Some dirty words start out as dirty words, but other words develop into curse words over time due to an association with something negative. There is one such word in sales; it started out as a good word but has since become the mother of all dirty sales words: process.
Process’s Bad Rap
Sales process has become a source of frustration for sales managers partly because there isn’t a common framework or language to manage the sales activities and processes that drive performance. Sales managers still have precious little to build on when they want to implement processes that have been proven to consistently and predictably produce sales results. As sales leaders attempt to drive more predictability into the sales function, more processes are put in place in an attempt to gain some level of control. In the end, however, sellers feel smothered by controls, and sales managers are overwhelmed trying to manage countless, over-engineered processes that may or may not be effective in improving sales performance. No wonder process has developed a bad rap.
The Proof Is in the Process
One might argue that sales is unlike other disciplines because it is influenced by the unpredictable nature of human relationships and buying decisions; however, the erratic nature and unpredictability of sales is precisely why sales needs more structure, not less. In fact, recent research from the CSO Insights 2011 Sales Performance Organization Report reveals that companies with more developed sales processes win 53 percent of their forecasted deals, compared to 43 percent of deals won by companies with ad hoc processes.
Further research from CSO Insights reveals that 65 percent of sales reps in companies with more rigorous processes achieved quota, compared to 56 percent in companies that lacked formal sales processes. In addition, 88 percent of companies with highly sophisticated sales processes reached their company’s overall sales goals, compared to 78 percent of companies with ad hoc sales processes.
Research also shows that formal sales processes are actually the answer to preventing one of the biggest productivity killers in sales: ambiguity – not knowing clearly how to succeed in the job. Sellers who have task clarity have higher levels of both motivation and performance, and process is the framework that provides both sales managers and sellers with clarity of task. Foundational research from the Harvard Business Review dating back to 1980 shows that clarity of task is strongly related to sales performance and on-the-job effort. Sales process helps define what results should be attained and the path, tools, and actions that will achieve the desired results. Sending sellers out into the field without the proper processes in place is like telling your team members to show up at the same location without giving them directions, a vehicle to get there, or an address.
A more recent study published in 2013 in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science indicates that, when managers exert higher levels of process control (on seller activities and associated capabilities to execute those activities), sellers exerted higher levels of effort while reporting reduced role ambiguity. In the same study, high levels of role ambiguity had a direct, negative effect on sales performance. Salespeople want clarity and perform best when managers provide that clarity.
The Right Amount of Process
Process is the only way that managers can effectively, efficiently, and predictably influence the behavior and activities of the sales team. Without process, there is no clear path for sellers regarding which results are to be attained and the activities that will lead to the desired results; however, too much process leads to frustration, low adoption, and burnout. The key to keeping “process” from being a dirty word at your organization is to put just enough rigor in place to get the job done and no more. When a high level of clarity is present through process, then motivation, commitment, and performance follow close behind.