Do you follow a sales process?

Anna Guest, Director of Training at 5i, was a panellist in the recent debate regarding sales processes and planning at Channel Live 2018, explains how to approach the customer acquisition journey.

‘Do you follow a sales process?’ I regularly ask IT salespeople this question and 18-25% admit they don’t, usually because ‘every customer is different’ or they’ve never been shown one.
Most that do, follow something in their head – anything from three to ten activities – and invariably different to what’s in their colleagues’ heads. It’s a common scenario – companies employ good salespeople and let them get on with it.

The challenge is they’re all getting on with it in their own way. That’s impossible to analyse, manage and scale and hard to adapt to changing markets and customer behaviours.
Yet, a robust framework that tracks the customer journey can have a transformative impact on sales growth and sales ops efficiency.

A framework for scalable growth
Consistent methods, models and language allow you to objectively analyse and scale success. You can genuinely learn from wins and losses, test ideas, repeat what works and avoid what doesn’t across the whole team.

Using objective customer-based forecast criteria improves pipeline accuracy. Without clear definitions salespeople tend to forecast based on gut-feel or arbitrary sales actions: ‘I’ve had a discovery meeting so it’s at 10%’. This leaves sales managers to massage figures and exec teams, frustrated by inaccuracy, to question sales competence.
Nobody in the channel has the resources to go after every opportunity but many spread themselves too thin trying. Greater success comes from recognising and focusing on the ‘best’ opportunities and involving the right experts at the right time.

But, surely, one size doesn’t fit all?
A sales framework is not about you. To my knowledge, no prospect ever asked ‘Can you explain your sales process so we can follow it?’ Instead it’s about quickly understanding, adapting to and influencing the customer’s journey. Each customer may be individual but, trust me on this, they all follow recognisable stages.

A sales process shouldn’t be a rigid set of activities but a way of organising your behaviours, tools, resources and actions to influence the customer to buy from you at a faster pace.

Four steps to get started – or review your current process

1. Identify the stages in your customers’ journeys, from initial awareness through purchase to post-sales, renewal and expansion. For each stage define the customer’s purpose, sample activities and the key stakeholder roles.

2. Map your sales stages to the customer stages. Create a kit bag of resources and activities that support each stage. It sounds simple but thinking ‘where’s the customer at, what do they need to do next and how do I influence that?’ versus ‘what’s my next step?’ can be a big mindset change.

3. Align your forecasting stages to the customer journey and define clear customer-oriented exit criteria for each stage.

4. Train, train, train – support everyone to understand why and how to follow the framework.

Three quick wins

Understand the customer journey:
1. ‘They’re making a decision next week’ Evaluating, signing off and placing the order are three distinct customer stages managed by different stakeholders. Be clear on these.

2. ‘I’m talking to the right guy’. According to Harvard, a complex B2B purchase takes an average of 6.8 stakeholders so there’s almost never just ‘one right guy’. Identify the wider stakeholders.

3. ‘I’ve sent a proposal so the opportunity is at 50%’. Customers request proposals at various stages from early budget planning to final sign off. It’s not a sure-fire 50% unless other customer criteria are met.

Ultimately sales is an art AND a science. Use a framework to pinpoint and replicate success factors, upskill the team, lead effectively, use resources wisely and anticipate and adapt to a constantly changing market.

Want more help?
Anna says 5i’s hands-on guidance, support and training to implement a customised sales process and methodology is proven to deliver growth.
Readers can contact anna.guest@5i.co.uk for a free sales framework template and 30 minute call to help apply it to your business.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine