Broken or Just Missing Some Pieces? Diagnosing Sales Process Shortcomings.
Maybe your sales process is like a jigsaw puzzle. You’ve done a whole lot of work on it, you can see the picture on the box that shows what it’s supposed to be, but it’s still missing some pieces and you can’t seem to find which ones they are. In addition to this, your front line sales managers aren’t managing to the process and sales reps aren’t using it either. You want to solve this puzzle, so you revisit it every so often, but in the end, it just sits on the table collecting dust while other pressing matters vie for your attention.
Let’s dust off that puzzle, take a look at the most common missing pieces, and explore why they are critical to completing the picture.
Missing Piece #1: The How
Chances are, you’ve probably done a pretty good job of defining "what" you want to occur at each stage of your sales process, but we often find the “how” is not as clearly articulated. For example, “qualify the opportunity” might mean any one of a number of things, but “identify the quantifiable business need as articulated by the customer” is much more clear. If your sales process lists higher level objectives, but not the specific activities your sales reps need to engage in to effectively move an opportunity through the sales cycle, you might as well be asking them to use the old Yellow Pages book to look up a phone number. They aren’t going to use it.
When you are missing the “How” piece, sales reps will start guessing, taking the path of least resistance, reverting to whatever they used before, copying the person next to him/her, making things up as they go along, and/or skipping critical steps. Left unchecked, this lands you firmly in a place of haphazard execution, inconsistent performance, long sales cycles, lost deals, and very little diagnostic problem-solving ability.
Where to look:
To locate the “How” piece, you can crawl around and look under the couch, or you can start by looking at what you do have documented and ask some refining questions.
- Does this item represent a higher level objective or does it spell out a specific action to be taken?
What types of resources are available to your reps at each stage and do they know how to utilize them to support the activities they are being asked to engage in?
Do your reps have clear start and end points to enter and exit each sales stage?
Missing Piece #2: Perspective Shift
Sometimes shifting your perspective allows you to see things that were previously out of view. We often find that sales processes are an excellent source of information regarding what needs to happen from the sales standpoint, but they don’t take the customer’s buying experience into enough consideration. When we talk too much about our company and how great, innovative, cutting edge, etc. our product or service is, and dive into feature talk, we unknowingly create dissonance with our potential customers. When this happens, we miss a critical opportunity to connect at a more strategic level. Strategic purchase decisions are based on changes that are occurring for the customer, and we can’t find out what those changes are when we are focused on ourselves.
Why don’t we ask about those changes? Because it’s easier to rely on talking about a product or service we know is great instead of ask about the unknown. When our reps fall into this tempting trap, the sale is immediately commoditized and good luck getting a call or an email back from anyone with any real buying authority or influence.
When we are missing the buyer “Perspective” piece, we are overly focused on our own sales needs, and that leads to dissonance with our potential customers. This friction shows up in longer sales cycles, lower conversion rates, unnecessary discounting, slower market share growth, and declines in brand equity.
Where to look:
To locate the “Perspective” piece, it’s important to look closely at how you engage with a potential customer, especially in Stages 1 & 2 where value is rooted. When you look at what’s depicted in your sales process, the following questions will help you see through the customer perspective lens.
Are the items listed about us, evangelizing our product/service, and what we need as a sales organization to qualify an opportunity?
Where is the balance between needing to assess/rate the opportunity and uncovering what change/inflection points are occurring in the customer’s world?
What would we need to do differently to get curious about the customer, find out what’s changing for them, how these changes are impacting their business, and identify what our customer’s desired business outcome is?
Missing Piece #3: Build a Bridge
Do you have a black hole sitting between Stage 2 and Stage 3 where deals go to die? Go ahead, pull up your dashboards, take a look at where the bottlenecks are and note your conversion rate between Stages 2 - 3. While you are at it, what is the aging for those deals that are still active but stuck in Stage 2? If you are seeing some ugly numbers, don’t panic just yet because there is something you can do about it.
Before we go to solution, let’s quickly look at why deals get sucked into the black hole. It happens because the bridge from Stage 2 into Stages 3 & 4 was not built. All the qualification, feature fit, and discovery work means very little if the seller doesn’t put the conversation into the broader business context. Customers are ultimately not buying the features you talked about early on; they are buying a quantifiable business outcome that those features create over time.
Again: Your customer is buying a quantifiable business outcome, not just a feature set.
Coming out of Stage 2, moving through Stage 3 and getting into Stage 4 is largely dependent on being able to skillfully build a bridge comprised of quantifiable business outcomes that are time bound.
When the “Bridge” piece is missing, your funnel has a huge hole in it -- and it’s not at the bottom spitting out closed deals. The hole shows up in your data with distorted or low conversion rates, bloated pipeline as deals languish in the middle of your sales cycle, or lost opportunities that otherwise would have closed. The downstream impact of this wreaks havoc on you forecasting, creates huge inefficiencies as you try to save languishing deals that you don’t want to let go of, and ultimately your revenue numbers aren’t as high as they should be.
Where to look:
To find out where the pieces to the “Bridge” are, let’s look at what your sellers are doing in Stages 2 and 3. If they are doing things like showing the customer a demo, doing a technical deep dive, looking at competitive analysis, or initiating pricing conversations, they are not building a bridge. Not that those things aren’t important, they are, but they won’t propel the deal forward at a strategic level. To start building your bridge, take a look at your sales process and assess the following:
Are your sellers creating a sales focused value proposition that aims to qualify and close a deal, or a buyer focused value proposition that creates strategic value for the customer?
How are the activities your sellers are engaged in helping to frame the purchase decision in the context of the customer’s required business outcomes?
How is the concept of quantification used to move the sales conversation out of discovery and into validation at a strategic level?
So there you have it… Although this is not an exhaustive diagnosis, I promise you that taking a look at your How and Perspective, as well as starting to build your Bridge will produce some real results.
If you want help finding and arranging your puzzle pieces, it just so happens that we love building sales process puzzles with our clients. Contact us here for a complimentary consultation.
Amanda Ambrose, Co-Founder & Chief Coaching Officer at Level213