Nothing stays the exact same thing forever. That’s true of everything in life, including sales. There’s always more training and more knowledge and skills to be acquired even by the most seasoned sales professionals, and at an organizational level, sales processes will need to be updated from time to time.
The question then becomes, “How do we know when we need to update our sales processes?”. There are a few key indicators that we’ll explore in greater detail here, but the current COVID-19 crisis is a textbook example of when sales processes are updated. The pandemic drastically altered the sales landscape as we know it and forced countless sales organizations and their members to make revamps to their sales processes – in some cases, drastic alterations.
Whether the pandemic’s effects on how business is conducted are permanent, temporary, or something in between are yet to be determined, and may end up being situation-specific (some industries permanent, others temporary for example). But doubtless once COVID-19 is no longer an existential threat, there will, at the very least, be a need to review the pandemic-era processes and see what adjustments might need to be made.
But let’s step away from the current situation and imagine, as is the case for a normal world, that there is no pandemic forcing changes. What are the signs and indicators that a sales process update is necessary? Let’s look at the three biggest or most common ones:
- Your organization’s conversion rates are down.
- An innovator has changed the dynamics of the market.
- Differentiation has disappeared.
- Buyer behavior or confidence has changed.
It’s important to note that we’re stressing organization here. If it’s an individual sales rep, then simply proceed with coaching and/or training as necessary. If it’s a sales team, then examine the team and the sales manager to see what corrective measures are needed there.
But when your entire sales organization is experiencing a drop in conversion rates, that’s a clear signal that something is going amiss with one or more aspects of your sales processes, and an update is necessary.
One of the primary competitive forces that requires you to adapt your sales process in response is the introduction of innovation in your industry. Well-known examples include Tesla – which sells direct to consumers and bypasses the traditional dealer showroom model favored by most automobile manufacturers – and Uber, whose rideshare program innovations required other transportation mediums such as public transit systems and taxicab companies to adjust their sales processes.
While organizations must address disruptive changes with their own innovations and improvements to their products and services, it takes time to implement and roll out such changes. In the interim, you need to find new ways to speak to buyers who are being wooed away by the risen newcomer. How do you, as an encyclopedia publisher, for example, see the value in your product that makes it more reliable than the free and easily accessible Wikipedia? How do cable companies continue to gain clients when increasing numbers of buyers are shifting to cordless? What sales process shifts can help landline phone manufacturers combat the growing trend of cellphone only users?
The answer quite often is updating your sales processes to acknowledge and reflect the change in the marketplace – help buyers see why your value is still there for them and their needs and objectives, even in an altered industry.
These days, there’s more and more competition than ever before. There are always new players entering the market, and your current competition isn’t resting on their laurels – they’re improving, too. So those cutting-edge differentiation points you had 10, even 5 years ago? Others have seen that and built up to that level, too, so what was once innovative and fresh is now industry standard.
That leads to the disappearance of differentiation – your points of separation no longer exist, because others have caught up to you, or maybe even surpassed you in some ways. That’s a clear sign to go back to your sales processes and see where your new points of differentiation exist (after all, you’ve improved, too).
Note that this is a different situation than that of disruption and innovation described in the previous point – the lack of differentiation is a parity issue. Disruption and innovation are issues of rearranged levels and a completely changed playing field.
We’ve experienced a major paradigm shift in the last decade – buyers today are now more well-informed before the first discussion than they ever have been thanks to the power of the Internet. That means if you haven’t updated your sales processes to reflect that change, you might well not be optimizing your revenue potential.
Conversely, it can also be the case that while buyers have more knowledge and increased confidence in knowing what they want, their understanding of that knowledge might not be accurate, and the confidence could be somewhat misplaced. Knowledge is one thing – understanding is another. If your sales processes reflect current buyer knowledge level, but not buyer understanding level, it’s a good time to update.
Other factors that affect buyer behavior and confidence include things like rules and regulations that affect your industry or the industries you sell to (the GDPR implemented in Europe in 2018 is a great example of this), general economic conditions changing (such as the present pandemic).
This then raises the question – how do we update our sales processes once we’ve spotted these or other signs? As you might expect, and as you’re familiar with, it’s a multi-step process that will take considerable time and care to successfully execute.
