You Cannot Manage What You Don’t Understand

Jonathan Farrington

23 January 2020

Even companies that enjoy the luxury of representing a line of clearly superior products realise that those products will not sell themselves. As a minimum, companies need a sales force comprised of skilled professionals who understand the application of the product range, have an in-depth knowledge of their customer base, market sector and, of course, the competition. But even all these elements together are not sufficient to ensure optimum performance levels and profitable sales. An effective sales process must be in place.

What Exactly Is a Sales Process?

Put quite simply, it is a set of procedures which determine how a company wishes its sales team to operate – “The way we do things around here.”

The most successful organisations have implemented a process and an all-encompassing framework for defining performance standards. This involves assessing, appraising, developing, reviewing, and providing continual feedback on performance, as well as implementing efficient and relevant process tools.

Lack of Direction

Far too frequently, competent salespeople are expected to channel their own activities into the areas that will produce the quickest wins. Unfortunately, left to their own devices, they don’t develop and pursue a formal strategy for moving a sale tangibly forward during each prospect interaction. Neither do they have a clearly-defined set of goals against which to measure their progress.

Typically, their judgment is based on gut reaction and is purely subjective – i.e., “Oh yes, I’ll get that order, he likes me” – because salespeople need to be optimistic by nature. They end up dancing around with prospects, in the hope that they will eventually get to their chosen point on the dance floor – i.e., the sale. In this scenario, the customer has complete control.

Developing a Consultative (Collaborative) Sales Process

From the Sales Director’s perspective, developing a consultative sales process requires developing a comprehensive, formal, realistic and step-by-step outline of what salespeople are expected to do. This is just as appropriate for internal and totally reactive sales teams as it is for external pro-active ones. This outline includes the activity and calls they must make, the relationships they should establish with prospects, the documentation they should use in sales calls, the issues they must discuss and resolve with prospects and the tangible goals they must achieve in sequence along the path to each sale, in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.

It’s only when such an outline is in place that sales management can be in a position to:

  • Monitor the sales force’s activity, progress and results
  • Assess issues as they arise and take appropriate action
  • Efficiently redirect individual sales representatives’ efforts

Although many organizations appreciate the importance of being customer-focused and talk in vague terms about their “consultative sales process,” surprisingly few sales leaders invest the time and energy required to develop a formal sales process – a process that is at once detailed and resilient enough to guide their salespeople and permit effective management of their efforts.

Finally, I would say this: You cannot possibly hope to manage external events if you do not have internal control!

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