dug deeper into the topic of sales processes, an interesting question arose... Does every sales force need every sales process?
No. In fact, this is the wrong question. Sales forces don’t need sales processes -- individual sales roles need sales processes. For instance, an entire sales force might not need an account management process, but sellers who manage key customer relationships will. And those key account managers probably won’t not need a territory management process, but salespeople with dozens or hundreds of assigned customers will.
We concluded the four sales processes are useful in the following situations:
Call Management: When the salesperson conducts a moderate number of high-risk, unique sales calls
Opportunity Management: When the salesperson pursues long, complex deals with a set beginning and end
Account Management: When the majority of the salesperson’s revenue or profits is concentrated in a handful of large, ongoing customer relationships
Territory Management: When the salesperson has too many prospects or customers to treat them each equally, and effort must therefore be rationed
If you think about the roles in your own sales force, you’ll quickly be able to mix and match the four sales processes based on your salespeople’s tasks. Is it possible that a single sales role might benefit from more than one sales process? Sure. A key account manager might benefit from both account management and call management activities. Will any single sales role need all four? Unlikely … Particularly if your sales force has increased the specialization of its sales roles, as most organizations have done over the last decade.
Get It Right
The most important takeaways from our research: There are discrete sales processes, and each process has a particular application to specific sales roles. If your sales processes aren’t aligned to the role (say, requiring territory managers to do account planning), they’ll quickly be abandoned. There’s no such thing as a bad sales process -- just the wrong sales processes.
If you have no formal sales processes in place, you’re probably in trouble. If you have the wrong sales processes in place, you’re probably in trouble and frustrated. But if you have the right formal sales processes in place, you’re in position to become a sales management rock star. You can confidently measure, manage, and coach your salespeople to higher performance through more consistent execution of their most important activities.
Originally published Jun 27, 2017 7:30:00 AM, updated October 30 2019