- Start by examining your current sales processes.
- Seek input from other stakeholders.
- Brainstorm solutions.
- Plot a strategy for carrying out the solutions.
- Periodically review your changes to check for their effectiveness.
- How firmly the sales behavior changes are taking root.
- How well those changes are being received by your buyers.
Truthfully, updating your sales processes isn’t going to mean a total and complete makeover in most cases. Rather, it’s about precision-targeting the specific areas that need updating and letting the rest stay in place.
What that means is that you begin by looking at your present processes. Dive deep and determine not only what needs to be fixed, but what is working well. That way, you can not only address the problems, but avoid the trap of introducing new issues that could be created by updating parts of your sales process that don’t need to be changed.
While you can certainly figure out a lot from the sales leadership and C-Suite perspective, it’s also advisable to get feedback and opinions from your sales organization, your current and former clients, potential buyers, and other stakeholders. They’ll be able to provide you some key insights as to where exactly there’s been a breakdown in your sales processes and provide you a starting point for the elements that need updating.
Once you’ve conducted your broad, macro-level overview of your sales processes and gotten micro-level input from everyone involved in your processes, you’ll have an excellent sense of what spot areas (or total overhauls, as the case may be) need to be refreshed to meet the new challenges that have caused your previous paradigm to no longer function as effectively as it once did.
From there, examine each item in turn that needs correction. Get the leadership team together and start discussing possible solutions to the problems you’ve identified. As part of this conversation, also keep in mind the expected outcomes and your desired goals for proposed fixes. This is critical – if you don’t know what the likely result of a solution is, you’ll be implementing a fix blindly. And if you don’t know what your goals are – specific goals beyond just “Let’s get a working sales process going” – you increase the likelihood that you will choose a remedy that fails to achieve the ultimate end goal of improved sales processes.
Once you’ve identified the solution or solutions, create a strategy and roadmap for executing them. Who will be responsible for the delivery of the solutions? What’s the time frame involved – in the ramp-up, the actual delivery and implementation itself, and the possible reinforcement (if training is a desired enablement strategy) to be sure the learned knowledge and skills translates into permanent sales behavior changes?
Among the decisions will be whether to do everything in house or, what often proves to be a better use of resource deployment, a specialized outside vendor, which could be a consultant, training provider, or software provider, who can customize the solutions to your specific needs, objectives, organization, and industry.
You should also designate checkpoints on the roadmap – when can your sales team or organization reasonably expect to have a fully implemented solution and attained what level of mastery? When do they start transferring the knowledge into their daily work? As soon as possible is both too vague a description and too obvious. In order to be successful in the implementation and for your sales reps to be clear on the process, you’ll need specific dates or score markers (if testing will be a form of measurement you use in determining mastery).
Then proceed step-by-step through each of the phases (pre-implementation, delivery, and post-delivery reinforcement and support) for each of the solutions you’ve chosen. Note that some of this might involve simultaneous training and coaching for multiple solutions. Others might involve a more sequential series of processes. It all depends on the specific requirements for your particular sales process update and adjustment.
Once you’ve gone through all of these steps and phases, your shiny, new, updated sales process will be hunky-dory and everything will operate smoothly, right? In an ideal world, yes. But you shouldn’t bank entirely on that happening. Rather, conduct appropriate reviews to determine two things:
In the first instance, you’ll know if your efforts at imparting knowledge and skills, reinforcing that learned material, and translating the upskills into changed behaviors is working or not.
In the second instance, you’ll know if the changes you’ve made to your sales process and your team or organization’s behaviors is resonating with the marketplace. This is a key step that every company who undertakes a sales process change process needs to take. After all, if your buyers aren’t responding favorably, you’ll have to go back and figure out what wrong. Because disengaged buyers = fewer sales and lower revenue.
Like many things in sales, updating your sales process is a matter of knowing the right time to adapt and taking the care and effort to be sure you select the right direction and have a complete, detailed map with markers on how to get from Point A (your old sales process) to Point B (your new sales process). But the investment of time and money will be worth it, as you’ll have proven you can successfully adapt to changing conditions in the marketplace and shifts in buyer behavior.