5 Ways to Optimize Sales Processes
No matter how good at sales you are, no matter how hard you work, if you don't optimize sales processes, then your efforts will not reap all the potential rewards nor can you achieve your full potential.
Building a sales team – and a corresponding sales process that can scale as needed – is a lot of work, no matter what industry you operate, or what maturity your organization is in its lifecycle. When resources such as time, budget and staff are limited, every effort must be optimized to achieve maximum results. The sales process is no different.
I’ll now define the sales process and then explore five ways to optimize it, to help ensure you are on the path to dominating your market.
What is a Sales Process?
A sales process is an internal description of how sales and marketing resources are applied to sell your product or service. A series of stages are identified, which when effectively managed, result in achieving each subsequent stage to ultimately close a sale.
There are several thoughts on how many stages should be part of this process. Within a B2B environment, leads must first be identified and validated, objections must be overcome, cost must be communicated, value must be recognized and budget approved, at which point the sale can be consummated.
A common assumption is that the number of steps should be aligned with how each process or department is internally managed within your organization. For example, if you have a separate marketing team tasked with generating leads, then it makes sense to have this step be a separate part of your sales process. Should lead generation volume or quality deteriorate, then it will be necessary to better understand what happened to fix the problem, and what department must be called upon to fix the problem to achieve the desired results.
Define Your Sales Process from the Outside In
An “outside in” perspective can be very helpful to improve how your sales process is defined and executed. Stop thinking about sales with regards to how your own company departments are structured. Instead, think about the customer’s journey and experience – this should be the catalyst that defines what stages are part of your sales process. Then, teams can be managed based on this structure.
As an example, what if every buyer of a movie ticket first watches a trailer of the movie, and only then buys a ticket based on how the trailer appealed to them? If you worked for a movie production company in such a world, then this purchase cycle knowledge could be capitalized upon to define an extremely effective sales process.
Continuing with this example, you better allocate a significant budget and department that creates great trailers, and ensures they are readily available and distributed widely. This sales process could be managed by a production team that is part of your movie studio business. It would hardly make sense to hire a telesales team to do outbound campaigns that offer free popcorn as a way to encourage prospects to visit their local movie theater.
This leads me to my first suggestion on how to improve your sales process:
- Ensure your sales process mirrors your customer’s purchase journey.
The Importance of a Common Language to Optimize Sales Processes
One of the challenges of establishing a sales process is when process definitions are not consistently applied and understood across the organization and your industry. A great example is how to define a “lead.” Some people believe a name, address and phone number is a lead. This information might be collected when someone downloads a brochure or attends an event.
The problem with this miscommunication is that it creates confusion and wasted efforts. The task of identifying how to generate more leads will be made considerably more complex if some members of the team are pursuing a different goal based on different definitions! Departments might be working at cross-objectives, potentially hurting overall productivity and effectiveness. This miscommunication is critical to avoid.
The only way to ensure everyone is thinking the same way is to have a group engagement or meeting where each stage of the sales process is clearly defined within the context of the entire sales process. Sending out an email to the entire team won’t really work here. Representatives from each department should present how they define their role and definitions used in the sales process, and what it takes to move on to the next level within the sales process.
Only with detailed follow through and consistent definitions can you ever expect to achieve consistent naming hierarchies.
- Ensure consistent definitions are applied when specifying each step in your sales process.
- Use consistent terms known in the industry so as to not confuse your customers in their decision process.
Leverage Technology to Accelerate Scale to Higher Volumes
Every startup organization must create its own new sales process. During this discovery period, it is critical to maintain operational flexibility. Sales processes might be 100% manual during the early years of a new company, which is just fine. Sales volumes are likely low at this point of the maturity curve, which affords a wonderful way to experiment and be intimately familiar with each new prospect, as they pursue their buyer journey.
Hopefully, at least for those organizations that begin to achieve success, sales will build to such a level that manual processes start to become a drag on productivity. The challenges soon begin once early success kicks in and activity increases. Processes that could have been managed manually are simply unwieldy to even consider, creating either significant resource constraints or new pressure to automate. It is at this point where the value of leveraging technology can be best taken advantage of.
Without investing in ways to automate and scale a sales process, the future survival of the process (and potentially the entire company) will soon be at risk. Some sort of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application is likely needed to track sales progress and share best practices across the organization.
These technology solutions selected must be capable of business transformation such that new process improvements can be readily applied. Minor modifications must be accommodated without “breaking” the sales process, risking future growth opportunities.
- Leverage applications to automate the sales process as soon as viable.
You Can’t Improve What You Can’t Measure (or See)
At this point in the sales process maturity, your market is well understood, you have competitive differentiation and your product or service has been shown to achieve recognized value. What must next happen in your sales process is it must scale, and must be capable of continuous process improvement.
New competitors can enter your market. New price points might need to be addressed. Or, from a regulatory or compliance perspective, new product attributes might be required that impact the sales process.
Regardless the source of necessitated change, a sales process must be a living, breathing cycle. Process improvements must be capable of being added, or process changes might need to be modified to stay the course and continue your growth. When operating in an environment of process improvement, it is necessary to have visibility into how processes are executed, to then identify opportunities for improvement.
Sales process improvement can be achieved with applications such as what Prodoscore offers whereby visibility is afforded on how time is spent performing the various stages of the sales process. With this intelligence, it can be much easier to identify opportunities for improvement or whether existing sales processes are being executed according to plan. Regardless, with this visibility comes significant opportunities for continued process improvement.
- Gain visibility to monitor how the sales process is executed, as a source for future process improvement.
With this last step, the sales process improvement cycle is completed. A closed loop strategy ensures sustained process improvement, yielding progressively lower Sales and Marketing costs as a percentage of revenue and contributing to steadily increasing Gross Margins. Any business that achieves success within their market will soon experience new competition. Above average profits will then become harder to sustain, forcing process improvement to continue market leadership. Embrace these five steps to help put as much distance between yourself and your nearest competitor.