Designing a Sales Process

American cheeseI blogged about your sales process earlier this year (Startup Sales and Marketing) and, indeed, there is a mini industry devoted to helping companies figure how to develop, grow and manage sales processes, all with  a view to making sales more productive.  Books like  Strategic Selling, Spin Selling and more recently The Challenger Sale  and Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma Way are ready for your reading.

Funny though, enterpise sales is not easily turned into a scalable process.  Sales processes are difficult to design, harder to implement and often a challenge to manage.

Why Have a Sales Process?

Frankly, as an early stage company, particularly when you are first launching, having a sales process isn’t that important.  You (the founders) and going to go through hell and high water to land your first dozen customers, shucking and jiving and pirouetting your way around prospect needs, doing whatever is needed to close deals.

As you grow though, you need to design a process to which your team can conform.  You need to agree on a common process so that you can communicate more effectively to investors and senior managers, measure how your team is performing and forecast more accurately.  Some ideas about designing a process follow.

Keep it Simple and Grounded in Reality

I like to keep the number of stages down to four, no more than five.  You can always add to your process as things grow – it is harder to remove things once they are in the system.  I would shy away from the more complex processes presented in most of the trade press – they tend to be designed for large companies that have sales operations and support teams and whose biggest challenge is reporting and measurement.

Your process should reflect the reality (read challenge) of selling a new technology to an enterprise.  The stage length and qualifying events should be realistically bounded.

Agree on Definitions

You and your sales team need to have burned into your consciousness definitions of the key stages in your sales process.  What is a qualified lead?  How do you size an opportunity?  When does an opportunity pass to the Negotiations stage?  These are simple questions but they can take some effort to answer clearly and succinctly and are essential for managing effectively.

Be Disciplined in its Application

Whatever process you design and agree to, commit to it.  Train your sales team around it and setup your CRM so that you can track activities and opportunities according to your process.  Run your sales meetings around it.

Be Flexible

Revisit your process every six months and make sure that it is working properly; it is likely that you will have to adjust it.  Things change, target verticals shift, products evolve:  all these will affect how you sell.

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