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How to make your sales team fall in love with a sales process


04 03

Processes are everywhere.

If you try to cook a meal, you need a recipe. If you train for a marathon, you need a structured series of exercise. To build a house, you need a construction project. To run a company, you need a business plan.

These are just a few examples of how our everyday experiences require a structured process in order to simply … happen. Of course, not everything in life goes according to a plan, and very often we need to be creative, improvise and adapt to changing circumstances.

And sales is no exception.

Salespeople need to be flexible, willing to improvise and adjust their selling techniques to meet a potential customer’s needs and wishes.

On top of that, salespeople like to do things their way. That’s why it’s extremely difficult to make them do their job by the book. Restricted by somebody else’s methods and annoyed by needing to follow an imposed routine, salespeople typically resist following a formal sales process.

That’s why it’s no surprise that a staggering 68% of all salespeople do not follow a sales process at all, according to the Objective Management Group. And a handful of those who do, only follow about 40-50% of the process!

Yet, there is ample evidence out there that proves that following a well-defined process in sales can improve overall performance, increase revenue and even help salespeople close sales deals quicker.

And this is what this blog is about – helping you prove to your team that they need a sales process!

What is a sales process?

In layman’s terms, a sales process is the stuff that sales people do every day.

Professionally speaking, a sales process is a set of repeatable steps that a sales person takes to take a prospective buyer from the early stage of awareness (realizing they have a need for a product) to a closed sale (making an actual purchase).

As a rule, a sales process consists of 5-7 steps: Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, Following up.

Most businesses are aware that their sales teams go through a similar process. Yet, only few of them decide to outline and standardize the process. And it’s easy to see why – as long as sales reps keep on closing sales and bringing revenue, how they do it is their own business.

In the end, salespeople are left to their own devices when it comes to deciding what steps to take and when.

It may work if your team is made up of exceptionally-talented sales veterans or natural-born sales wizards. But if not, you, as a sales team manager, can significantly benefit from a standardized sales process and improve measuring, forecasting and general management of sales.

Why following a sales process is a good idea

Nobody in business takes things at face value. So, let’s take a look at some numbers. 

Studies by Harvard Business Review indicate that businesses that employ a standardized sales process witness a 28% increase in revenue as compared to those that do not; and that 50% of high-performing sales organizations have “closely monitored, strictly enforced or automated” sales processes. The study also concludes that 48% of under-performing organizations have non-existent or informal sales processes.

The Sales Management Association claims that 90% of all companies that use a formal guided sales process were ranked as the highest performing.

A research by the TAS Group points that 70% of the companies that follow a structured process in sales are high performers, and that the companies with a defined sales process enjoyed 70% of accurate  business forecasts. 

And even though the numbers are quite convincing and multiple studies prove that following a well-defined, formal sales process improves the key sales parameters – revenue, performance and forecasting accuracy, the reality is very different – less than 40% of organizations have a standardized sales process!

Salespeople still resist adopting a sales process in their work.

Let’s take a look why.

Why won’t salespeople adopt a sales process?

A popular song goes: Haters gonna hate. So, let’s leave the “haters” alone.

Yet, there many reasonable objections to following a formal sales process that you need to be aware of and address.

Here are 6 typical sales reps’ objections to adopting a sales process:

  1. This is not the way I work

Salespeople are creatures of habit. If something worked for them once, they are likely to continue doing it in the same way. And they have a point there!

Most of the time, top management of a business decides to introduce a sales process without consulting their own teams, especially not asking their top sellers for advice. Meanwhile, top performers should be actively involved in developing a sales process that will work for their company. They know what works and what doesn’t. And it is their experience that should be reflected in the process.

  1. What’s in it for me?

One of the fundamental mistakes of introducing a formal sales process is that salespeople don’t see how they can benefit from it. That’s why, for a sales process to work, a company needs to ensure average sales reps’ buy-in. Without it, nothing will work, including threats.

Salespeople need to see what’s in adopting a sales process for them! In other words, a good sales process should reflect sales reps’ vision of how to convert their sales opportunities into closed deals. And once salespeople understand how a sales process can help them sell more – not only will they follow the process, but they will also become its strongest advocates.

  1. This won’t work for my clients

Another common fault is that sales processes are not created with a customer in mind. To put it simply – companies create a sale process that reflects the way they want to sell, not the way their customers want to buy.

Very often, salespeople are aware of this, and, as a result, they refuse to follow rigid and “sales-only” focused processes in their work, as their customers simply don’t buy this way.

A good sales process needs to address the customer’s needs, create value and be flexible.

Make sure that your sales process (a) reflects the behaviors and decision-making processes of your potential customers, and (b) aligns the way your sales team sells with the way your buyers buy.

  1. It’s too complex

Failure to adopt a sales process is, most of the time, due to confusion and lack of clarity. Too often, a sales process looks like a labyrinth of complex and über-detailed steps, with numerous qualification thresholds, sub-processes and approval gates.

