In part one of this series, we discussed the importance of getting to know your client base. Factors such as the criticality of your product to their success, the buyer’s attitude toward sales and salespeople, the financial and personal risks they face both from buying and NOT buying your product and the way in which they want to buy all provide data points that should inform the sales process you deploy. In this part, we’ll discuss how to avoid the pitfalls we see in many sales processes and help you design a sales process that appropriately leverages what you know about your client base.
Part 2: Want Forecast Accuracy? Get to Know Your Sales Process.
Many of the struggles our sales leaders face regarding forecast accuracy stem from the fact that their sales process, as defined in their CRM systems, does not truly reflect how their clients want to buy. In some cases, the process is heavily focused on completing tasks and activities that have little impact on sales success. In other cases, the process is focused on achieving sales milestones that have little correlation to the milestones that the client believes are important to their buying process.
Not long ago we were introduced to a company whose recently-hired CEO had a financial background. This CEO implemented a sales process with a heavy focus on sales rep activity: calls, emails, and meetings were closely tracked and reported in monthly trendline charts looking back over the last 4 quarters. After three quarters following this process, the company could find no correlation between a sales rep’s activity and his or her success in closing business. Needless to say, the sales reps hated this process; one of them felt so much pressure to record completed activities that he began recording completed phone calls in the company’s CRM system before he actually placed them.
A detailed analysis of this company’s client base indicated that sales success in their target market depended much more heavily on creating and nurturing close personal relationships with stakeholders who could truly award business. These people were often badly overworked and disliked being sold to. They came from a variety of levels in their organizations, from VP to first-line manager, and they could occasionally make their own calls on which vendor to choose, even as they lacked the analytical and quantitative background necessary to ensure they were getting the best deal for their company.
We didn’t have the opportunity to work with this company, but if we did, our sales process would have at its foundation the establishment of solid, trusted advisor relationships with client stakeholders who could truly award business, regardless of whether they sign the Purchase Order or approve the invoice. That process would focus on creating high-value interactions between the sales reps and their target contacts, who would be vetted for their ability to truly award work, in whatever capacity they do it. It would provide a framework in which a business and financial case could be established with the stakeholder and a vehicle the stakeholder could leverage to communicate that case to his or her internal stakeholders and transaction participants.
The key is that as you go about designing a sales process that is responsive to your client’s buying process you should look outward, not inward. Like a detective working in reverse, you are trying to reveal the facts of an event (a sales transaction) that has not occurred yet. Your investigation (your sales process) needs to predict what those facts will ultimately be. What will the client buy, how much, when, for what price? But as with every event (whether a crime or a sales transaction!), these facts are almost always influenced by personal motivations, attitudes, needs and expectations.
These less quantitative aspects of the client’s buying process are critical elements of any sales process, yet they are often overlooked or ignored. We believe the sales process that will produce the highest levels of forecast accuracy, organization-wide, over the long-term will have a consistent focus on several things: 1) Learn as much as possible about the client organization and the individuals who will participate in the buying process; 2) Prioritize each bit of learning as to its importance in the buying process and how it may influence the vendor selection process; and 3) Develop and execute a strategy to address the prioritized learnings from step 2.
The resulting process should provide a framework that is sufficiently structured while still allowing your sales reps to apply their personal style to it. If you are unsure of whether you’ve designed an efficient, effective sales process, you might consider doing a check-in with your trusted clients to ask them if they believe your sales process is properly aligned with their buying process. Such a clear display of outwardly focused planning may in fact bring you greater consideration during their next buying cycle.
In Part 3 of this series, we’ll discuss ways in which you and your reps can leverage your sales information system for greater sales success and forecast accuracy.