Defining the Sales Process

I get a lot of questions about building sales processes. It’s one of the things I most help companies develop. Sales process is often misunderstood. Most sales people and companies describe sales processes something like this:


The words can vary, but almost all sales processes or pipelines are linear and offer very little in the way of actually selling value.

Most sales processes are simple and clean phrases designed to tell management where a deal is in relation to closing.  What they should be is an outline of the specific steps, decisions, requirements and processes that are part of your customers buying process.  Every company, product and service is naturally bound to a buying process or a set of steps that are almost always present during the selling process.  A good example of this is the test drive.  If you are a car salesperson, what do you think the chances are you will sell a car without a test drive?  I suspect the probability is rather low.  Therefore, the test drive is a critical step in car selling, sales process.   Not understanding the importance of the test drive in evaluating the probability of selling a car is a huge handicap.   In the example above, where is the “test drive”  What stage should it be in?  Why?  Without the test drive specifically called out in the sales process the pipeline model above does very little to give context to the actual selling elements.

If you want to build a really good sales process, you have to understand how your customers buy.  You have to know what’s most important to them, how they evaluate new products and services, how and when they allocate budget, who needs to be involved, how decision are made, how terms and deals are negotiated, etc.  Knowing how the customer buys gives you the ability to map your sales process with the buying process of the prospects.

If you know that 80% of the time you sold your widget, you gave a demo, it was put in the customers lab, marketing had to sign off, and you had to get procurement to buy off, you have the beginning of your sales process.  These real world, buying triggers can now be put into a stage like above, taking a linear process and making it vertical as well.   Demo could be under “Qualify,” preventing any unqualified customer from moving to an opportunity that didn’t get a demo.  Lab implementation could be part of the evaluation phase. Marketing sign off could be in the propose phase.  Each phase consists of real world buying actions or triggers that outline HOW the actual buying steps prospects and customers take occur.

A well crafted sales process provides more insight about the customer than it does about your sales organization. It measures how well your sales organization is aligned with the buying habits of your customers. It prevents sales from selling the “wrong way” to the right people.

We’ve spent years with a narrow, introspective view of a sales processes.  They’ve been designed to help sales organizations get a handle on close rates, probabilities of close, forecasting etc.  The problem is, they rarely map to how the customer buys.  They haven’t aligned with the customers buying process. Customers buy the way they want. They have evaluation and decision processes. They have authority hierarchies. Therefore, to have a sales process that truly provides the accuracy and data to run an efficient sales organization, requires a sales process that looks exactly how your customers buy.

Know how you customer buys. It makes all the difference.


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