This post was written by Solomon Thimothy, Co-Founder of OneIMS.
What’s the difference between high-performing and underperforming sales organizations?
The sales process.
According to an HBR survey of sales leaders, 51% of high performing sales organizations had a formal, structured sales process.
Chart Source: The Importance of Formal Sales Structures by Steve W. Martin Harvard Business Review
In another study, 57% of respondents identified improving the sales process their biggest priority for improving sales performance.
Chart Source: Biggest Priority for Improving Sales Performance by Training Industry
For sales managers, optimizing the sales process can result in dramatic improvements in effectiveness and efficiency.
The question now is: how exactly can you optimize your sales process?
In this post, I’ll show you 5 actionable tactics you can use in any business to fine-tune your sales process for success.
1. Emphasize The ‘Big Picture’
As a sales manager, it’s easy to focus too much on the details. Between the minutiae of managing sales targets and the performance of individual salespeople, managers often lose track of the big picture.
The result? Sales teams working in silos, not as one cohesive unit.
To mitigate this, make sure that every part of your sales organization - SDRs, AEs, customer success managers - knows the big picture.
This means that they should know:
- Strategy: Where is the business headed? What’s the broad sales strategy? What is the overall market environment like? Knowing these crucial facts will help the sales team understand the business better and see how their contribution affects the whole.
- Key metrics: Salespeople love hard numbers. Your entire sales team should know your key metrics such as customer LTV, AOV, sales per rep, sales bookings, etc.
- Marketing vs. sales responsibilities: It’s important for your sales team to know where the marketing department’s responsibility ends and where theirs begins. Here’s a great post from HBR on ending the war between marketing and sales.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting out or hitting $20M in revenue, focusing on the big picture will help your sales organization feel as if they are striving for something larger than individual wins. The transparency is just a bonus.
2. Develop A Process For Tracking KPIs
There are typically two types of sales organizations: those that have no sales data and those that are drowning in data.
Neither of these two situations is ideal. A lack of data leads to poor visibility, while too much data leads to confusion.
For an effective sales process, it’s important to identify data that actually matters (i.e. your KPIs) and work to track and measure it.
Broadly speaking, this is a three-step process:
- Identifying KPIs: As a sales manager, you likely already know your KPIs, yet it doesn’t hurt to drill down and identify metrics that actually improve sales performance vs. vanity metrics. This post from HBR is a good place to start.
- Data collection and tracking: This is arguably the hardest step in the process. In one survey, 20% of sales professionals said that manual data entry was their biggest CRM challenge. Given that sales reps avoid data entry, it's hard to get data collection right. Try using better software and automated data collection to improve quantity and quality of data. This should include activity numbers (outreach attempts, total appointments, total prospects, etc.) as well as performance metrics.
- Data cleansing: According to a report by MarketingSherpa, 2.1% of B2B contact data degrades every month (or 25-30% each year). The final step, therefore, is to audit data periodically and remove any erroneous, outdated or superfluous data. This will not only improve performance but will also keep your reps from drowning in data.
Keeping track of these over time will also allow you to chart progress, or lack thereof, in critical areas of the sales process.
3. Embrace The ‘One Metric’ Rule
Alistair Croll, co-author of the Lean Analytics book, says:
‘At any given time, there’s one metric you should care about above all else. Communicating this focus to your employees, investors, and even the media will really help you concentrate your efforts.’
This advice applies as much to sales organizations as it does to founders.
Think about it: every part of your sales team chases different metrics. Outbound reps chase activity metrics, customer success reps chase customer happiness and NPS scores, and so on.
This often means that sales organizations don’t have a single metric to rally behind, leading to confusion and motivation issues.
To solve this problem, follow the ‘One Metric’ rule.
This rule is easy enough to understand: like a science experiment, narrow down on one - and only one - aspect of your sales process. This should be a metric that reflects the success of your business or the sales organization as a whole, such as MRR, ARR, etc.
Focus your sales team’s efforts on perfecting the process for improving this metric. Once you’ve optimized for one metric, move to another and repeat the process.
Over time, improvement across key metrics means a more effective sales department and a more predictive sales pipeline.
4. Find And Fix Holes In Your Pipeline
Sales managers usually have a very clear understanding of the bottom of the funnel. After all, this is where you score your wins.
However, this bottom of the funnel clarity sometimes means that the rest of the pipeline gets ignored. Leaks at the top of the funnel might be affecting your win rate and you might not even know it.
This is why it is crucial to map your entire funnel and fix holes in your pipeline. Visualizing individual stages in the funnel, as well as the overall customer journey, will help you identify and improve weak areas.
In fact, in a survey by eMarketer, an overwhelming number of sales leaders said that one of their biggest goals was improving sales pipeline visibility.
Chart Source: Goals that Are Most Important to Executive Management According to US Sales Professionals, Q4 2013 by eMarketer
Geoffrey Walters has a fantastic article on this blog about optimizing the top of the funnel. For mapping out the entire funnel, check out this mind map by MindMeister.
5. Change Your Sales Process To Match Customer Needs
As an experienced salesperson, you already know this: sales has changed dramatically.
- 94% of B2B buyers research online before making a purchase decision.
- Customers go through nearly 60% of the sales process before speaking to a rep.
- 55% of B2B buyers search for solutions on social media.
Simply put, customers, not salespeople, now control the sales process. With the amount of information available online, customers don’t need sales reps to teach them about products and services they way they once did. Unfortunately, a lot of sales organizations are still using outdated sales processes that just don’t work in the customer-first age. Here’s what you can do to change this:
- Improve collaboration with marketing: The divide between sales and marketing is blurring. To reach customers in the information age, sales needs to work closely with marketing to map out the buyer’s journey, create relevant content and cultivate demand. In fact, as per an Aberdeen Group study, companies with good alignment between sales and marketing saw a 20% bump in revenue.
- Embrace newer platforms: Unsupported cold calling has an abysmal success rate—2.5%. In contrast, 78% of reps who use social media outsell their peers. To create a customer-first sales process, embrace new platforms and go where the customers already exist.
- Get involved in content development: Since your prospects are searching for solutions on search engines and social media, it’s important for your sales team to be involved in content development. Encourage your sales team to create their own content, or at least get them to collaborate with marketing to produce more relevant, sales-oriented content.
By adopting prospect-first sales process, you’ll be sure to see an increase in sales efficiency and better overall sales numbers.
Over To You
Optimizing the sales process is an ongoing process. Understand that minor changes in the way your sales team operates can lead to drastic changes in results down the line.
Embrace a philosophy of continuous improvement where you fine-tune every aspect of the sales process, from capturing leads to winning deals. At the same time, collaborate with marketing, invest in training, and prune out poor performers to run a well-oiled sales machine.
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