Earlier this week I received this inquiry form from our "Ask a Sales Expert" page:
I am currently conducting a Research Project at school on the 5 step sales process. i am focusing on: (1) prospecting, (2) the initial appointment, (3) the presentation of the product, (4) the followup of objections or changes to offer (5) the close of sale. I am researching which one of the above steps is off greatest consequence/ importance to a company and why? I was wondering if you could please help me? Thank you.
Someone from my team always responds to these inquiries and it was my turn. I want to share the correspondence, but it's even more important to read the accompanying explanation, interpretation, warning and lesson. If I can help you to understand this and get your sales process correct, the data suggests that there is a corresponding 20% increase to sales!
I’m happy to help you.
Where did you find those 5 steps? They’re not the right steps and they are not in the right sequence. It sounds like the steps are around 40 years old!
You might find these articles helpful as you do your research – feel free to reach out again if you need any help.
I received this reply from him:
A salesperson that i work with gave me those 5 steps. But i do agree with you becasue (Sic) i have struggled to find these steps in that order or just those 5 steps by themselves. I was wondering whether you could give your opinion on those five steps becasue (Sic) unfortunately i have already started my research? Be glad to take your advice.
The most important step is missing! It can be called many things but the names that are tossed around most often are discovery and needs analysis.
He responded back to me with:
Thank you again for responding. I understand what you are saying now. Sorry to be annoying, but would you be able outline the steps that you believe i should be researching? Also explain what the discovery and needs analysis is!
I replied with:
Did you read those articles? You’re supposed to be doing research…
His final response was:
Thank you for your help!
There is an important reason that I shared this with you today. Not only is this a great example of laziness and incompetence, but like the salesperson who shared the 5 steps, nearly every salesperson and executive believes that they possess and follow a sales process. In the White Paper, The Modern Science Behind Sales Force Excellence, 70% of executives claim that their companies have a sales process. My issue with that information is that in both instances we are talking claims, not science. If we look at the actual science, we know for certain that despite all that has been written, as well as the opinions collected in surveys, 91% of the nearly 1 million salespeople evaluated and assessed by Objective Management Group (OMG) are not following a formal and/or effective process. There may actually be a process, but it's either not being enforced or it's not very effective as constituted. There is a huge difference between the existence of a process, whether or not the process is effective, and whether or not the process is being consistently followed by all!
I can also share this. Whenever Kurlan & Associates hosts its Sales Leadership Intensive, all of the participants claim at the outset that they have a sales process that they are happy with. After spending two days with us, they admit that what they thought was a sales process, was useless, ineffective, and ill-conceived. And they certainly have a process when they leave! The same phenomenon occurs with clients. They all have a sales process until we evaluate their sales force and report that few of their salespeople are following it or using it effectively. They are shocked! And when we work with them to redesign, customize, optimize and introduce a sales process that will work for their company they admit that what they had was nothing more than several of the wrong milestones.
There is a huge misunderstanding when it comes to sales process. It's a lot like electrical work. Everyone needs it, but they think that because they know how to change a light bulb they don't need to call an electrician. Getting your sales process right is a lot more like needing electricity in the middle of a stone wall with no nearby source to tap into. For you? Impossible. For an electrician? It's all in a day's work.
How do you make your sales process better?
I can share what I do with my clients...
First, I collect all of their steps, milestones and to-do's. These vary - a LOT - from client to client depending on how many they have identified on their own, how complex their sale and the markets they sell to.
Next we divide the sales process into 4-6 stages and place each of their existing steps, milestones and to-do's into the most appropriate stage. Stages can be as simple as Suspect, Prospect, Qualified Opportunity and Closable Opportunity.
Then, we identify all of the steps and milestones that are missing from their process. When we get to this point, most clients are missing anywhere from 6-15 important milestones!
Next we need to optimize by identifying the proper sequence. This is a VERY CRUCIAL step because the sales process must build upon itself!
Then we identify ideal time lines for each stage of the sales process.
We weight the most crucial milestones in order to calculate the likelihood of closing. The accuracy of your sales forecasts is in direct proportion to nailing the proper weighting!
Then we enter the sales process, time lines, weights and underlying rules into a spreadsheet that an integrator can use to customize a CRM application. We also map the 4 stages and steps onto a Baseball Diamond so that we can introduce it to a sales force visually and they can understand the flow.
Finally, we spend about a year training the salespeople to achieve sales velocity which occurs when we achieve consistency relative to:
- The process flows naturally
- Salespeople are having the right kinds of conversations relative to the step and stage of the process
- Meetings and calls are conversational
- Opportunities are constantly in forward motion
- Each salesperson understands exactly where they are in the process
- Salespeople are investing the appropriate amount of time on only the most relevant opportunities
- Sales process is embedded in the sales culture
- All coaching is in the context of where a salesperson is relative to the sales process
- Pipeline reviews are in the context of the stage of an opportunity and the likelihood of closing.
Do you remember the 5 steps that the student researcher wanted to me to help with? They were essentially:
- Initial appointment
- Handling Objections
If were were to place those 5 steps into a 4 stage process, prospecting would not be a single step but would actually be 2 steps in the 1st stage including Conversation, Meeting Scheduled.
Initial appointment would be a step in the 2nd stage where there are at least 5 important steps missing. Presentation and Close are both milestones that occur in the last stage of the process. There are at least 8 missing steps for the 3rd stage of the process and many more throughout the rest of the process. Handling Objections is not and never should be a step. It's part of the ongoing conversation that makes up the entire sales process!
Do you still think you have a viable and effective sales process?
We have a free tool that you can use to check out and score your sales process Give the Sales Process Grader a try!