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Why is the Sales Process Such a Mystery?

It must be a mystery because so few companies do it well!

CRM failure is usually linked to a faulty sales process definition!

IStock_000019380676_SmallOne of the most common questions a sales consultant will ask, because so few companies have it right, is “What is your sales process?”  It’s a common question I ask and the answers are often evasive, confused, too simple, or too complex and they all have something in common: the sales process was usually created without the consent of or input from the people who use it - - the salespeople.

Considering that the sales process (also referred to as stages or steps) is used for the sales forecast, the basis for so much of the company’s operations, it borders on stupid that the salespeople aren’t consulted on either the steps or the language by which they will manage their business and future. 

Granted, some sales representatives welcome an obscure definition and structure.  It helps them hide, avoid embarrassing questions, and control what management hears.  However, it also obscures what management knows about the future revenue, cash flow inventory, and a host of other key business indicators…all because the salespeople were not consulted.  

 Sales Processes Cannot be Created in a Vacuum, or in the CEO’s Head

Understanding the sales steps that together make up the sales process should start with understanding how customers buy your products (a subject for another time), and then understanding how the most successful salespeople in your organization sell. 

While all salespeople have opinions on the sales steps, and while I listen to all the salespeople when determining these steps, I take special note of what the most successful salespeople say.  After many years in sales and sales management I have found that copying what successful salespeople do is much more reliable than copying what unsuccessful salespeople do.

I follow a process I call “co-creating” with the salespeople to determine:

  1. The customers’ buying steps.
  2. The sales steps for the company.
  3. The standardized language and terminology used for both areas.

We meet and we wrangle and generally make a mess of a white board until we get some agreement on these items. Only then do I run the results past the other sales managers, if any, past the CFO, the marketing manager, and finally past the other C-level executives. 

I return to the reps to discuss any suggested changes, and only then do we start to apply weighted averages to each sales step.  This provides the basis for the CRM system, and a reasonable forecasting system.

Why it’s Important

“In many years in sales and sales management I have found that copying what successful salespeople do is much more reliable than copying what unsuccessful salespeople do.”


Enter the CRM and Marketing Automation Systems

Once the customer buying stages are understood and the sales steps are agreed upon, the CRM system and forecasting model can be put into service with some confidence.  May I tell you a secret?  Most CRM systems fail because the sales stages are not well defined, are poorly understood, and are left to last-minute thinking.

Most sales steps for the CRM system are created by someone who is not consulting salespeople. If not caught early and repaired, CRM systems are fated to fail and be replaced, forecasting is weak and misleading, and revenue never seems to come in when it is most needed.

And all of this happens becaue someone left the sales step creation to the president, CFO, or marketing executives.

 Enter Marketing, Content and Sales Enablement

Once this is in place, I meet with marketing executives to present the final sales steps and get their ideas for a sales-enablement strategy to support the various sales steps.  This includes reviewing the options for content, which enables each sales step, and which may also be used in the marketing automation system. 

Slipping all of these pieces together resembles assembling a jigsaw puzzle, but it isn’t that difficult if you take your time, have the end goal in mind, “co-create” each step of the entire process with all departments in attendance, and agree on the language. 

Just remember, start with your most successful salespeople and do what successful salespeople do, both in the steps and the delivery of content.


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