Why I am Sales Process Agnostic (and why you should be too)

Let's start with the disclaimer. I am not saying that you should not have a sales process! That would be stupid and criminal. Having a plan with defined milestones makes perfect sense, and if you don't have a defined process you are not as successful as you could be. Period.

With that said, I don't believe in blind devotion to a sales process. In business-to-business sales, there are far too many variables to define a process that goes from A to B to C in a nice, linear fashion. When you can't get to B, sometimes D is the best choice. And sometimes using the defined process makes no sense at all. In sales, there is only effective and ineffective.

I couldn't resist following along with Geoffery James and Neil Rackham's B2B sales simulation (here). Go take the simulation and come back . . . the rest of the post is a spoiler.

I take issue with the simulation because it offers you three choices for an entry strategy into a the fictitious account, calling directly, researching the company first, or visiting the company. The simulation suggests that the correct answer is to "research the company" before calling. And this is absolutely correct . . . sometimes (choosing to call the decision-maker directly or to visit the prospect leads you to a dead end with the gatekeeper). The simulation believe the sales process is linear. It is not.

I know this is a very simple simulation used to prove a simple point; but it proves my point on agnosticism as perfectly. Almost always, there are multiple entry points into any prospect. There are some sales professionals that can and will be effective leveraging all of the entry points, and some sales professionals that can open the prospect in ways that other sales professionals cannot. I might be able to call the decision-maker directly, and another sales rep might be able to convince the gatekeeper to give them entry.

The key, as Rackham has suggested in SPIN Selling, is to find some way to advance the sale. The next action to advance the sale can vary widely and dramatically from prospect to prospect, which requires a thoughtful and creative sales professional to both discover the best opportunity to advance the sale, as well as gaining the commitment to do so.

Is it best to find problems at lower level before approaching the decision-maker so that you can add value to the first meeting? Sometimes. Is it better to gain access to the stakeholders by calling as high up the organizational chart as possible? Sometimes.

Are you effective enough to gain entry using all three of the choices James and Rackham lay out? Are you flexible enough in your beliefs about the sales process to believe that others might be successful with an approach with which you might not be successful? 

Afterword

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