Sales April 11, 2017

Sales processes: Your business' Achilles heel


Brand equity, workplace culture and talent pools are all important, but ultimately sales are the lifeblood of a business. That steady flow of products, services and funds through the business is what keeps it alive - if the flow is blocked, misdirected or intermittent, the business sickens and ultimately dies.

In this context, it’s worrying to see the results of a four-year study we conducted with sales performance consultants, SBR Consulting. Only 59% of the respondents had a clearly defined end-to-end sales process, only 42% had sales teams using and understanding personalised reports, and just 52% had an effective onboarding process in place to recruit sales personnel. That’s a lot of metaphorical cholesterol.

So why are these things so important?

Why you need an effective sales strategy

As Vistage speaker and founder of SBR Consulting Lars Tewes puts it, confused customers don’t buy, and confused salespeople don’t sell.

Businesses with a sales strategy know what problems their clients and customers have, which means they know what their offering solves, and where the value is for the person they’re selling to. They know how they perform against their competitors. They focus their personnel and their energy on people they can help.

Planning is the key to sales success. You may not know exactly what your prospect’s pain point is before you talk to them, but the process can still be planned.

The heart of the sales strategy is a value stream map, which prioritises actions which generate the right customer behaviour - engaging, negotiating, and ultimately buying - and aligns people with those priorities. It shows the variations in quality or procedure which make a significant difference to the sales outcome, for good or ill, and the interdependencies with other aspects of the business such as marketing, R&D, or technical support.

Often, sales strategies lose track of the big picture (becoming lost in details and failing to prioritise or identify dependencies); some over-focus on the salesperson and what they should do, rather than on identifying where value can be added for the customer and allowing the salesperson autonomy in doing this. Many otherwise adequate value stream maps fail because they do not show how results will be measured. That’s where the sales activity report comes in.

Why you need personal sales activity reports

The role of the sales report is simple; it keeps sales personnel focused on concrete metrics rather than assumed myths. It builds confidence because it’s focused on things we can measure and control. It allows us to track and measure growth in real terms.

Reports have to be personal because it allows managers to make sure people are aligned with prospects they can secure. Management isn’t just about giving instructions - it’s about monitoring and mentoring, helping staff work on specific details of a brief or elements of their technique, and that’s impossible without a report that provides those details.

Car dashboard.jpgGot a dash? Personal sales dashboards inform multiple areas of the business

There are knock-on effects across the business. Organisations which know how and where their people are underperforming can invest in appropriate training and development, rather than going through formalities that don’t address specific problems.

Personal sales activity reports may feel like an exercise in surveillance and target-setting - but they’re not. If your sales team feel like they’re always being watched and weighed up, that’s a cultural problem; they haven’t been brought on board with your values, your process, or your reason for monitoring their activity.

Why you need an onboarding process for sales recruitment

Having the right team in place, with the right profiles, determines the makeup of your sales organisation - how well it can orchestrate a team effort to address customers’ pain points and thus make the sale. By contrast, having a team who are relying on vague ideas of the ‘ideal sales process’ and mostly concerned about hitting their targets means your sales efforts will be haphazard and intermittent.

The onboarding process - beginning at the advertising and recruiting stage, and encompassing the early period of work, training and development - should engage your people in mapping the sales value stream for themselves.

They should understand the problems your offering solves, and how to guide customers to seeing those solutions. It creates a common vision for the business, and forms the basis of customer relationship management. You avoid the confused salesperson - who can’t sell - by ensuring that people are involved in making the sales process happen, and understand how it works.

Onboarding can also draw on your partners and suppliers; for instance, the firm who designed your CRM software can help bring new recruits on board with using it. It should also include your regular workplace trainers, whether they’re in-house or out - part of the onboarding process can be committed to buy-in, making sure your people know they’ll be maintaining and improving their performance throughout their time with you.

This ongoing support helps to manage the downturn in morale and commitment that’s inevitable during the early stages of work, by building the competencies your people will need when their expectations meet reality.

More with less

Ultimately, the best course of action may be to recruit less. As Lars says, if increasing revenue is so important, and boardroom discussions are filled with trying to find ways to increase sales growth, perhaps the answer is not always to recruit more salespeople but to help make your existing people more effective.

This means your recruitment has to bring them on board and train them - but it also means making the most of your existing team.

Train and retain good staff. Keep the right people on the bus. 73% of respondents to our SBR survey are building environments that encourage self-motivation; building on that by offering learning opportunities is a logical next step.

Even though marketing takes up more of the sales process than ever before, sales is still an integral part of business growth. The stats are stark though; a lot of businesses still have huge weaknesses in this fundamental area of their operations.


Photo credits:

Achilles via Wikimedia Commons

Dashboard by Paul Hudson via Flickr

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