Consider, for a moment, the dilemma of a particular sign and digital graphics business. When the company was established, it occupied a relatively small unit of a commercial strip mall. From its very beginning, an aggressive growth plan was set into motion and, in relatively short order, the business expanded into the two adjacent units alongside the start-up location. Walls were turned into large doorways, dozens of new people were hired, and new, high-speed production machinery was installed. Business was booming.
Now, let’s take a minute to look at the efficiency challenge that growth created. The singular focus had to become increasing capacity fast. Problem was the size of the supporting departments and resources-art, production, customer service, accounting, etc.-did not expand proportionately.
Out of necessity, the business owner and the managerial staff had to critically analyze the production inefficiencies of their expansion. They studied the types of job orders that constituted 80 percent of their orders-in terms of quantity, complexity, and turnaround times-and effectively streamlined the operation. Changes had to be made, because maintaining the status quo would have been the death of the business.
So, what does this example have to do with mapping your sales process? Everything. Wouldn’t you want to focus on increasing capacity and productivity fast in your sales department, as well? Then, why shouldn’t business owners and sales managers analyze and streamline their sales process in much the same way?
Step One: A commitment to process improvement
In growing enterprises, time and money are invested to accommodate growth through benchmarking best-in-class practices. Why isn’t there an investment in understanding and engineering a more efficient sales process so that higher quality sales are made in less time? If you think your sales process needs a facelift, try this recipe for mapping your sales process.
Kevin Davis, author of “Getting Into Your Customer’s Head,” has studied effective business and sales behavior. He has compiled his findings into a special report called “Overcoming the Fifteen Biggest Mistakes in Sales.” All fifteen mistakes relate back to the fact that most sales organizations lack a disciplined sales process or, if they do train to a common sales methodology, the process may not be in sync with today’s customer and the way they come to make a buying decision.
Suppose you sent out a memo to your sales force and asked them, “Please describe the steps in our company’s sales process.” How many different approaches, variations, and answers would you get back? In this age of increasing competition, team selling, and tele-managing, creating a unified, yet unique, message delivered to the marketplace by a sales force with a singular selling philosophy is imperative.
Think of it this way. Isn’t it easier to become proficient in one thing and practice it “X” times than to attempt to be an expert in “X” things performed only once at a time? Why succumb to the myth that each selling situation is different and re-invent the same wheel over and over again?
When you are committed to process improvement, you take the necessary time to critically analyze the range of selling methods you implement. Retain and refine the practices that work and work well … consistently. Outlaw the ineffective ones and restrict-to special occasions-the outrageous methods that luckily worked one time on only one prospect. They may make interesting anecdotes at cocktail and retirement parties, but they do not belong as the backbone of a successful business model.
Most importantly, carefully analyze the way your best customers buy. What motivates them to make a decision to select you as a partner? Chronicle the timing of each step along the way to a signed purchase order. Studies have shown that salespeople are typically “finished” selling long before the customer is ready to make a buying decision. Ask yourself, “Are we selling well because of what we are doing or in spite of what we are doing?”
Step Two: Focus on your best efforts
As you begin to map your sales process, identify your success stories and the core competencies within your organizations. Have each of your sales professionals select two or three actual scenarios that resulted in profitable, repeatable business. When each sales rep conveys the details of each effort-how the lead was uncovered, how the most important customer need was determined, and so on-you are sure to see a recurring pattern develop.
Typically, the sales process involves five key phases. While the selling style, approach, and timing may vary from situation to situation, most prospects expect the salesperson to progress in a logical sequence. The five phases are:
- Earning the right to be considered as a qualified vendor and, in turn, qualifying the prospect,
- Diagnosing the customer’s underlying dissatisfaction and uncovering their strongest unmet needs,
- Offering and presenting the solution(s) that is/are tailored precisely to the customer’s circumstances,
- Closing the deal, delivering on promises and fulfilling the first order, and
- Nurturing and expanding the business relationship.
Think of the phases as goals that require a series of activities to accomplish them. It is those specific activities that your sales force and sales organization routinely and repeatedly exhibit that will define your sales process.
The conversation with your sales staff may deteriorate into recalling past failures of your company, but don’t allow them to dwell on shortcomings. There will be plenty of time to improve on a particular activity or event later. The goal of mapping the sales process is to achieve better planning, practice a more consistent sales strategy, shorten the sales cycle, and improve communications between the customer and your company. Notice these benefits are conceptually the same as when a production manager invests time and effort in physically reorganizing the workflow of the plant.
Step Three: Writing the cookbook
My 85-year old Italian mother is an outstanding cook. When I was young and ready to assume the lifestyle of an adult, I asked Mom to teach me her recipe for homemade pasta and tomato sauce. Unfortunately, her instructions contained such phrases as “add this much until it looks like this” and “reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce looks like this when you stir it.” I would have been better off taking videos of her cooking than trying to measure and record the recipe on paper. Still, her process was the same every time she made fresh spaghetti. And the end result was consistently delicious.
When you are consolidating the steps of your people’s sales process, don’t insist on being too precise on the amount of each “ingredient.” However, you should insist on reaching a consensus on the order and outcome of each activity. Seek agreement on common mileposts or checkpoints along the way of the successful sale. Without a common language and approach, you may find you are trying lead a band of selling nomads-salespeople that complicate, rather than simplify, your clients’ lives and take an inordinate amount of time in doing so.
When you’ve derived a disciplined sales process from the experience of your sales force, you should notice a sense of ownership and pride among your staff as they seek perfection of their recipe. During the mapping process, capitalize on the opportunity to publicly recognize certain sales professionals for their expertise in specific areas. Perhaps one sales rep is particularly good at presenting the final proposal while another may excel in making cold calls. By uncovering core competencies among your staff, you are, in effect, benchmarking their individual performance as a “standard” to which others should aspire.
Once the ideal sales process is mapped, you should expect the same proven method to be practiced time and again in the field. Of course, each sales representative will apply his or her own unique selling style, but the outcome should be predictably favorable. The average sales cycle time should become shorter and the percentage of closed deals to proposal presentations made should steadily rise. A business owner’s or sales manager’s ability to coach and train to your unique sales process will shorten the time it takes to convert a rookie salesperson into a contributing member of your team.
The Final Step: Holding the gains
Mapping the sales process may take an entire day or two of painstaking and seemingly endless debate. This is normal. When the dialogue reaches an impasse, the sales reps will look to management to break any ties. Avoid hastily making their decision for them. You should act as a neutral facilitator or, better yet, arrange to have an unbiased moderator-preferably one that has been formally trained in process mapping-lead the session.
Mapping the sales process is the marriage of art and technology. Appreciate the style and grace of an accomplished sales professional choreographing a sale, but become a student of the fundamental mechanics of the selling process as well. You wouldn’t relegate your production process to a “shoot from the hip” approach. Don’t allow imprecision to creep into your sales strategy either. Good luck and good selling.