Tuesday, March 09, 2010

'Sales Process' Is In The Air

There is a lot written about the sales process these days:

  • Dave Brock has written several pieces on the sales process recently. He now has launched an initiative to get some new thinking on the subject by asking “What's the Future of Buying”.

  • I have seen several contributions by Sharon Drew Morgen, besides her new book 'Dirty little Secrets...', reminding us that we should stop talking about selling and trying to understand to the extent possible how people and organizations buy.

  • Ardath Albee in her book “eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sales” proposes a marketing flavored look on the buyer's journey. A particularity of her model is that it does not imply a linear process as most others do.

  • Axel Schultze wrote in a recent blog post that our sales processes are old and suck.

  • There is a Discussion going on on LinkedIn for several weeks now about what the right steps of a sales process are.

  • Sales 2.0 Network now offers Dealmaker Genius helping to design your sales process in 15 minutes for free.

  • Landslide has a similar offering for building a sales process. So these people believe that this task can even be automatized.

  • Then there are those who still believe selling is an art and therefore cannot be captured in a process.
This list is certainly only capturing the proverbial tip of the iceberg of what can be found in recently published books, on social networks, on blogs etc..

Why now?
I think we are seeing signs of a perfect storm forcing us to rethink professional selling:

  • Despite massive investments for many years in CRM systems, in the design and implementation of sales processes, in training initiative on sales methodologies and selling skills for , sales performance is probably at its lowest since CSO Insights started tracking it some 15 years ago?

  • Current economic conditions do no longer allow us to continue with such investments even though they seem to be needed more than ever.

  • Web 2.0 has shifted the negotiation power clearly in favor of the buyer.

  • Marketing makes claims to be more involved in the revenue gen process wanting to manage and qualified leads when they are 'ready to buy'.

  • There is an ever growing number of tools under the Sales 2.0 acronym suggesting they can improve sales performance.

Some new thinking to weather the storm
The customer's buying journey has to be taken as a given. With the model of looking at the complex buying journey as a change management process I have helped my customers to get a lot of clarity. The focus is thereby not so much on the activities the buyer undertakes, but the intermediate decisions taken to finally arrive at the buying decision. The journey though does not end there. We should not ignore that the buyer then will also decide whether the value promised with the purchase was also delivered. As was pointed out in a recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly, this notion will be essential how the buyer's journey will look the next time it is started by a trigger.

It is probably also save to assume that increasing sales performance will need tighter collaboration between sales and marketing. Talking about a sales process alone will therefore be of little help. As we see the term Chief Revenue Officer emerge for the person who oversees this collaborative working of sales and marketing to generate revenue streams, the term Revenue Generation Process might help us to define what we will need instead.

What do we want the Revenue Generation Process to do?
There will be a lot of debate on the purpose as there is with the sales process.
Attempts to make it a recipe book, prescribing the activities sales and marketing have to undertake for generating revenue, will fail. For me the Revenue Generation Process should do the following:

  • Get the sales and marketing organization to have have a common understanding where a buyer is in its journey based on observable reactions from the buyer.

  • Define accountability for sales and marketing along the customers journey.

  • Stimulate forward looking discussions on how best to pursue a lead/opportunity (i.e. next best actions to help the buyer to make the next decision, recycle a stalled or lost opportunity, abandon a lead/opportunity or a buyer)
As a byproduct, such a Revenue Generating Process, will also provide better forecasting and indications where sales and marketing people will need coaching to improve performance.

The role of the sales person in the Revenue Generation Process?
For salespeople to be successful and provide value within this framework, they need to be very versatile. The buyer's need for help will determine when they will be involved in the process. This might be as early as helping the buyer to identify pain, or starting at helping to formulate a vision how to get remedies for the pain (solution). In other cases, there first buyer contact will be helping validate a solution the buyer has already envisaged on its own or even later helping to hedge cost and risk to find the best vendor. We will also have to accept, that there will be a growing number of situations, where salespeople cannot add value to the buyer and should therefore not be involved at all.

For the involvement of a salesperson to be effective, marketing, already involved in the revenue generating process must though make sure that full access to the information how the buyer has arrived at this point of first contact. Even if marketing is qualifying leads based on observable buyer's actions (click through, surf path on web site, social media interactions, webinar attendance, white paper requests etc.) this information must be available to the salespeople so they can provide maximum value at their point of contact with the buyer.

Salespeople, in return, must provide a protocol of all their interactions they have undertaken, in case a lead/opportunity is returned to marketing for recycling or nurturing. Then marketing can decide on the most effective campaigns to help the buyer to come to a point where contact with the salesperson is needed again to continue the buyer's journey.

Implementing a Revenue Generation Process.
For a successful implementation of such a process including the support by adequate systems, a fundamental mind shift will be needed from all involved. Transparency and accountability must be the norm for such a Revenue Generation Process to produce results. To get to the needed transparency, trust between those involved is required. This is a particular challenge for the leadership up and including the C-Suite. In many cases, this will mean first abandoning old management practices which currently cause reluctance with salespeople in many organizations to share information in the detail needed for a successful implementation of a Revenue Generation Process.

What are your thoughts on this? What have I forgotten? Where am I wrong? Which view do you share?



  1. Christian
    I would completely agree, and I have a few ideas on the solution.

    Today, buyers are much smarter and are fed up with sales processes that don't include them.
    Most sales organizations are focused on themselves- generating revenue, following a sales process to fill in the blanks(to keep management happy), etc.

    Rather than worrying about the ABC's (always be closing) and what questions to ask next, focus on the client. Who they are, what they need, know their business.

    I reference Neil Rackham's "Buying Cycle" which helps you understand the buyer better and Charles H. Green's "Trust Based Selling" which helps with "real" client focus.

    This stuff is not rocket science- that is the beauty of it. KISS.

    Trip Allen, Team Egyii, Singapore

  2. Trip,

    thank you for your comment and your support. Thanks for the references too. I appreciate both those authors also very much.


  3. Consumers nowadays has better understanding of their rights and they have the power to choose from multiple products and services. The only problem are many advertisement are still using fake presentations and enticing words that seems to hypnotize consumers to buy their product.

    I am glad to read this kind of article for I am a consumer also.


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