March 21, 2012

A 2011 survey of 80,000 business customers performed by H.R. Chally Group indicates that the most important factor in choosing a vendor for their purchasing solutions is the salesperson’s competence. This tops the suitability of the offering, product quality, and price, and indicates that any sales process improvement is very worthwhile. Research reveals, however, that a sizeable majority of companies lack a standardized sales process and methodology—one of the biggest contributors in the success of a salesperson.

Salespeople are 50% more likely to reach sales goals and 39% less likely to quit when you standardize actions and reduce the individual decisions they have to make in the following areas:

• Finding prospects in the first place

• Gathering intelligence and qualifying prospects according to their needs and their capability to buy

• Determining the projected ROI of selling to a particular prospect (would this be a profitable relationship?)

• Establishing initial contact

• Effective presentations

• Handling typical objections in the company’s field

• Knowing how and when to close the sale

• Follow up and account management procedures and timelines

• Referral process

A quality sales process will establish the best practices salespeople should follow, allowing them enough leeway to apply their own knowledge and personality in creating a book of business. A poor—or non-existent—formal sales process will encourage salespeople to invent odd and ineffective ways to drum up business. The majority will fail and quit. The others will sell enough to make a living because they are naturally gifted or they are clever enough to create their own formal sales process if the company doesn’t provide one.

Sales Process Improvement Steps

1. Research. The first step in improving the sales process is to establish what the most successful actions are for sales in general, and in your industry in particular. A large body of material is available with sound theories and techniques to drives sales actions in a logical direction. These tried and true methods have been developed to produce favorable results consistently and are refined from dozens of years of experience. Most big-name sales trainers teach the same basic concepts, albeit with slightly different approaches in application and names. Learn from them.

2. Disseminate. The next step is to broadly communicate that a formal sales process exists and that it should be learned. Develop checklists and other forms that include the process steps and allow sales personnel to take notes throughout the sales cycle. This could include prospecting checklists, lead intake forms, decision-making guides and account management calendars, among others. Avoid the temptation to introduce too much paperwork and bureaucracy—only introduce what is absolutely necessary to the sales process.

3. Role Play. At sales meetings, practice the sales process from start to finish, especially the client-interaction skills such as building rapport, handling objections, detecting the buyer’s shift, etc. A sales team is similar to a sports team—they will underperform without adequate training, so keep sharpening the saw.

4. Refine. Watch your metrics and get feedback from sales staff with regard to what is working and what isn’t. A sales process should be dynamic, rather than completely rigid. Leave room for tweaks based on the results from those with the boots on the ground.

Sales process improvement will dramatically improve the bottom line and is well worth the time and investment. Organizations are wise to avail themselves of sales training experts that can help their sales force and managers in this area.