The Sales Process

Big Red Car here.  Going to be a great day in the ATX, sunny and cool.  Happy Friday, ya’ll and please do be happy.  No stink eye for anyone today.

So The Boss was up early meeting with one of his CEO clients and they were chatting about the CEO’s company’s sales process.  Seems The Boss had had several similar conversations over the last couple of weeks.  Surprising really.

The Boss was surprised to hear a number of common laments and a common opportunity to improve the process.

This commentary is most appropriate for businesses which are engaged in a B2B (business to business) sales effort and which are fairly small enterprises.  If you do fit into that category, pay attention but be prepared to adapt the thinking to your particular situation.  We are looking for some thinking, please.  Oh, Big Red Car, you can be so cheeky sometimes.  Haha.

Sales is a process

Selling anything in a B2B environment is a process with very identifiable and documentable milestones.  It is a process and like any process it can be reduced to a graphic which shows the process clearly.  It does not really matter what you are selling, it is still a process and documenting that process will streamline the sales process and make you more effective.

Document, streamline, more efficient, more effective, higher success rate.  All good things.

Identify the process

The first thing to do is to identify the process.

1.  What are the milestones? <<< This is one of the most important questions that you will answer.  Get it right.  It is easy.  You already know the answers.

2.  How do they relate to each other?

3.  Who, from your team, is the “actor” — the person initiating the action?  With whom are they coordinating?

4.  What is the required action?

5.  What are the collateral marketing materials being used?

6.  What is the call to action?  The deliverables?

7.  How do you know when you are ready to move to the next step?

8.  How do you deal with rejection, objections?

9.  When do you bring in the big guns?

10.  When are you ready to close?

11.  How do you celebrate a successful sales effort?

12.  How does sales hand off the relationship?

Milestones

The subdivision of the sales process into individual milestones is a critical exercise in preparing to make your sales process graphic.  They are the building blocks.  Get this right and the rest is a piece of cake.  Even identifying the milestones is easy.  Just think through the process and then go back and dissect your last successful sales effort.  Remember, you are trying to replicate success and to streamline the process of getting to YES.

Each milestone should call for a specific action, assign a responsibility, identify a location, list the marketing collateral to be used, contain a call to action and have a clearly identified boundary between its completion and the next milestone.

Let’s use as an example the first milestone in most sales processes — identifying the target client base.  I think of this as making a list of “suspects” — folks who are likely buyers of your product or service.

This is primarily an intelligence gathering operation.  This can be done by a salesman or an intern and may answer a very simple question — who are the top 25-50-100 target companies to whom we want to sell our product?  This is a simple list at its inception.  As an aside, this is exactly the kind of thing that can be delegated to an intern or otherwise outsourced.  Update it a couple of times per year.

This list then should be used to develop a one page write up about the target company — basic information.  Size, history, management, contact info, finances, current supplier of service or product and any market intelligence.  This one page writeup is the deliverable that gets this company into your pipeline report and is the first step in the sales process.

The milestone is accomplished when that one page write up is completed, circulated and the company is entered into the pipeline report as a “suspect”.  The CEO or other manager approves their inclusion in the pipeline report.

Document the process

Folks who are managing the sales effort should have a clear graphic which shows the entire process.  This is vital to ensure that everyone is on the same wavelength, to ensure that everyone is in agreement as to the current status of any particular sales effort and to use as a training aid for new salespersons.

Scribble up a process flow chart with all milestones identified and get everyone’s buy in on the process.

Convert it to a Visio graphic and get it printed.

This is now your road map.  Follow it.

As an aside — CEOs who are running fairly substantial but still small enterprises (say less than $5MM in revenue and fewer than 30 employees) are often actively involved in the sales effort if not being the primary salesman.  This is not unusual.  Who knows the product better than the CEO?  Answer:  nobody!

This appropriately lean structure and nimble approach creates the obvious temptation to keep all the information and process “in the CEO’s head”.  This is perfectly fine in the formative stages of the enterprise but it is totally unacceptable as soon as you hire your first salesman and begin to develop a pipeline of future business which must be managed in an orderly and precise manner.

Pipeline report

I mentioned a pipeline report above.  You may use any type of software or none at all to manage your sales process.  SalesForce.com is a great product but sometimes it is just too complicated for a small company.  But you have to have some kind of management tool — even a simple typed out list or a whiteboard chart will work — to manage the process for multiple prospective clients.  This is particularly true once you hire that first salesperson.

In configuring that pipeline report it is helpful to classify individual sales targets in some logical manner.  Perhaps something like the following:

1.  Suspects — when you have identified a particular sales target as a possible customer.

2.  In contact — you have made contact and have ascertained who the decision makers are.  This is the beginning of communication and education of the target company.

3.  Prospects — you have made an initial communication and they are mildly or more interested.

4.  In play — you are in dialogue and there is a demonstrable level of interest and they are in play.  They are receptive to your entreaty to consider your product.

5.  Decision briefing — they have accepted your invitation to make a decision briefing level presentation.  The big pitch.

6.  In negotiation — they have received a decision briefing and are actively considering the proposition, they are asking questions, they are expressing reservations or objections, you have provided a definitive proposal and have sent them a contract form or purchase order.

7.  Closing — you are negotiating the final terms of the agreement and you have a high likelihood of closing a deal.

8.  Done deal — you have an actual agreement signed by both you and the client and are ready to hand off the relationship to production.

 What you see from each of these classifications is that they should correlate nicely with each of your milestones and they should lend themselves easily to identifying who is involved, what is the call to action, the marketing collateral and the boundary between each classification and milestone and the next one.  It is logical, iterative and precise.

A quick word about timing and urgency — once you are moving toward a closing, keep moving.  Delay can only undo the work done thus far.  Move fast to close and with all expediency.  Close the deal.

Bringing in the big guns

We started this discussion envisioning a fairly small company with the CEO actively involved in the sales effort, if not leading it completely.  What I want you to see is that a sales process which is ordered and disciplined by a good sales process graphic and a clear set of milestones (reflected on the sales process graphic) and a good pipeline report is one that the CEO can entrust to a subordinate and ultimately to  multiple subordinates and ultimately to a sales manager or marketing director.

This orderly process and documentation is the basis for an orderly delegation of the sales effort as the company grows and scales.  It is a road map to develop real breadth and depth in the sales effort as the company grows and adds bandwidth in the sales department.

This delegation strategy also allows the CEO to be involved at those critical junctions in time when a CEO to CEO conversation will move the process along to YES.  Not only is it a strategy for effective delegation, it is a strategy for tactical focus by the CEO — bringing in the big guns for deal making critical milestones.  It economizes on the CEO’s involvement but more importantly it focuses his efforts on the real deal making instants in time.

There is much more to say on this subject and in the days and weeks ahead we will discuss this more but this is a good start.

There are no hard and fast rules here other than taking a crack at your sales process, milestones, pipeline report.  Any effort is better than no effort.  Dissect an successful sales effort and ascertain why it worked.  Monkey see, monkey do.  But even a monkey needs a sales process flow chart graphic.

But, hey, what the Hell do I know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.