Such difficult-to-follow sales processes result in salespeople cutting corners and skipping steps to get down the pipeline quicker.

An effective sales process needs to be easy to remember, logical and simple to follow.

  1. If my boss doesn’t care, why should I?

Hands down – this is the strongest argument you can get from a sales rep resisting a sales process! Unless you have a strong buy-in from the top management, you can kiss your dream of making your team follow the sales process goodbye.

It’s the top line managers who should lead by example and preach about the usefulness of the sales process. They need to help sales reps not only overcome challenges, but also see the good in the process.

  1. It’s a waste of time

Cumbersome sales tools are the main time-stealers and the most popular complaint that sales people make. Very often, salespeople waste too much time on entering data, sometimes in more than one system – for example, an Excel spreadsheet, a Google doc and a CRM system. As a result, data entry and reporting become a burden.

Make sure that the tools that support your sales process are unified and tailored to help your salespeople, instead of getting in their way.

10 ways to make your sales reps adopt a sales process

So, you’ve heard them loud and clear.

Now it’s time for you as a manager to explain to your sales team why following a formal and well-defined sale process is going to be beneficial for them, and turn “haters” into “lovers”.

Here are 10 tactics you can use to make you sales reps adopt and follow a sales process:

  1. Listen and analyze

Look inside your team and find out what causes the most resistance and frustration. Organize a meeting and listen to what people have to say, what their grievances are, and what sales stages cause most trouble. Your team can offer some valuable real-life insights on how to create a winning sales process.

  1. Sell the sales process to the sales people

You can force a sales team to use the process, but you won’t win their genuine support! Deprived of their freedom to sell “ their way” , salespeople will resist an imposed sales process. To make sure that people do not feel like they are micromanaged, you need to sell the benefits of a sales to them: show statistics, compare best practices and – most importantly – present your case as a true sales rep would.

  1. Localize the process

Sometimes even a very good sales process does not reflect the specifics of your business and the behaviors of your customers. Once again – the best way to fix it is to involve your sales team in the creation of the process. This way they will know they are the co-authors of the process, meaning, they will feel responsible and curious to test their own suggestions.

  1. Set clear goals and define expectations

Communicate to your team what goals you have for each stage in the sales process you propose. Explain why the activities in the sales process are necessary and where they would lead to. After you outline the process and offer step-by-step instructions for each sale stage, make sure your team understands your expectations.

  1. Keep it simple

Avoid offering complex solutions and confusing processes, as they lead to neglect. For your salespeople to adopt a sales process, you should get rid of excessive activities that may hinder the process and curb the enthusiasm of following it. That’s why you need to streamline the process to reflect the most obvious and simple-to-follow processes.

  1. Be flexible

Your ideal sales plans should not be rigid. That’s why it should offer scenarios that allow flexibility, so that your sales reps could adapt the process to certain clients’ behaviors. Also, make sure that the sales process allows salespeople to take their leads down the sales funnel without annoying hurdles and unnecessary stops. If you notice recurrent problems, you may need to re-access the process.

  1. Train your team

After you’ve introduced a formal sales process, make sure your salespeople don’t walk in the dark and receive appropriate training and front-line coaching. You too should be committed and monitor how the process is being implemented. Is it going smoothly? Is everything clear, and if not – why? 

  1. Offer performance-based incentives

Sales reps are a competitive lot! Make sure you reward those that follow the process and perform well. This adds a sense of gamification in the workplace. In general, the adoption of a sales process will go down better if you show that you care about your team’s well-being by offering bonuses, time off work, and other incentives.

  1. Renew your sales tools

Make sure you offer simple-to-use, lean working tools, that do not steal time and stand in the way, but instead help sales people do their jobs well. You need to use modern, mobile technology to accompany the sales process and customize it not only to your sales objectives, but also to the needs of your team.

  1. Choose the CRM designed for sales

One way to make your team stick to the sales process is to use a reliable CRM system, that will automate every sales stage and prompt what action to take, when to follow up, send information, start preparing your sales spiel, etc. A CRM system allows you to easily program all sales stages, document all communication and move a prospect from one stage to another at the right time. 

Sales process – a way to keep your business afloat

Making salespeople adopt a sales process is a tough job. But it’s not impossible.

In today’s sales world, when everything, including your customers, is changing, relying on a set of best sales practices and routines can help your business withstand the winds of change and stay afloat. 

A standardized sales process can help your sales reps to be more efficient, know what to do at every stage of a sale and eventually close more deals. It can help sales managers to better train their teams, manage their team’s sales pipeline, improve forecasts and adapt their sales methods to how customers prefer to buy these days.

Once all the parties involved know how they can benefit from the sales process and the right technology is on board, the adoption becomes a matter of making a decision and using proper tools to work with.

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