This is actually an update of an article I wrote six years ago after missing a flight. The article is still a very pertinent tutorial on how to build a sales process. While there isn’t much that I’d change about what I’ve written, I’ll add a few notes in italics that reflect our current realities in 2020.
Skipping steps in your business processes can be disastrous. Read why here.
I’m writing this article from the Baltimore-Washington Airport. That wasn’t my intent. My intent was to write it from the warmth of my living room (yes, I do write a lot of these articles at home). Unfortunately, I can’t do that. The reason I can’t do that is that I missed my connecting flight. And the reason that I missed my connecting flight is that I skipped a step in one of my processes.
When I fly, no matter what I’m told, no matter what’s printed on the boarding pass, I do the same thing every time I get to the airport, whether it’s a connecting flight or an origination flight. I pull out my boarding pass, and I carefully double- and triple-check the flight number, the gate, and the time. However, after arriving in Baltimore from Providence, I didn’t do that. I looked at the board and saw my destination and time, and didn’t check the flight number. You guessed it. I was at the wrong gate, and I arrived at the correct gate two minutes after the doors closed. The result was that I ended up cooling my heels for four extra hours in Baltimore, and getting home later than I should have.
You know, every time I fly now, even six years later, I remember this moment and I recall sitting in the airport after a long trip, pretty disgusted with myself. I’ve had similar feelings over the years whenever I attempted to skip a step in my sales process and it came back and bit me.
And yes, there’s a sales lesson on how to build a sales process here, and here it is.
Don’t skip steps in your sales processes. Salespeople tend to get really excited when we get positive signals from a customer – so excited, in fact, that we want to speed things along and get the deal done. Sometimes that causes us to skip important steps – like a complete discovery, a full proposal, etc. And invariably, it comes back to bite us. Usually, the results cost more than a few hours in an airport.
One of the issues, I think, is that too few salespeople and sales managers really understand “sales process.” So, I’ll lay it out here in very simple terms, and you can expand on it as you need to. The definition of a “Business Process” is this:
A Business Process is a set of steps, tasks, or operations that must be performed EVERY TIME to generate a successful result. Notice that I said “must be performed.” One common mistake I see in businesses that want to build their processes is that they include steps that are good, and perhaps advantageous, but don’t have to be done every time to get the desired result. Here’s how to build a sales process:
- Find someone to sell to. Whether this happens through prospecting, inbound marketing, or a current customer relationship, the sale begins with the identification of the person to sell to.
- Discover needs. When a purchase is being considered, needs must be discovered and identified in order to move forward.
- Identify Product/Service Recommendations. The needs are then correlated to a product or service that should be purchased.
- Price and Terms. Most of the time we consider this the Proposal phase; the customer must be made aware of the necessary price and terms for the purchase.
- Decision. The customer decides to purchase.
These steps happen on EVERY sale and purchase. Right now you’re saying, “But wait, Troy, what happens when the customer buys and doesn’t even talk to a salesperson?” Guess what – the customer still goes through those steps. The difference is that the customer executes those steps HIMSELF OR HERSELF. The customer still identifies his or her own needs, identifies a product or service to satisfy those needs, finds the price and terms, and makes a decision.
That’s not all parts of how to build a sales process, of course. Your sales process may include other steps. For instance, for a technical product, your customer may have to go through a technical demonstration, and this may be a mandatory step so that the customer fully understands your product. That’s fine, but don’t fall into the trap of introducing steps into the process that don’t HAVE to happen. The prime example of this comes from a regional manager at a company that I used to work for.
He discovered that closing ratios were much higher if the customer took a plant tour prior to buying, so he mandated that all prospects had to take plant tours before they could be offered a proposal. The result? Sales dropped dramatically. The reason was simple – most customers didn’t want to take plant tours and wouldn’t. Yes, closing ratios were higher IF the customer took a tour – but the tour wasn’t a mandatory part of the process. And if you’re wondering, sales at my branch were fine. I ignored the directive. The point was that my regional manager attempted to add an extra step that was nice IF we could get it, but shouldn’t have been mandatory – hence not part of our process.
Where salespeople really get into trouble is when they try to skip or shortcut steps. For instance, salespeople – in a hurry to get to the close – will cut the Needs Discovery short because they think they have all the needs, when in fact they don’t. Missing needs means that the customer probably won’t buy.
I’m sitting in an airport writing this when I should be home eating a nice dinner, and the reason is that I shortcut one of my key processes. Processes exist for a reason. If you shortcut yours, it might cost you more than time.
Here is what I would add. In addition to thinking through the steps in your process, you should also think through HOW they will be accomplished, and leave flexibility. For instance, will these steps be accomplished by phone, video, or live and in-person? Can you build in options? Let’s say that you need to add a step to demonstrate a piece of equipment, and the ideal way to do it is live and in-person. If that live demo is impossible, how much of that live experience can you simulate via a remote demonstration or a Zoom call? Today’s salesperson must be competent in both process and the means of delivering the process – which requires more of us. That’s okay; we need to always be developing our skills.
You might also benefit from my video Six Tips For Better Video Selling.