It is no secret that businesses today are facing greater competition at the same time as their customers are becoming more sophisticated and demanding.
In the field of sales, the adoption of a formalized sales process methodology tailored to the unique needs of the organization is imperative to success.
Sales success comes from growing faster than your market. You can build, sustain and maintain your organization's competitive advantage through sales process improvement.
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Sales: Art or Science?
Many business executives believe that sales is an art form. That great sales professionals are “born” with a gut instinct for the craft. That you can train salespeople to be better, but the truly great are born to do it. Great sales people do have many common traits in terms of personality and work ethic. Here is an example of common traits of an outstanding sales person.
Yet academics have been telling us that selling is a process. Academicians have published extensively on the subject, but no single process model has come of it. Meanwhile, other areas of business practice have made huge gains from academic studies.
These great strides in management over the last 50 years have been the result of systematic analysis of business processes, and the development of scientific management techniques and customer relationship management (CRM) technologies. Finance, engineering, human resources, and others have also benefited from systematic advancements in their management methods over the last 50 years and are now all managed as true processes. But not sales.
A Process to Manufacture Customers?
What if you viewed sales as a process to produce more customers, greater profits, and higher margins? If you could, imagine how you could grow your business. Actually, you already have a customer production system of some sort in the form of your existing Sales activities. But it’s unlikely that your existing sales system reflects a truly seamless process, or that you can measure it accurately, and manage its effectiveness.
- Is your current sales system a collection of activities rather than a true, integrated, end-to-end sales process?
- Can you trace the flow from one value-added activity to another?
- Can you define and measure the result of each sales activity?
- Do you rigorously manage the sales process to continuously and explicitly, improve its effectiveness?
It’s not simple, but performing these and related management tasks allows you to refashion your existing sales activities into a consistent, predictable and reliable sales system. The new sales process should map your existing sales processes, identify constraints in the process and help you to better design your process while installing tools to measure the correlation between your sales activities and their results.
The new and improved sales process performs the strategic marketing task of identifying Who your customers are, What they buy from you, How they want to buy it and When. It is the function of Marketing to identify the customers who are best served by the capabilities of the organization and to align the organization to service those customers. It is the job of sales professionals to help prospects through their buying process until sufficient numbers emerge as loyal customers.
A Practical Process Model of Sales
A ‘model’ identifies all activities necessary to accomplish a task and puts them into a specific order so they can be managed effectively. Sales is composed of hundreds of individual tasks and activities. This inherent complexity, coupled with the long-standing feeling that these functions are more art than science, has led most companies to manage their sales function on an event or activity basis — and often on a crisis basis.
To be managed effectively, sales must be managed as a process. This approach does not deny that insight and experience in professional selling is indispensable. Rather, it ensures that you end up with a repeatable and manageable process to reliably leverage those assets and produce a stream of loyal customers . . . the cornerstone of business success.
Most companies manage their sales function on an event or activity basis — and often on a crisis basis.
The value of a defined, well-planned and executed sales process is three-fold:
- It defines and orders all of the activities of sales in a structured, hierarchical manner. As such, it allows you to build a sales process that is comprehensive — with nothing falling through the cracks (indeed, without any cracks.)
- It defines the information flows between the elements and sub-elements of the sales system, thus ensuring that sales are an integrated function and that it’s information is complete and accurate.
- It allows the sales process to be managed with proven, real-world process management tools.
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Why Your Business Needs a Sales Process
A sales process is simply a series of customer-focused steps that enables sales professionals to increase win rates substantially, build customer retention and increase revenue production and margins. Each step in any sales process should consist of key activities that have a predictable and measurable outcome.
A great sales process can help your sales force succeed. Its benefits include:
- Definable steps. A sales process helps you identify best practices for working through sales opportunities. Random acts produce random results.
- Predictable outcomes. A sales process helps you see which steps will bring a sales opportunity to closure.
- Repeatable activities. A sales process helps you replicate your successes and avoid your failures.
- Measurable results. A sales process helps you forecast revenue and measure the time required for key steps in the process.
You may be asking, “Why does my organization need a more formalized sales process?” First of all, look at your own customers. Are they becoming more demanding? Do they have more options to choose from to meet their needs? Are they becoming more sophisticated in how they analyze these alternatives before making a decision? Is it becoming more challenging for your business to attract and retain customers? Today’s research on sales process improvement shows that for most businesses, the answers to these questions are a resounding
“Yes!” A well-defined sales process is no cure-all, but having one in place can help your sales force:
- Identify and qualify leads faster.
- Find more opportunities for repeat business among your existing customers.
- More consistently position the unique value that your company can deliver versus the competition.
- Discover your customers’ true “pain points” and map these needs to your products or services.
- Identify and deliver convincing proof that your products can meet those needs.
- Better assess the revenue potential for a given customer – and be able to view consolidated information for all customers in your sales pipeline.
- Negotiate and close more sales.
- Build stronger relationships with customers and business partners.
- Put a follow-up process in place after the sale that helps drive customer satisfaction and loyalty – and generates repeat business and referrals.
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Here's an example of a sales process model: