Process Isn’t Enough

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
March 18, 2010

I have written here on numerous occasions that I am an avowed sales process agnostic. It is, in part anyway, hyperbole. I would never in a million years recommend any company go without a well designed sales process.

But too many sales processes serve sales management and not the salesperson. Too many serve the selling organization far more than they serve the prospect. And far too many believe that their sales process works for any salesperson, in any industry, and that there is only one way (in truth, most sales processes are based on well-known and well-established principles, and the principles are what make them effective). Mostly I use my agnosticism as a device to discuss how sales processes can fail us as salespeople.

Why is it that great salespeople can succeed and produce outstanding results even when they operate way outside the sales process, and poor salespeople still fail regardless of an excellent, tried and true sales process?

I say this in the most accusatory tone: Process doesn’t replace effectiveness.

What Process Does

Process allows you to understand what information you need to collect, what events need to occur, what commitments you need to gain, and a good process may also help you design an offering that allows you to present the right solution to your clients.

Process allows you to build a roadmap as to how a deal is likely to progress, and it gives you milestones to help keep you on course.

Process also provides you with the questions that allow you to identify potential obstacles, roadblocks, or threats that may derail your deal. It provides a common framework and vocabulary for thinking about and talking about deals with an eye towards making adjustments.

There is nothing that replaces a well-designed and thoughtful sales process (especially not winging it!). This is true even if you are an accomplished salesperson.

What Process Doesn’t Do

Process doesn’t replace effectiveness. The reason some salespeople are able to produce outstanding results off process is because they are effective salespeople in a more fundamental and a more general way.

These salespeople embody the attributes that I have written about previously. They are disciplined when it comes to prospecting.  They have the business acumen necessary to discuss their client’s problems and challenges in an effective way. They have the ability to intuitively understand who they need on the team in order for a deal to be made. They understand the politics inside their client’s organization. They are creative and resourceful problem solvers.

And they are fearless when it comes to asking for and obtaining commitments.

While process does nothing to help teach, train, or improve the underlying attributes that a salesperson needs to possess in order to succeed, the underlying attributes do, in fact, enable the process to be effectively executed.

Why then do we spend so much time and energy on process, without spending an equal amount of time, energy, and resources on building the capacity to operate the processes that we have built?

In large part, it is because it is easier to train and to teach a sales process. It is easier to sketch out the stages and steps, to identify the information needed, to identify the commitments that are needed, and break the deal into smaller achievable stages with milestones (I didn’t say it was easy, I said it is easier!). It is easier to identify the obstacles and roadblocks that prevent salespeople from winning deals and to make the checklists necessary to prevent them where possible.

It is much more difficult to teach and train salespeople to be disciplined in their activity. It is extraordinarily difficult to teach salespeople who aren’t naturally creative to be resourceful and adaptable (especially after having these attributes that children seem to naturally possess crushed out of them by an education system that believes there is one right answer, you have to find it alone, you aren’t allowed to have access to any information outside that in your own head, you aren’t allowed to ask for help, and that the test is a one time event that defines you).

It is more and more difficult to teach salespeople to naturally ask for an obtain commitments.

Moving Forward: Integration

Moving forward from here requires that we integrate the training, teaching, and coaching of the sales process with the training, teaching, and coaching of the underlying attributes. It requires that we treat the whole patient, not just one set of symptoms.

Instead of teaching the needs analysis stage requirements, we should teach the process of the needs analysis stage or discovery stage in conjunction with the listening skills, the diagnosing skills, the change management skills, and the business acumen that is required to do an effective needs analysis.

In most cases, sales processes are effective enough, just like most business strategies are effective enough. The performance gap is in the execution. Sales has never been more difficult and more complex than it is now. But the answer to the complexity isn’t process alone; instead it effective process integrated with the timeless principles that success and sales success has always built upon (plus an over-sized dose of business acumen).


1. Is my pipeline full of deals that have stalled, even though I have followed my sales process?

2. Is the gap in my performance a process problem, or is it something more fundamental?

3. Is the biggest challenge I face (or that my team faces) the result of something more basic and more fundamental?

4. Do the primary challenges I (we) face include finding quality prospects, obtaining commitments, differentiating my offerings, creating real business value, or understanding and maneuvering through the politics of change management and consensus building?

5. Would integrating process with fundamental sales skill sets improve my (our) ability to better execute our sales process?

Post by Anthony Iannarino on March 18, 2010
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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