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The Perfect Sales Process?

Customer-Focused Sales Process Model
Your sales process is probably broken. Here's how to fix it.

Any sales process creates a structure that helps track the progress of the sale. However, most sales processes also encourage dysfunctional sales behavior. I've recently stumbled across a sales process model that pretty much fixes that problem, but before going into details, let's look at what's wrong with your typical sales processes.

As I explained in my post way back in March, "Is Your Sales Process Obsolete," the typical sales process looks something like this:

  • Step #1. Engage customer.
  • Step #2. Investigate needs.
  • Step #3. Present a product.
  • Step #4. Demonstrate the product.
  • Step #5. Propose a purchase.
  • Step #6. Negotiate terms.
  • Step #7. Answer objections.
  • Step #8. Close the deal.
The main problem that traditional process model is that it defines a set of actions that the sales rep is supposed to take. It assumes that the customer will meet with you, will share information with you, will watch a presentation or a demonstration, and that all those activities will convince the customer to buy. But customers don't think that way and may have a very different process by which they decide to buy something.

Ideally, you want your sales process to match the customer's buying process. The problem is that every customer is different when it comes to stakeholders,politics, etc. If you took the "match the customer buying process" concept to its logical extreme, you'd end up rewriting your sales process for every customer. That's why it's easier to stick with the traditional "vendor-focused" process -- even though it's not really helping.

I recently had a conversation Duane Sparks and Tim Murray, the two leaders of the sales training firm The Sales Board. They may have come up with the skeleton of a sales process model that matches -- in a generic sense -- the way that every customer makes buying decisions, regardless of the specific details. They've observed that customer buying decisions always take place in five predictable stages:

  1. Do I want to do business with this particular sales professional?
  2. Do I want to do business with the firm this sales professional represents?
  3. Do I want and need the products and services this sales professional is offering?
  4. Does the price and value of those products and services meet my expectations?
  5. Is this the right time to make a decision to buy those products and service?
Note that each stage represents a customer decision that leads eventually towards the decision to buy. Furthermore, each step builds on the previous step. If that generic customer buying model is accurate (and I think it is), then the ideal sales process should be structured into those five stages.

What's going to be different (meaning unique to your firm and to individual customers) are the specific activities that your sales reps must do to guide each customer to make the five "sub-decisions" that will result in the big decision of actually buying... from you.

Figuring out that part of your "perfect" sales process is going to take observation and research into what's really working out in the field. But if all those activities are structured around those five decisions -- in that order -- you're more likely to close business than with a sales process based upon wishful thinking about how customers ought to buy.

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