Every organisation wants to increase their sales, but few take the right measures to achieve their goals. Huge investments are made in digital marketing, branding and advertising, while head-hunters and talent searchers convince us that everything lies in the quality and capabilities of our salespeople.
Of course, these two aspects both have a big influence on sales performance. However, there is a third, often overlooked, but equally important factor: the effectiveness of the core sales process.
An ineffective sales process holds many companies back and is a common problem in markets across the board, from staples to luxury products from retail to B2B.
The benefits of analysing performance and improving existing systems are potentially huge. In my experience a company can expect to increase its sales by about 25% (ceteris paribus). It can also produce a margin improvement, depending on the type of market, of between 2% and 10%.
There are five essential steps to optimising your sales process and increasing sales.
1. Definition of processes (step by step)
The first step is to define the sales process, from lead generation to signing the contract. This can be extended until payment if the payment is still under the responsibility of the commercial area. Define each and every one of the activities involved in a sale, in chronological order. I recommend using a long roll of wrapping paper (in the terminology of consulting firms: ‘a brown paper’) where you can draw the process and paste onto it each of the documents that are generated at each step.
2. Measuring performance at each step
Each step of the process must have a system of performance measurement. Typically many of these steps are already measured, because even intuitively they seem important. Sales volume is measured in all companies, many measure the mean value of contract or order, and a few measure the number of leads generated by the different channels.
When we measure all the steps of the process, we generate adequate information to enable us to improve performance in each of the steps.
The sales process can be represented as a funnel. We need to generate many leads to get a number of contacts with the decision maker, which, in turn, result in a number of sales conversations. These conversations generate a number of follow-up conversations to finally sign orders or contracts. In this regard, the sales process is a numbers game: a greater number of leads delivers more sales.
All these standard numbers must be well known and handled with ease by all members of the commercial area, because this is the foundation upon which we can build to sell more.
3. Comparison of performance at each step
Once we have the performance measurement tools installed at each step of the sales process, we can begin to compare the performances of different commercial channels or agents, and thus detect who does it better. The system will identify the best performance in each step of the process. This could be, for example, a salesperson who has a higher-than-average order value is higher, or ratio of contacts to sales conversions. The system, especially in the early stages of the process, also provides us with valuable information to enable us to better direct our investments in digital marketing or advertising, as it identifies the leads generated by each source.
4, Identification of best practices
Once the best performance is identified for each step, you must identify what makes that commercial agent perform above average. These are the ‘best practices’ and need to be extended to all the other commercial agents, thus improving sales performance of the whole organisation.
5. Training on best practices
Training on best practices can be done in various ways, but the most effective method is to go through the entire sales process with the team. At each step, the people who achieved the best performance for that step explain how they do it. Role plays and games are often a good framework for extending these best practices to the rest of the sales team.
Finally, for really effective results, the training programme can be completed with sales coaching. This will ensure that the identified improvements are implemented with individual follow up.
This is how we carry out our “High performance sales teams” programme. Sales people engage with these methods, because they are not based on arbitrary or unreasonable goals. They are based on reality, on the best demonstrated performance and they provide a route to everyone achieving the best. An effective core sales process transforms all salespeople into star salespeople.