How to get your salespeople to follow process
Build a process that helps your buyers
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The survey results are in: 100% of managers agree that salespeople do not like following process. At the same time we know sales process is important because it creates consistency, which leads to repeatability, which leads to predictability, which leads to growth. So how do we solve this?
Let’s start with the #1 reason salespeople do not follow process. It’s pretty simple: There’s nothing in it for them.
To put this in context, let’s look at how most sales processes evolve.
In the early days, process is ad-hoc. Founders or the first couple of sales reps do their own prospecting, close their own deals, sign their own contracts and track their own pipeline in a Google sheet. Revenue is lumpy, forecasting is an afterthought but its manageable on a small scale.
Then a finance person joins the company. “This is madness! We need controls!”, they cry. “We can’t discount at will. Deals can’t move to closed won without approval. We’re paying commissions on this!” In goes a CRM and the good times are over. A Proposal stage is created to track pricing, an approval workflow is set up to moved deals to Closed Won and a Discussion stage is set up as a catch all for everything else.
Then a sales manager joins. “This is crazy! We need to forecast! All deals are not the same!” The Discussion stage gets split into separate Discussion and Evaluation stages, while Proposal gets split into Proposal and Negotiation stages. It’s starting to look familiar.
The a marketing manager joins. “This is nuts! We need more tracking! We need to know if leads are converting! The Leads object gets fired up, timestamps get added, sources tracked, interim stages get created to track meetings booked, meetings held. Has that lead converted yet? How about now?
Controls. Forecasting. Tracking. What’s the common theme? It’s not there to help the salesperson. It’s no surprise that CRMs are sold to management, not to end users. It’s frankly nuts that we pay salespeople to bring revenue into the company and then do our best to hinder them.
The way to fix this stems from a simple principle: build a process that helps the buyer. A process that helps a buyer buy is a process a seller will follow all day long because it helps them hit their goal.
The best sales processes therefore help buyers by maximizing use of their time at each stage of the buying journey. This translates into the following must-haves for your sales process:
Targeted prospect account lists that match a well-defined ideal customer profile. Prospecting is no longer effective if it’s based on volume. In fact, all it does is piss off your future market. Don’t lose before you’ve even started. Your target market today is always smaller than you think.
Thoughtful outreach messaging. The #1 way to be thoughtful isn’t by doing hours of research in 15 tools. It’s by sharing a unique insight that demonstrates the impact your existing customers are getting from using your product. If you’ve defined your customer profile narrowly enough, the impact your future customers are looking for should be the same impact your existing customers are already getting. Making your unique insights easily available to your salespeople is a cornerstone of enabling them to help their prospects become buyers.
General sales presentations that lead with unique insights and are light on product features. Talking features before understanding pain impact is like prescription without diagnosis; it’s malpractice. Leading with unique insights prompts your prospects to think about their own business and start talking about their pain points.
Discovery questions that probe for pain and the impact of solving the pain. If your prospect’s pain is not sufficiently intense, paying you to solve it is not going to be a must have and its not worth either of your time continuing. As a salesperson, being clear about this is a very effective way to qualify prospects, but it only works if scale if its baked into the culture and process.
Discovery questions that uncover additional stakeholders. Very, very few business solutions are bought by a single stakeholder. Your prospects know that someone is going to have to sell their colleagues at some point, so it may as well be you rather than them. Getting all the stakeholders into the tent and aligned around the insights, pain and impact makes the rest of the sales process 10x easier, whereas rushing forward into demos and proposals just creates delays downstream.
Demos and evaluations that are tied directly to impact. Few things are harder for a buyer than watching someone use a product on screen while trying to listen to what are saying. The same goes for trying to evaluate a product without knowing what problem you are solving. This is why identifying impact has to be a pre-requisite for moving into an evaluation phase
Proposals that are sent without understanding critical events. Buyers don’t give a shit about pricing expiring at the end of the month. Everyone knows its just a sales tactic. But they do care about meeting their own deadlines. This is why identifying a critical event has to be a pre-requisite for creating a proposal. Other
Pricing books that have clear negotiation levers. Prospects want to move quickly once they realize your product will deliver the impact to solve their pain. Giving your salespeople the ability to negotiate without having to go back to their manager helps maintain momentum.
Proposal templates that tie solutions to impact and critical events. There’s always a chance that a mystery stakeholder will get involved at the last minute, weigh in with their opinion and delay progress. Tying a proposal to the impact and critical event makes it easy to understand why this purchase is a priority and why it can’t be delayed.
Contracts that are industry-standard and easy to understand. Buyers want to minimize time spent with legal just as much as salespeople, and nobody wants to get their lawyers on the phone because it introduces unpredictability. If legal friction is a recurring theme in buying your product, get to the root cause and fix it.
Of course all this doesn’t mean we don’t need controls, reporting and tracking as well. It’s just that we should start with the things that buyers need to be successful and layer on the things managers need afterwards.
Thanks for reading and if you haven’t already, please consider subscribing! I write weekly about the common sales, marketing and leadership issues that hold back startups from growing faster. Please drop me a line if there’s a GTM topic that’s top of mind for you and I’ll add to the backlog for future issues.