In the past, many people believed the sales process would provide each salesperson with the ability to win the deals they pursued, making it possible for every salesperson to hit their sales targets. Like many promises that seem too good to be true, this one never came to fruition.

For the first few years I published here, I kept quiet about the fact that I was agnostic about the sales process.

The first reason I was not a believer was because I had observed sales organizations that both succeeded and struggled—even though the same salespeople were using the same process.

In any group of people doing the same activity, performance varies.

The second reason I was skeptical that the traditional sales process was a panacea for all sales performance problems was based on my own experience using it. I noticed situations when, to move forward, the client needed something that the process didn’t include. Sometimes they needed a conversation to review the final proposal to make sure it would work for them, and other times they needed help convincing other people on their team to go along with the change they needed to make.

How to Improve Your Sales Process

Improving your sales process today means rethinking how you engage with your prospective clients. In the past, the sales process was designed around a checklist of tasks the salesperson must complete to move from one stage to the next. Most of these sales processes were designed to make certain the salesperson captured some piece of information or completed something vague like “ensuring the client understands our value proposition.”

Over the past couple of decades, our world has changed. These changes have touched every part of our lives, including how people buy and sell. Long ago, the once-linear sales process became nonlinear. To improve the sales processes, it is necessary to adopt a more agile and flexible approach, as in a change-management project.

Sales Process Improvement Strategy #1: Value Creation in Every Conversation

The first way to improve your sales process is to create the requisite value in every conversation. The greater the value you create in any meeting, the more likely you are to acquire another meeting, one that moves you and your contacts forward together.

Improving your sales process means removing conversations that create anti-value, self-oriented positioning, and the questions that repel your contacts. There are better ways to qualify your clients.

No matter what stages make up your sales process, the first way to improve your it is to design each stage by the value you must create for your decision-makers and their teams. Pretend you are the prospective client, and ask yourself, "What would help me make a good decision and improve my results?"

Sales Process Improvement Strategy #2: Adopt an Agile Approach

As salespeople, we build our vantage point on our experiences helping our clients with the process of buying. A client only buys occasionally, but we help our clients every day, so we know what they need to do to improve their results. Sometimes clients need to travel a path that isn't the one we might have chosen for them. This can result in clients skipping important conversations that could have ensured they made the right decision to produce the better results they need.

Sometimes to move forward in the sales conversation, you need to give up the idea of linear progress and instead be agile enough to jump forward with the client to achieve some outcome they need, then go back to the conversation that would have preferred to have earlier. There is no reason to withhold your advice and recommendations about the order of conversations, but winning sometimes means being flexible, so you can help your contacts have a conversation they find necessary before returning to an earlier conversation.

The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales provides a guide to 10 common conversations that show up in B2B sales. They show you how to be agile when you know what conversations you may still need to have but your client needs something different to proceed. Of all of the books I have published, this is the one that causes people to send me notes to tell me how much more money they make after adopting these practices.

Structure is important, but so is recognizing the need to be flexible when the structure fails.

Sales Process Improvement Strategy #3: What to Keep

Even though the linear aspect of the sales process is gone, it's worth retaining a set of stages that allows the salesperson to track where they are, something that is important when the conversation is nonlinear. Agility doesn't suggest that any path will work.

You should also retain anything that creates value for your client as it pertains to helping them move forward. It bears repeating that if something isn't helpful for the client, you can likely improve your process by removing it. The reason I start my sales conversations with an executive briefing is that it creates value for the client from the first minute of the conversation.

Improve the Sales Process: Sales Effectiveness

As a sales manager, sales leader, or someone engaged in sales enablement, your greatest initiative is increasing your team's effectiveness in the sales conversation. You do this by ensuring they create value for their contacts through every phase of the conversation.

When you update your sales process, it's important to give it an expiration date for when you sit down with your team and explore what has changed—and how you might need to adapt to what your clients need from your sales force. This is a best practice that is worth practicing.

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Tags:
Sales 2022
Post by Anthony Iannarino on August 19, 2022
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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