Recently I had two seemingly different conversations about sales with different business acquaintances that ultimately shined a bright light on the same subject - sales process. Here's how each conversation went:
Conversation no. 1
A business owner of a manufacturing business gave me a walking tour of his factory. He proudly rattled off names of the different machines on the line and described with technical dexterity the role each machine played in building the final product. The tour lasted 45 minutes. It was loud but quite fascinating. I could tell he invested a great deal in study and evaluation to select the best machines to automate and optimize the production of his product. The pride he had for his line and those who operated it was clearly evident. When we returned to his office and shed the protective goggles, helmet and earplugs I thanked him for the great tour and asked him this simple question,
"How do you sell the product?"
"What do you mean?"
"You just explained in excruciating detail how you build the product, I'm now asking you, how do you sell it?"
"Well that would be Bob. He's a great salesman."
"Bob? (my puzzled look) You mean to tell me the entirety of your sale process can be captured in one word, "Bob"?"
"Ahhh??" (his puzzled look)
"And if Bob decided to quit tomorrow and Sally stepped into sales, your new sales process would be called, Sally?!"
"That's not a sales process."
Conversation no. 2
This was a conversation with a close friend and senior account manager at Salesforce about whether Salesforce had large complex sales expertise on hand.
"One would argue Mike that we already have that expertise on hand at Salesforce."
"Yes, for instance we have an account manager that recently closed a sale of over $100M with a large consulting firm - that would constitute a large complex sale, right?"
"Yes, that would. Congratulations! How did he do it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Did he follow a documented process Salesforce created and teaches all sales team members who are charged with large complex sales pursuits? Is that how/why he won?"
"Ah ... I'm not sure ... I don't think so."
"Tell me then, can he replicate the process exactly for the next sales pursuit, or teach others so they too can be successful by following his 'formula'? Or did he win because of grit, hard work, sticktoitness, or things falling his way?
"I see what you are saying."
"That is not a sale process"
In both cases there was comfort and a sincere belief that all was well with the business 'as is' because of the success of individual salespeople in their company. The thinking is if Bob can sell it then all is good with the product or service we offer. What they don't say but should is ".... as long as we can find more Bobs". This is quite a common approach to sales taken by a lot of business owners.
How many times have you heard something like this from the President of a privately-held business, "Bob was a great salesperson for us. Tim, on the other hand, was not so good." Or this, "I could sure use more Bobs on my sales team." Or this, "We had to let the last three sales people go because they just weren't cutting it."
Growth of a business is directly related to the success of sales. Therefore sales can't be a continuous experiment that succeeds or fails on the personality, wit, work ethic, instinct or self-taught process of each salesperson you hire. You, as the business owner, have an obligation to ensure those who are responsible for sales and support sales are trained in how your company sells its product or service.
And given the importance of capturing new business, it should be refined and continuously honed with as much rigor as you place in improving your factory operations (new/better machines) or the performance/delivery of your services.
This holds true whether you are a manufacturer, printing company, lawyer, estate planner, medical device company, a bank (selling loans) or construction company.
If one were to Google "sales process" (under images) you will find a lot interesting approaches to the subject displayed in creative and colorful graphic formats. Most aren't worth a darn because they are either too simplistic (ex. Lead Generation - Lead Management - Selling - Delivery) or more reflective of how we WANT to sell rather than how our customers buy - as if our customers were cattle for us to slaughter.
The ideal sales process is tailored, much like your factory, and aligned with how your particular customer typically moves through their buying approach for products/services such as yours. This process therefore places a great deal of emphasis on having an in-depth understanding of the customer's personal/business objectives and method for decision making.
We demand absolute control and take great pride in our factory and the product it produces or the performance and delivery of our unique services, yet most relinquish sales to a game of numbers - keep stuffing the funnel and we will win our fair share. Transformational impact to growth will come to those CEOs who discard this myth and the notion that sales is dependant on the personality and work ethic of individual salespeople.
Growth oriented CEOs will instead view sales as a critical function of the company and lead in the development of a disciplined, replicable process, reflective and respectful of your customer's approach to decision making for your product or service.