How many steps in the sales process? Well, it turns out that heavily depends on who you ask. For some, the number hovers around seven or eight, while others follow their process intuitively rather than in marked stages. So is one process better than the other? Does it matter as long as you’re making a sale? After all, most companies end up operating according to largely informal processes.
It may not seem like that from the outside, but anyone’s first few weeks in a new office prove that businesses, like people, can appear more organized than they actually are. At the beginning of a new job, training probably comes from a manual, a video, or some very clear instructions. Then the following week you don’t really remember what the video said, so you ask supervisor Jen just to make sure. Jen shows you how to do complete the task, and you continue with your day.
Fast-forward another week or two. You find that you’re second-guessing yourself about a few processes. You kind of remember, but just in case, you ask co-worker Joe. Co-worker Joe reminds you, but you realize his way is a little different than Jen. Regardless, it still gets the job done. Soon enough, you’re figuring things out on your own and settling into your own preferred process, which doesn’t look like Jen’s or Joe’s, and is certainly a few degrees separated from the rigid steps of your training manual.
Variation vs. Disorganization
So where is the line between personal variation and a disorganized, unstandardized sales process? Small business coach Melinda Emerson explains that sales reps should indeed “feel free to interject their own personalities” into sales activities. However, a “consistent approach” is more beneficial, as “the days of relying solely on intuition” to conduct business are “largely over.”
Chris O’Shea, business advisor to the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) suggests documenting your current informal processes “in order to get a formal understanding of all of the steps to making a sale.” In some cases, your sales process may look more like a flowchart than a set of steps. Whether it’s a bulleted list or a thorough diagram, what’s important is that the process is now documented, at which point it should already become a bit clearer.
Collaboration and Clarification
Once you have it on paper, or perhaps a snazzy Google Doc, review your process in all its glory. Collaborate with your team to make sure that everyone has an idea of what the standard process should look like.
Sometimes there are variations in individual processes because sales reps have figured out how to bypass redundant or unnecessary policies for the sake of time, convenience, and even quality. In those cases, it’s possible that by collaborating you can create a more streamlined process that everyone can now use.
Take the time to critique the steps that may be unnecessary or extraneous. Complexity is inherent in some situations, but for the most part, the objective after documenting your process is evaluating its clarity.
For the Sake of Data
So, you’ve collaborated with your team to document your process, and you’ve cleaned it up so that it’s a fairly straightforward pipeline. It all seems clear. But there’s more to a sales process than the steps themselves.
Another advantage of a clear and standardized sales process is that it’s easier to monitor, report, and analyze data. And that’s referring to much more than quotas. Melinda Emerson tells HuffPost that “when you gather and analyze quality data, you can greatly enhance your team’s understanding” of the customer’s deep-level needs and what to do to meet them.
Additionally, clear processes and the subsequent efficient data collection will help you find what products and communication methods are working, and what might need to be reconsidered in the future.
Data collection often means establishing Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs. There are many common KPIs, and no business will use the exact same set in the exact same way. Decide which KPIs are most relevant to your sales process. What does it take for a sale to move successfully and efficiently through the pipeline?
O’Shea uses the example of the percentage of leads that move onto the next step in the process. He also uses the example of turnaround time as a KPI to improve the sales process. You can also use a tool such as Prodoscore to monitor positive activity and find proactive coaching opportunities.
The Process in Practice
When your process is well documented and expectations are clear, the defined sales process not only makes sales quicker and smoother but also leaves room for more coaching and professional development.
Thanks to your well-defined process, you can look at KPIs with confidence knowing that regardless of the salesperson, the data will truly reflect performance on the most important aspects of that process. Take Steve, for example. O’Shea says that if salesperson Steve usually takes two days to turn around a quote, you’ll be able to tell there is a problem when you notice that number rising.
Not only can you rapidly step in to proactively coach a clear, regular process, but you can also use your newly defined process to build skills at each stage. You may have some reps that are better at certain stages over others. Catch those details and use them as a training opportunity now that everyone’s process is on a similar page.
Love the Process
I know, structuring and following a defined, documented process doesn’t sound like a good time, but the reality is that we all need a little structure to function. And when it comes to a business, it’s vital that everyone is working with the same, or at least similar, structures.
Odds are that if you think you don’t have a defined process, you actually do. Take the time to write it down, collaborate with your team, and decide what milestones, KPIs, and other progress markers are most important to you when it comes to making an efficient and profitable sale.
Once you have a more standardized process in place, you’ll have room to breathe because you’ll know exactly what numbers and stages to keep your eye on. Before you know it, you’ll be less preoccupied with data so that you can spend more time monitoring and coaching through the process.
You will in all likelihood need re-evaluate your process over the years, but for now, enjoy its rhythm and take advantage of all that it has to offer.