Use a Sales Process Map to Improve Selling Results


  • Research is unequivocal in showing that salespeople who apply optimized selling processes sell more that those who don't.
  • A sales process map designs an optimized path to achieve a forecasted result in the least time.
  • Unsuccessful processes fail due to a short list of repeated mistakes, all of which can be remedied in short order with a sales process map.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Research performed for the Sales Excellence Report sought to identify why some selling processes work and some don't. That research revealed three success factors stood above all others.

The data found the most successful sales process design is achieved by:

  1. Aligning the buyer's purchase process with the seller's sales process
  2. Integrating the company's sale methodology into a predictable sales process, and
  3. Aiding sellers with technology that delivers recommendations, information and automation.

Unfortunately, most salesforces don't operate efficient and effective sales processes due to one or more common challenges. Consider each of the below obstacles when creating your sales process map.

Why Sales Processes Fail

There are symptoms which suggest poor selling processes. They include lengthy onboarding or ramp-up periods, inconsistent selling activities among reps (i.e., everybody does their own thing), buyer-led or reactionary pursuits, long cycles, uneven results, frequent non-decisions, poor forecast accuracy and most notably, low win rates.

But those are just symptoms. The research report drilled down to expose the root cause analysis and found 5 factors most commonly associated with poor sales processes. If you use these findings as part of a risk mitigation approach you will design a sales process map that is both efficient and effective.


Poor Design

Most unsuccessful processes are high level and superficial. Stitching together generic steps is at best going to deliver generic performance results.

On the flip side, a successful process goes well beyond a simple multistep sequence of sales stages and drills down to provide customer insights, contextual recommendations and prescriptive actions. It's these items that collectively advance sale opportunities from prospect to close in a repeatable and scalable way.

There are 5 hallmarks of an effective selling process.

  1. It aligns with buyer's purchase process. As buyers are not homogeneous, selling processes should be dynamic based on persona and driven by customer insights. Like a roadmap, the process facilitates a point to point journey. It clearly shows the current location and what's next for both buyer and seller. A high level sales process map is shown below.
Sales Process Map
  1. An effective selling process is prescriptive, dynamic and measurable. It facilitates guided selling. It makes contextual recommendations, many with specific details, and informs sellers how to complete each step and advance to the next. Each step should advise clear objectives, suggested activities and exit criteria.

Some steps may enforce phase-gates, whereby advancement should not occur before verified completion of a task or activity. For example, it would be a mistake to advance to the proposal stage before the prospect's buy criteria have been firmly established. The research report found that 84% of the Best-in-Class cohort leverage online Sales Playbooks to aid and automate guided selling.

  1. An effective process is repeatable and scalable. They are designed to promote what works as a repeatable standard. There may be multiple routes to the destination but there is only one shortest route and the process identifies and promotes that route.

Good processes aid sales managers in achieving the elusive goal of replicating top producer actions and behaviors to the rest of the team. These processes must be in place to measure progress, identify variances and scale performance.

  1. An effective process is technology enabled. Technology brings automation, information and scale to successful selling. The CRM system is the primary tool to bring together customer data, process integration and real-time reporting. CRM automates work streams such as guided selling, next-best-action recommendations and information delivery in the forms of performance dashboards, deviation alerts and predictive analytics.

However, technology in a vacuum is a failure waiting to happen. CRM can automate sales process steps, but if those steps are without substance, so is your CRM technology. The technology must be integrated with methods, tools, insights and content.

Common examples include sales account plans, qualification checklists, discovery questionnaires, call planners, relationship maps, opportunity scores and Win Plans. These collective assets are facilitated with CRM software and integrated at each sales cycle step to save time and improve effectiveness.

  1. Successful processes are in a state of continuous process improvement. They are incrementally and perpetually modified based on new learnings of what works and what doesn't. Updates are followed with announcements, formal training and coaching.

Lack of Training

Sales process execution begins with training. However, it's a mistake if it also ends there. When newly trained reps are then left to their own devices they generally revert to business as usual. Exacerbating the challenge, training research shows that about 95% of new learning is forgotten within 90 days if not applied in the field.

Even good processes go underutilized when not operationalized into daily work streams. What's needed is sales coaching to reinforce the training, daily measurement (using the CRM system) to validate learning and progress, and incremental adjustments for continuous improvements based on feedback.


Benefits Managers More Than Sellers

Sales managers need a common framework to get everybody moving in the same direction. A process framework can also help with consistent coaching, promote collaboration among reps and scale revenues.

However, the unfortunate truth is most processes are thinly veiled management tools designed to provide sale opportunity oversight. They track opportunity step to step progress and call out slow progress or stalled pursuits. Opportunity management is an essential management function, but when the process doesn't directly aid reps it becomes counterproductive.

A selling process that is more of a chore than an aid will lack user adoption and ultimately fail. To be successful, it must aid salespeople first, and management second. This can be achieved with aids such as guided selling recommendations, an interactive Playbook, specific best practice suggestions, sales step assets (tools, content, messaging, templates) and business process automation.

The litmus test can be answered in a single, two-part question. Does the process save the salesperson time and increase his or her win rate? The question must be answered in the affirmative before any training or rollout is attempted.


Lack of Continuous Improvement

Static or stalled processes are dying processes. Unfortunately, the most recent Best-In-Class Performance Benchmarks & Best Practices report shows that only 9% of salesforces reach a continuously optimized sales process maturity level.

Sales Process Maturity Model

See how a sales process maturity model contributes to an evolutionary sales process map that steadily improves selling performance and opportunity win rates.

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Reaching an optimized sales process is not easy, which is why salesforces that reach this stage outperform those who do not.

Veteran sales leaders know that successful selling is a continuous journey and supporting processes are in a continuous state of improvement. Structured processes deliver the consistent data to measure salesforce effectiveness, compare performance among reps, turn learning into action, drive improvements and make data-driven decisions.

The combination of CRM driven process automation and a data-driven operating model (DDOM) provides transparency into what's working and what's not. It's that combination that aids incremental improvements or wholesale course corrections in near real-time.


Fails to Integrate Methodology and Process

It's important to understand sales process vs sales methodology and design for each.

Processes focus on efficiency. Methodologies focus on effectiveness.

Sales efficiency and effectiveness are complimentary but distinct. Becoming efficient in low value or non-essential activities does not improve performance. Performance measures focused on efficiency without a focus on outcomes is a losing proposition. However, when the two are pursued in tandem selling performance accelerates.

The sales methodology adds impact to sales process execution. The methodology includes vision, purpose, customer value, competitive advantages, unique value proposition and competitor differentiation. It brings powerful outcomes and amplified effect to each sales step. Without these outcomes, the selling process delivers a whimper.

If the sales process doesn't leverage a sales methodology, it is essentially going through the motions without emphasis.

It's key to remember that the selling process provides sequence and pace; while the selling methodology builds momentum and delivers impact.

So, What's Wrong with my Sales Process?

Most sales processes don't work because salespeople don't use them.

Most salespeople don't use them because they don't add value or save time. Sales processes that are big on logging activities and small on driving advancement don't work. Trying to enforce adherence to a misguided or unhelpful process only exacerbates the problem.

What is needed is a process designed to replicate the behaviors of top sellers, aid buyers in making purchase decisions, bring predictability to sales performance, and most of all save sellers time and improve results.

Sales process improvements often begin with candid reflection. When I ask sales managers if they use a structured sales process, most suggest they do. When I ask sellers to describe that process, most give uncertain looks and inconsistent descriptions. Recognition is the first step to finding a better way.