In 2022, your buyers are in control. There’s a myriad of stakeholders, buying committees, and procurement processes. This is especially true for sales teams selling complex solutions and big deals into the mid-market and enterprise space. It’s why developing an agile sales playbook is more important than ever.
Is your sales process an effective tool when it feels like the buyer is often setting the agenda?
Before we get answers, let’s go back to the basics on business process and ask the question: is there any benefit in treating B2B sales as a “process”?
A systems approach: business processes management
Business processes are designed, documented and implemented so that predictable outcomes can be achieved from a programmed set of activities.
Ideally, we strive for 100% predictability in all processes (wouldn’t that be nice for your sales processes?)
For Example: Paying employees each month
The process for running the monthly payroll file is expected to pay employees correctly, on time and every time.
Occasionally, there are mistakes. A new employee gets missed. A pay rise is not applied etc. The payroll team should strive continuously to improve the process to remove these gaps and aim for zero defects.
This example highlights THREE benefits of implementing a business process:
- Achieve reliable, predictable outcomes that are superior to what would be achieved in the absence of a defined process. We might describe this benefit broadly as “quality control”
- The capability to handle increased volumes of activity. This is described as “scale”
- The existence of a documented process enables systems thinking which improves the reliability and quality of outcomes over time. This benefit can be described as “continuous improvement”
Sales Process as a business process
Salespeople implement a program of activity with a potential customer and this is expected to achieve an expected outcome – a sale.
Of course, the predictability of the sales process is significantly less than what we expect from other business processes such as payroll processing.
As a rule of thumb, sales leaders might expect a 30% proposal conversion rate on sales opportunities when salespeople follow a process.
This win rate is expected to vary across different salespeople and different opportunities. And the quality of each win (the profitability of the deal, the clarity of expectations set with the customer etc) can also vary greatly.
With such variation and such a low predictive rate, the big question in sales land is naturally …is sales process relevant and effective?
The sales process paradox
In this post I am arguing that a defined, commonly used set of sales processes is both less effective in the current environment and more important than ever – that is the paradox.
Why is sales process is less effective in 2022?
It’s a control issue. Buyers are in control, more stakeholders, longer sales cycles, highly complex solutions.
It’s foolish to think that you can drive your customers on a “pipeline bus” through a prescribed process set of stages and steps with inevitable predictability.
This is not new. But, the environment in 2022 presents more challenges for executing a defined sales process.
In 2022, you need to be thinking more about an agile approach to covering off the steps in your process.
Why sales process is more important than ever?
You need to invest in sales process to enjoy the three key benefits of systems thinking outlined above:
1) Quality control:
Although you can’t expect your sales process to deliver predictable outcomes. You can expect a well-designed sales process to achieve better results in the long run than what would have been achieved in the absence of a process.
Without a process, you can not ever hope to scale your sales team. If everyone has their own process and there is no coordinated effort to develop a common process – your sales results are at the mercy of each individual’s ability to work their way thru to a successful model.
3) Continuous improvement:
A focus on sales process provides a framework to help make sense of the chaos. For example, in a large B2B deal, it’s difficult to translate a verbal ‘yes’ into a signature on a contract. There could be several weeks of legal reviews before red lines are agreed and a contract is signed. This part of the process can vary significantly from company to company. Having an agreed process can at least mitigate some of the risks and time delays.
Opposing Views: Sales Management perspectives on sales process execution
If there are two types of sales managers in the world they can be classified as either “scientists” or “artists”.
These managers believe that the sales process is everything. Successful deals follow a pattern of necessary activities that take the customer on a journey to a signed contract.
With the right process, any salesperson with the basic sales skills and energy can successfully manage a pipeline and close deals.
These managers believe that the sales process is a theoretical indulgence and is best left in a folder to gather dust on a shelf.
They believe that sales is a dark art practised by a talented few. They believe that the best salespeople have unique skills and their own instinctive methodology that works well and these traits can’t be replicated.
Sure, skills can be developed, coached and modelled to an extent – but in the artists’ experience, trying to enforce a sales process on your stars is counterproductive. It is also ineffectual as a tool to help underperforming salespeople improve results.
Of course, you won’t find either of these extreme manager types in the real world!
The two opposing archetypes are in fact “mindsets” that sales managers will bring to their role in varying degrees as they strive to achieve quota for the year.
I am making the case for sales managers to not focus on sales process as a goal in its own right – but to focus on investing in sales process to deliver these three benefits:
1. To improve quality in your pipeline management.
2. To develop a scalable sales business – one where you can double the size of your team and reasonably expect this will lead to results that are around double (whereas doubling a team without a process could lead to zero sales growth or even a decline as management resources are wasted on unproductive hires).
3. To drive continuous improvement and team learning by assessment of execution against the ideal. Rather than becoming obsessed with tracking conversion rates – become obsessed with the benefits of making incremental improvements and having ongoing coaching sessions with your team on these improvements.
What is the art of sales?
To be sure, a salesperson’s unique skills and sales ‘artistry” will impact significantly on the total sales result. Think of your sales process as a means to “amplify” results as opposed to being the sole driver of results.
It’s useful to think of the sales process as the “what” of your sales strategy and sales methodology as the “how”. In other words, sales process is the science and sales methodology is the “art”.
Great salespeople who seem to have that ‘gift’ bring their own sales methodology to the game. It could be a flavour of SPIN or Challenger selling or Miller Heiman or it could be their own unique approach that just works for them.
But the best salesperson will benefit from having a clear roadmap on the steps to take.
A Conclusion from the team at SalesGRID
Software automation and engagement platforms for B2B sales teams deliver benefits at the top of the funnel but have limited application deep into large sized deals.
Software tools are built on the premise that sales can be engineered in a precise manner.
In the services space, sales consultants seem to be obsessed with activities and processes at the top of the sales funnel. As though the system will convert sales as long as we can just fill the pipe with juicy opportunities in our Ideal Customer Profile.
SalesGRID is designed to help new business teams close big deals. The product is designed in a way that recognises that sales process execution needs to be agile and responsive to the new buying environment. It provides a framework for developing a quality sales process and driving continuous improvement in a scalable way.