August 18, 2015

According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review earlier this year, there are five things that set top-performing sales teams apart from average and low-performing sales teams.

Of those five things, the two that are most actionable are that high performing sales teams tend to “employ a more structured sales process” and “hold their team members to a higher level of accountability.”

As a manager of a sales team, a well-structured process can help you set and meet sales planning objectives more consistently, identify problems within your team, motivate your salespeople to achieve greater success and hold them accountable for their performance.


What Is a Structured Sales Process?

Most sales experts agree that there is a process that every sale goes through whether the salesperson and the client are aware of it or not. The process tends to follow the same format every time. Identifying the process and learning to understand it is valuable to anyone who wants to be good at sales or teach others to sell.

The sales process itself generally follows this cycle:

  1. Generating leads/prospecting – this encompasses everything from cold calls to web contacts — any activity that your sales team does to find potential clients.
  2. Qualifying leads – this is the process your company uses to determine whether a lead is actually a potential client, including researching the lead, running credit checks or learning their budget.
  3. Recognizing needs – the stage of the process when a salesperson asks questions and develops a relationship with the prospect, tailoring your product to fit the prospect’s needs.
  4. Providing a solution – this is the offer/pitch stage of the process, probably the one to which your company currently pays the most attention.
  5. Managing objections/negotiation – the prospective client will almost likely always have a concern or want to negotiate, so it is best to plan for it.
  6. Closing – when your salesperson has reached an agreement with a prospect, he/she has to fill out paperwork and make a record of the deal.
  7. Supporting – depending on your company’s process, this may be out of the hands of the salesperson, but tracking it is important for understanding customers’ behavior and needs post-sale.

A structured sales process will break down the steps of selling and identify best practices for each stage of the cycle.

Salespeople should be required to track their leads using whatever method works best for your company. There are many sales tracking software solutions available, but a well-organized analog method (binders, dividers, markers and files) can work for smaller sales teams if necessary.


Why Structure?


Data – The first thing most good diet plans recommend is keeping a food journal for a few weeks, because data can be very powerful and motivating.

If your sales team is not performing to your expectations, your first reaction should be to collect data.

With thorough records of leads, prospects and closed deals, it will be much easier for you to identify where your sales team’s weaknesses are and work to correct them. Data makes sales planning much more accurate and makes goal attainment more likely.

Motivation – Driven salespeople are extremely goal-oriented and competitive. A highly structured sales process makes it even more satisfying for your team to check off requirements and see leads progress through the cycle in a concrete way.

Additionally, having benchmarks for every step of the sales process gives you as a manager more opportunities to incentivize and encourage competition, most of which are just as motivating as (and not to mention cheaper than) those closing commissions.

Clear Expectations – Salespeople perform best when they are given some measure of independence and ownership over their career. As a manager, that can be a scary thought, but when you take the time to build a well-structured sales process, you will feel less of a need to micromanage your team.

With a structured process, tracking sales then becomes the only thing you need to keep your salespeople on task. It is a bit counterintuitive, but more structure means more freedom for you, and when you step back and give your team breathing room, they will feel empowered to own their success.

Easier Training – Having the sales process laid out in detailed steps makes training new hires very simple for managers and much less overwhelming for new salespeople. Even experienced salespeople can benefit from reviewing the basics that they might have forgotten.



Your Company is Unique

Understanding the sales process as it applies to sales in general is not enough to make your team excel. To make the examination of the sales process worthwhile, you need to think about the practicalities of each step of the process as it applies to your specific company, your specific location, even your specific team. There might be aspects of the process that go very quickly for your team and others that require much more effort.

As a sales manager, you should work to refine your process constantly, based on the data and feedback that your sales team collects. Developing a structured sales process means becoming an expert on your product, your client, your salespeople, and the nitty-gritty logistics of your sales. It is a big task, but laying good groundwork will make your job much easier in the long run.


Hold Salespeople Accountable


As you put the work in to create a structured sales process for your team, you should ask your team to meet you in the middle by adhering to the process, by keeping good records of their leads and owning both their successes and their failures.

With thorough records of past sales and failures it will be easy to turn disappointments into learning experiences for you and your team.

Highly-structured sales processes enable managers to step back from the day-to-day whip cracking, which will motivate salespeople to take ownership of their own performance.

Tap into the natural competitiveness of your Driven salespeople by making the proper tracking of sales into a contest with prizes or a group reward if everyone completes their tracking perfectly. Once you have accurate data from your sales team, accountability comes naturally because they can sit down with you to look at a record of their efforts.

With the right sales team, a structured sales process will work like a dream to keep your people motivated. The success of a structured process, however, is dependent on building a team that has Drive. Salespeople with Drive have the Need for Achievement, Competitiveness and Optimism required for success in sales.

Driven salespeople are motivated by structure, but if your team lacks Drive, no amount of structure will make up for it. Sales aptitude testing used at the beginning of the hiring process is the best way to build a team that has what it takes to thrive in a structured sales environment. A sales team with Drive combined with a structured sales process is a recipe for record-smashing success.