I’m no longer surprised at the blank look I get when I ask CEOs to describe their organization’s selling process. It’s as if the sales process is an institutional practice, exempt from close review, rework or redesign.CEOs are justifiably concerned about key business processes in today’s competitive and ever-changing environment, but only a few of them challenge a key business activity that is so vital to their survival.If you’re dissatisfied with your sales results, focus on the process, not on the people. Consider “firing the process” before attempting to change anything else. Define the Selling Process
Before you can fire, fix or improve your sales process, you need to define it. What answers can you give to these questions?
Your customer. Do you know who your current customers are, really? Who is your target and why? Are you trying to be all things to all people?
Your customers’ needs. What do your targeted customers care about most? What do they say about their “best” supplier? How do you know?
Your customers’ decisions. What’s changed in the customer’s sense of priority? How does your customer evaluate their choice of product, service, supplier or partner in today’s market?
Differentiation. The vast majority of organizations find themselves in a “commodity-like” marketplace where an oversupply of customer choice is the norm. More often than not, the difference between you and all other customer choices comes down to price. Given this reality, how can you possibly differentiate your organization?
Objections, risk and concerns. What prevents your targeted customers from doing business with you? Does your selling process include methods to uncover customer concerns? What approach does your sales staff use to address and/or resolve customers’ perceptions of risk?
Refine the Selling Process Five basic factors are critical to achieving significant sales improvements while strengthening customer relationships:
A strategy to identify your target customers. Has your customer changed because of new needs or expectations or are you better suited to satisfy the needs of a different customer altogether? For years, a client company we know targeted blue-collar males aged 18-34, only to find that they were ignoring an even more attractive customer group, women and baby boomers. Matching your product strengths to specific or emerging needs of various customer groups will help you identify your primary customer target.
A methodology to understand and learn from your customer. Are your people “tellers” or “sellers”? Tellers can’t wait to shut their customer up so they can take control and pitch the benefits and advantages of their product. Sellers take a customer approach, e.g., using creative entry strategies to generate customer information about their business, their opportunities, problems and challenges.
Expanding contact points within your customer’s organization. A sales process that connects with more “receptive” people inside the customer’s organization enables you to validate your assumptions about the customer’s problems and needs. Even more important, receptive people help you uncover surprising customer issues you might be able to resolve. Receptive contacts often provide valuable introductions to those inside their organization desperate for someone to solve their problems.
Methods and skills to stimulate the customer’s internal decision process. Understanding and anticipating each phase of your customer’s decision-making process — from need recognition to evaluating their options, resolving concerns and finally addressing the steps for implementation — allows you to operate ahead of the decision curve. The most effective sales process is capable of stimulating and even influencing this internal decision process.
A strategy for continuous involvement and improvement. The most effective sales organizations recognize that their only real opportunity to differentiate themselves is the development and strengthening of their customer relationships. Your selling process must contain steps, skills, methods, measures and feedback loops to deepen competition-resistant customer relationships in a meaningful way.
Take Action Steps
Define it. Document your existing sales process, then describe what a new and improved process should look like, based on the five success factors listed above.
Refine it. Develop solutions to improve your results and impact on your target customers. Ensure that your sales team has the skill sets and techniques to execute each of the five elements critical to an effective sales process.
Implement it. Plan changes and gain organizational support in advance. Develop measures to ensure you’re getting the results you expect. Make mid-course corrections based on customer response and feedback.Sales is a process — not a mystery, not a pitch, not a special talent limited to a few individuals. Once you understand this, you can take steps to examine selling in light of current internal and external needs. Vistage speaker Randy Haas is founder of White Horse and Associates, a management consulting firm based in Southern California.