How to Create a Basic Sales Process that Works, Part 2 of 5
5 Fundamentals for Improving Win-Rates and Narrowing the Gap between Forecast and Results.
In the first part of this series, we talked about the importance, to companies of every size and stage of growth, of having a unified end-to-end sales process that begins with demand generation, and continues in a coordinated, consistent way through deal pursuits, pipeline management and forecasting, cross-sell / up-sell / renewals, and beyond.
In this second installment of our five-part series, we will continue our exploration of five important fundamentals of a basic sales process that can help your sales performance now, and prepare you for greater sales sophistication down the road. Let's look in more depth at the second item on our list in this article:
Define a Common Set of Sales Stages;
Define Typical / Recommended Activities Sales Reps should be doing at each stage;
Define specific, required Stage Gates that must be satisfied for opportunities to advance from one pipeline stage to the next;
Assign Specific Probabilities of Close to each pipeline stage;
Ensure that all stage definitions, activities, gate requirements, and probabilities are consistently and completely communicated, understood, and used throughout the sales organization.
Finding the "Right" Balance
There is a fine balance between making a sales process too rigid, and giving your sales reps the room and flexibility they need to be effective in responding to the variable dynamics of every customer and opportunity. Some organizations, typically earlier stage and smaller companies, tend to err on the side of having less process and less formality -- to the point of having too little, or none at all. In these companies, it is not uncommon for the first sales rep to be one of the founding executives. And often, that person stays directly involved in selling for a significant span of the company's early years, perhaps hiring one, two, or a small handful of sales reps, but not overly concerned about putting in place the people, processes, and systems that will allow the sales function to scale when the time comes to "go big". On the other hand, the pendulum sometimes swings too far in the other direction in large, established companies, overly constraining sales reps with rules and procedures, and burying them beneath mountains of systems, reports to be entered, and meetings to attend. In between those two extremes lies that "right balance" of flexibility and structure. But how do you achieve it?
Define Activities by Sales Stage
The approach I favor is to compile a brief set of, say, six to eight, recommended activities sales reps should generally conduct at each stage of the sales process. These will be drawn from a combination of:
Beneficial activities experience has shown to work well for your particular industry, product & services, and winning sales cycles;
Activities based upon the difficult lessons learned during your company's history, to help you avoid mistakes that have killed sales cycles in the past;
Leading sales practices derived from the experience of many companies.
During the early stages of your sales process, these activities will naturally focus on qualification. As you progress through subsequent stages, the activities will focus more on things like understanding your clients' needs, aligning your value proposition and messaging to your clients' intended business outcomes, understanding the power structure and influence maps for each deal, (potentially) solution design, proposal creation and presentation, negotiating, contracting, closing, and booking.
The key is to define these recommended activities for each sales stage in such a way that they make sense for each stage, occur naturally in the path of work, and provide a useful guide to sellers to help them understand how to keep opportunities moving forward without stalling. However, it is a mistake to make every activity within every stage "mandatory" -- doing so will put the sales process at odds with the natural flow of the deal, and erode sales effectiveness, rather than enhance it.
Used properly, however, these recommended activities provide a supportive framework within which sales reps can operate while maintaining the agility to adapt to the unique circumstances of every customer. And, the recommended activities for each sales stage serve as a very useful basis for monitoring the progress reps are making through each stage, which can serve as an input to the continuous coaching dialogue that should always be occurring between sales managers and sales reps.
Our next post in this series will discuss the importance of using stage gates to manage the progression of opportunities through the pipeline with consistency. Thanks for reading!
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About the author
Eric Heine, Founder of Growth Point Solutions LLC, draws upon over 25 years experience in marketing, sales, service, and IT leadership to advise C-level executives and boards of directors of growth-stage companies, as well as growth-equity investors, to help organizations develop, refine, and execute the revenue strategies that power significant, sustainable year-over-year growth.
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