Sales Management Best Practices: Six Essential Processes

<i>Note: In the previous installment of <a href=" target="blank">"Sales Management Best Practices,"</a> we discussed the three types of sales force metrics identified by our research&#x2014;measures of sales processes, sales objectives, and business results. We now turn our attention to the first of these: sales processes.</i><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> The term "sales process" can mean many different things. While most managers would say they have some form of process in place, the nature of this can range from planning sales calls, to collecting information on active opportunities, to completing major account plans. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> The sales function is, in fact, a collection of distinct selling processes working to accomplish unique objectives. That said, it isn't necessary to have every process in your sales force&#x2014;only those relevant to the way you want your salespeople to sell. In our study of the metrics used to measure and manage leading sales forces, we thus sought to answer two key questions:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 1. Just how many distinct sales processes are there?<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 2. How do you know which ones are appropriate for your sales force?<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>The Quantity Question</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> After examining and categorizing all of the metrics we had labeled as "sales process" measures, we were able to identify six processes encompassing all of the metrics in our research. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> First, we found a time management process. This is a set of activities helping a person to plan and prioritize their tasks for a given period of time (most commonly a week). In sales forces, this process most often takes the form of weekly meetings between a salesperson and their manager to schedule and discuss upcoming phone calls and meetings. The metrics associated with time management measure the completion of tasks and allocation of time.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Sample time management metrics:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Number of tasks completed in a time period.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Percentage of time allocated across tasks.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Second is the call management process. This is intended to help salespeople plan for specific customer interactions, whether face-to-face or by phone. They typically plan their desired call outcomes, questions they might ask, objections they might expect, products they might propose, and so forth. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Sample call management metrics:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Percentage of reps complying with the process.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Percentage of successful call outcomes. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> If we string together a series of calls in pursuit of a single sale, you then have an "opportunity." An opportunity management process helps salespeople plan and execute thoughtful approaches to long, complex sales. Often confused with "pipeline management," this process isn't an analytic exercise to pinpoint failures in a collection of ongoing opportunities&#x2014;rather, it's a deliberate assessment and planning effort designed to win an individual sales pursuit. (In the fourth installment of this series, we'll discuss pipeline management further.) <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Sample opportunity management metrics:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Percentage of reps complying with the process.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Percentage of reps using supporting tools.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Percentage of objectives met.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> If there are multiple opportunities over time with a single customer, we then have an "account." An account management process helps a salesperson assess their position within a key customer, while coordinating among internal and external resources to grow the long-term value of said account. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Sample account management metrics:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Percentage of reps complying with the process.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Percentage of reps using supporting tools.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Percentage of objectives met.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> If a salesperson is assigned a group of accounts or prospects, they then have a "territory." Note that a territory needn't be geographically defined&#x2014;a salesperson could be assigned accounts chosen in many ways (industry, customer segment, etc.). Regardless, a territory management process helps salespeople and their managers decide how to allocate their time across a large group of customers. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Sample territory management metrics:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Number of accounts per rep.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Percentage of prospects versus active customers.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Finally, there is a sales force management process. This has the largest scope of them all and is very diverse by nature. Sales management activities include recruiting, selecting, training, motivating, coaching, rewarding, and providing tools enabling the sales force's performance. This process is typically shared across several people and departments, including sales, HR, and finance. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Sample sales force management metrics:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Percentage of time spent coaching.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Hours of training per full-time employee.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022;Dollars spent on IT systems per full-time employee. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Span of control.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>The Quality Question</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Now that we have six crisply defined processes and their associated metrics, how do you know which processes should be implemented in your own sales force? We first suspected company demographics should inform which processes are important for a particular sales force. For instance, if a company's profits are highly concentrated in a handful of accounts, that company must then require account management processes.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Ultimately, however, we concluded sales processes should never be selected at a company-wide level. The need for a specific sales process is determined by the nature of each distinctive selling role. That is, companies don't need account management processes&#x2014;only those salespeople who manage accounts need them. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Sales process selection is therefore not a decision to be made by examining the enterprise, but a decision best made by examining the role. Below we provide rule-of-thumb guidelines for determining when a particular process is appropriate for a particular selling role. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Time management processes are called for when: <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; There is high variability in the salesperson's daily activities.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; The salesperson has an efficiency-driven role (that is, More Effort = More Sales).<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Call management processes are called for when:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; The salesperson has a low-to-moderate volume of highly varied customer interactions.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Opportunity management processes are called for when:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; The salesperson is targeting customers with complex buying processes (numerous buying stages and/or multiple buyers with different buying needs).<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Account management processes are called for when:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; The salesperson is pursuing opportunities over time with the same customer.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; There is an economic justification for the added layer of effort.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Territory management processes are called for when:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; The salesperson makes proactive customer contact and cannot service all potential customers.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; The salesperson or manager needs to prioritize the selling effort and allocate it across different types of customers.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Sales management processes are called for when:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; The manager has authority to influence or direct decisions in the hiring, training, measuring, coaching, motivating, rewarding, and enabling of the sales force.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Mind you, it isn't the title of the role that indicates which processes are important. For example, just because a salesperson has the title "sales manager," a sales management process isn't necessarily called for. Nor is it a foregone conclusion a salesperson whose business card reads "account manager" requires an account management process. You must examine the nature of their selling activities to determine which processes are applicable, or even critical, to the execution, measurement, and management of that selling role. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Implications for Sales Leaders</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> It is absolutely crucial sales leadership understands the six types of sales processes and their unique applications to distinct selling roles. We have often seen sales processes implemented for the wrong (or unknown) reasons, with very predictable outcomes. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> First, the processes are ignored by the sales force. This can result from processes that are over-engineered or badly designed, but it is just as often because the processes being implemented are not relevant for the selling roles onto which they are being inflicted. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Second, sales management can spend an insane amount of time trying to enforce the processes and explaining to senior management why they aren't realizing the promised ROI on the newly implemented processes and tools. The investment required to design and deploy sales processes is not trivial, and deploying the wrong ones only compounds the costs. (In fact, we might argue it's better to have no formal processes than to implement the wrong sales processes.)<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> In the end, our research revealed two key insights on sales processes:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 1. There are several discrete sales processes with different uses and metrics.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 2. Sales leaders must be very deliberate about the processes they choose to. Deploy. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Ignore these two insights at your sales force's peril.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> In the next installment of this series, we will reveal the five types of sales objectives uncovered by our research, and how these are driven by the above sales processes.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>Jason Jordan is a principal of <a href="" target="blank">Go To Market Partners</a>, a sales management consulting firm, and the director of research for the <a href="http://" target="blank">University Sales Education Foundation</a>.</i>