It’s no news that a well-designed and implemented sales process makes sales teams more effective. According to CSO Insights’ Sales Performance Optimization Study, sales process related challenges are #2 on the list of sales execution challenges, right after “generate more leads”.
For this reason, sales process is all the rage among thought leaders and leading organizations. But when we talk to salespeople themselves, we get a different picture. In general, sales reps feel like they already spend too much time on data entry. CRM, the usual tool for systematizing and imposing sales process on salespeople, suffers from staggeringly low adoption rates—with some citing averages as low as 25%.
Where is the disconnect? If process increases quota attainment so drastically, why do so many salespeople refuse to adopt it? The answer, of course, is complicated, but one glaring reason for low adoption rates is the perception—often all too true—that the process stifles the salesperson’s creativity and/or force them to be accountable to a system they neither designed nor approved, and that does not help them get better at their job.
In other words, they view process as a pointless straitjacket.
But what if I were to tell you that sales process shouldn’t feel like a straitjacket?
What if, instead of holding salespeople to a rigid set of rules and accountabilities, the process actually freed them to be more creative, more ingenious, and more productive?
What the ‘simple wardrobe’ movement has to teach us about creativity
Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein basically wore the same outfit every day of their professional lives. This choice, it turns out, may represent one critical component of their prodigious energy, creativity, and productivity.
Roy J. Baumeister, co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, explains it this way: Your decision-making energy is a limited resource. Every decision that you make, however small and insignificant it may seem at the time, diminishes that day’s available pool of decision-making capability.
I never remember anything I know how to look up. ~ ALBERT EINSTEIN
By choosing a single outfit to wear every day, these geniuses reduced the number of inconsequential decisions they have to make, freeing up their intelligence for greater creativity and productivity. But what does that have to do with sales process?
A dynamic, optimized, reinforced process can be the “simple wardrobe” choice that frees the average salesperson to become extraordinary… and frees the extraordinary salesperson to reach new heights.
Besides freeing up decision-making capability, a well-designed process:
- Ensures basic stuff doesn’t get missed. Like Atul Gawande describes in his book The Checklist Manifesto, a surgeon’s skill is best used in determining how to handle the surgery in progress, not how to handle issues that arise due to mistakes in the process. Ditto for salespeople.
- Systematizes the intelligence, skills, and behaviors that have been identified as best, so that your team doesn’t have to constantly reinvent the wheel.
- Frees up time to focus on the hard, challenging, and important decisions.
Okay, so how do we get a process that frees salespeople instead of confining them?
“It should be a support and an enabler,” Bob Apollo, founder of Inflexion-Point said in a recent interview, “that allows salespeople to apply their curiosity, initiative, and interest to the sales problem. It should help them define and make intelligent choices that improve their chance of a successful outcome.”
Many organizations view sales process as a way to rein salespeople in and make sure they comply with the company standard, or as a way to force them to report data so the company can use it to analyze performance. In turn, the salespeople view such a process as a way to put them under the microscope, which creates suspicion and negativity. This is the strait jacket that so many salespeople resist.
On the other hand, a productive process starts with understanding what will make the salespeople more effective, and giving them tools to increase their success, rather than to confine them. It includes taking the time to understand the accumulated wisdom of the organization in regard to winning, and applying that in a systematic manner to help every salesperson achieve better results.
This can’t be accomplished overnight or single-handedly. It requires a concerted cross-organizational effort to build an effective process, and once it’s built, it’s critical to provide effective implementation and reinforcement.
Technology solutions like Membrain can walk salespeople through the steps of the process, remind them of the important steps at each stage with videos, content, and alerts, and ensure they don’t skip important steps that could jeopardize the sales project. Such a system takes routine decision-making off the salesperson’s hands, so they can apply their intelligence to the uniqueness of each sales situation.
“Sales process is no substitute for intelligence,” says Apollo. “It should deal with the obvious, the predictable, and help avoid otherwise common errors, and in doing so, give salespeople freedom to devote their energies to the creative, inquisitive aspects of selling.”
I couldn’t agree more.