The Hidden Costs of a Rigorous Sales Process: What You Sacrifice for Structure

Why we Enjoy a Structured Sales Process

Research would suggest that having a set sales process adds anywhere from 18% to over 50% to your sales results. BUT there are also losses and restrictions that come from that structure that many love dearly. In the fast-paced and complex world we live in, sales have also become more complex and the average sales professional needs to be able to turn on a dime as circumstances change, have a high level of skill and professionalism as well as the ability to juggle many sales balls in the air at once.
A system and process offers much in such a competitive environment;

  • Confidence that all aspects are being well represented and all steps completed every time (Well, as confident as you can be!) resulting in more conversions.
  • Predictable and measurable results allowing accurate benchmarking and forecasting.
  • A better customer experience leading to higher loyalty.
  • Predictability helps plan prospecting and business generation activities.
  • Areas of weakness are identified, measured and rectified with planned future improvement. Coaching and training become more focussed and effective.
  • Transparency increases accountability.
  • Meaningful communication between departments allows better planning and production/supply.
  • Faster onboarding occurs and retention is higher as the sales team produce results and gain the associated rewards.

So surely life is good! All is right with the world, isn’t it?
As you read through the list above, was there any area there that you said to yourself “yeah, right” about?

A lack of flexibility

Experience has shown that structure tends to stifle creativity and flexibility. Once a formula is found that works it tends to be regimented as THE way to do things. In addition to this, once THE way has been found then a sales manager is usually found that fits that way. This makes the process even more rigid as they hold strong convictions about the structure put in place.

Our experience with flexibility is that a lack of it tends to lead, over time, to more management and less leadership. In other words, being held accountable to the targets becomes the way of motivating the sales team and can become the only focus.

So what can we do?

Review often. Markets change and customers change. Have focus groups and gain feedback from clients on a regular basis. Be ready to accept the findings and make adjustments. Report these finding and adjustments back to clients as part of the process.

Use external expertise to map the buyer’s journey accurately and from an external perspective. Similarly, have the sales process itself reviewed on a regular basis to ensure it is still optimizing every opportunity. Outside eyes see what internal eyes miss. Too often we focus on the outcomes and end results. Try to make sure there is also an equal focus on input key performance indicators as well as the output results. By looking at the small actions that make up the results.

Input from the team into these KPI’s creates involvement and buy-in. Ensure sales managers are ‘leading’ and not just managing. Numbers make the world go round but motivation and willingness are what give it the push it needs. Reinforce good sales management habits and support the role.

Remember that the sales manager’s role is not to make sales happen – it is to empower those who do have the responsibility for making sales happen. We see a lot of effort going into sales teams but not as much support for the sales manager who leads them.

One size simply cannot fit all.

The sales system is usually designed by those that are comfortable and good at a sales role and it works for them. However, we often hear as we talk to sales managers “I know the system works. Why can’t they simply follow it?” The answer is because they work in a different way that is not a natural fit for the system in place. You can train someone given time and effort but our personalities are like rubber bands. The more you pull someone away from who they are – the stronger the rubber band wants to snap them back to their natural self. A structured sales process often reduces the flexibility to adapt to such individual needs.

And yet our individual strengths are what allow us an edge in sales. As Judy Garland once said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” This is especially so in a smaller business where the personality of the owner can be the main attractor of business.

If we can play to our strengths we will always do better and, in today’s market. Being different from the usual salesperson makes a difference. It breaks the preconceived ideas a client has about what a salesperson represents and how to get rid of them. It defeats the defenses they have ready against a salesperson. Clients are also looking for transparency and honesty and this approach will demonstrate these values.

So what do we do?

Perhaps we can take a leaf out of Disney’s book here. Disney recognises that the enthusiasm and energy that the show guide, on rides such as The River Boat ride, makes all the difference to the enjoyment of the passengers. But they can become stale over time as they rattle off the same old lines day after day and month after month.

What they did was create several different storylines that all fit well into the ride. Each day the guide on the ride is allowed to pick the story they wish to use that day. This allows them to stay fresh and feel like they have some control over the day.

  1. In your own structured sales system determine what must be delivered in a particular way and stick to this. Bear in mind that the style of delivery can alter without changing the content.
  2. Look for areas where the sales professional can adapt aspects to suit who they are and how they deliver. Allow them the flexibility and freedom to be themselves within the structure of the process.
  3. It not only allows them to play to their strengths but also gains more buy into the whole process. Acceptance by the sales professional to use the process makes life easier for everyone.
  4. Have planning sessions on individual prospects. This allows discussion around how to best approach to suit the business and the individual sales professional and gives the manager insights and control over the sales process that is about to occur.
  5. Leadership is essential to make this happen. As soon as autonomy is allowed there will be those that see it as an open door to do whatever they like. Leadership is the key to ensuring the rules are happily adhered to.
  6. This flexibility also makes it easier to recruit for the sales professional position. Instead of being set hard on one style of salesperson you can now look for other options knowing you can provide a sales process that suits different salespeople.
  7. This flexibility also allows you to match sales team members with particular clients to maximise the chemistry that has to exist for a successful sales outcome.

So while a structured sales process will certainly gain more results, it will also create limitations because of the structure required.
By building in the leadership, flexibility, and adaptability needed in today’s competitive environment you will optimize each opportunity that comes your way. If you would like to discuss your sales process


Bill James
Senior Partner