Your Sales Process Needs an Expiration Date

For some time, I have struggled with sales processes. I love the big timeless principles, but too often they ignore the fact that there are many paths to a deal. While I am not for winging it, sales requires the engagement in the outcomes first and foremost, the awareness to notice what is working and what isn’t working, the creativity and the resourcefulness to find a way forward when things don’t line up neatly in the little boxes, and the adaptability to quickly change course.

Sales processes, like other business practices that stay the same for too long, need to be modified to take into account the fact that things change.

Make this happen proactively by putting an expiration date on your sales process. And, I don’t mean metaphorically. I mean it literally. Here’s why.

Create Awareness of the Exponential Changes in the Business Environment

The business environment, like everything else in world, is changing. And the changes are speeding at us exponentially faster. These changes cannot be understated, and they cannot be ignored.

The first step to making effective changes to your sales process is being aware of what is changing around you, why it is changing, and what it means for you and your clients. Putting an expiration date on your sales process gives you a chance to pause and to take stock of the changes that impact your customer. It gives you and your sales team a chance to decide how the changes impact you.

Some of these changes will be minor trends and issues to which you can very easily adapt. But some of these changes will be longer term and significant changes that impact how we serve our clients, including how we approach them through our sales processes. These are the ones that help to redefine what we do to remain effective.

Through the last two economic downturns, many sales organizations were surprised to find themselves selling to procurement and Chief Financial Officers. They had processes that included the economic buyer but did nothing to address the major shift in the balances of power and influence.

Verify What Is Working and What Is Not Working

Building in a pause point gives a sales organization and their salespeople (and, maybe their sales process vendor), an opportunity to identify the performance gaps that may be the result of the sales process losing its effectiveness over time.

An expiration dates can signal a meeting to take stock of what is working and what isn’t working. Sales organizations and sales teams can sit down together to identify and to openly discuss why the performance gaps may be occurring.

These meetings must be completely free of individual performance issues. The purpose is to identify the significant gaps and the challenges that impact the sales force, not individuals.

Some of the best salespeople have an increased ability to work through some of the gaps that other salespeople may not easily find their way through. Poor performing salespeople may struggle being effective with the process because they lack more general sales skills and attributes.

You are looking for the big ideas that cut across the entire sales force. What isn’t working for the largest and most diverse group of salespeople?

Make Adjustments and Improvements

Using the expiration date gives you a chance to make adjustments based on the changes you have identified and the performance gaps that exist. It gives you a chance to identify potential ways to bridge the gap and to share best practices.

Sometimes the reason high performers are off the map is because they have intuitively recognized something new that is working to advance the sale. No one is in closer contact with the client than the sales force, and no one has a better knowledge as to what might be needed.

Acquiring (and, perhaps requiring) their input and their ideas as to what adjustments and improvements may be needed keeps them engaged in the process and it builds in ownership—both of which have the ability to improve the adoption of the process!

These changes can be discussed, tested, and implemented as they are proven more effective than previous practices.

Conclusion

Even if you change nothing about the sales process (which I very much doubt), it is necessary from time to time to review your sales process, to take an inventory of what is working and what isn’t, and make adjustments and improvements. Give your sales process an expiration date.

Questions

1. What was the date of your last major and revolutionary change to your sales process? Has anything changed since then?

2. What are the major trends that may impact or disrupt the effectiveness of your sales process?

3. Where are the gaps in performance that cut across all segments of the sales force? Is this a training and development issue, or is it something else?

4. Are there new tactics, ideas, and milestones that the best performing salespeople may have identified that may be become new best practices?

5. How would acquiring new ideas from the sales force improve the process and adoption rates?

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Comments

comments

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  • http://www.salessigmaconsulting.com Chuck Overbeck

    Anthony,

    Again, I agree with where you are going with this. I would however, phrase it a different way. I see a need to build continuous improvement into the sales organization; what I call the Tier 4 Sales Organization (http://salessigmaconsulting.com/images/Tiers_of_selling.jpg).

    The Tier 4 Sales Force has established process metrics that allow for: (1) the identification of bottlenecks, (2) focused coaching and (3) early indicators of change. These allow the process to adapt quickly and give the sales team a competitive advantage.

    I have found the tools of Lean Six Sigma and implementing a CRM for continuous improvement to be of great value to my clients when it comes to keeping their processes current.

    Thanks again for bring up an important topic.

    Regards,

    Chuck

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  • http://ypsgroup.com Todd Youngblood

    Anthony,

    I agree with your with your sales process “expiration date” concept and would suggest that for most B2B companies the time frame is 12 months. i.e., the top sales exec and a team of 4-5 respected members of the field sales organization should conduct a formal annual audit using hard data about effectiveness of each major piece of the process vs. the results produced.

    Since the sales process is composed of an organized collection of “best” practices, it’s also useful to regularly examine effectiveness at that level. Show me the data! Which sales activities are most highly correlated to results? Which is more effective this year? Dropping off donuts or crafting compelling, quantified, “dollarized” value propositions?

    Todd

    • http://www.santhonyiannarino.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Hi Todd,

      I agree, with the exception of choosing 4-5 respected members. I’d be careful to include some who succeed, but who are on the fringe. Respected sometimes mean they are doing things the way we want them to, and some of the best ideas sometimes come from those who march to the beat of their own drum. I don’t mean people who are contrarian by nature, those who disagree because that’s what they do. I mean the people who actually do something simply because it works but may never say a word.

      Thanks for the comments! I think 12 months sounds like a perfect expiration date. Maybe October each year?

      A



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