Does the sales process exist – and matter?

A while back I got into a rather contentious discussion about sales process with a guy who calls himself a “sales research expert”. I was describing the sales process or framework-based approach that I use as a vehicle for sales organization improvement with my clients, and he asked:

“How do you know that your sales process even exists”

Now I know where he was coming from. Many in the more intellectual (and often less practical) quarters of the sales training and consulting field have latched onto the idea that the sales process doesn’t matter because the prospective customer is not on it. Rather, the prospective customer is focused on their own buying process, and a salesperson needs only to know that and follow that in order to be successful.

[NOTE: To be clear, I have always believed and practiced the idea that understanding the buyer and their process are an important part of a professional sales process (qualification and needs analysis specifically), but I don’t want to digress about that here.]

Now back to our sales researcher – his question really caught me off guard. The utility of the sales process as a model for excellence and improvement has been so self-evident to me for decades, I thought that maybe I should reflect on his question.

So I did.

So how DO we know if the sales process exists?

Let’s try to answer the question by analogy.

A similar question could be asked about latitude and longitude, or GPS coordinates if you prefer. Do they really exist? No, they are a conceptual framework to help us describe locations on the surface of the earth. They are not real, like a mountain or a river which can also be used to describe locations, but they are standard and uniform, and in spite of their conceptual nature, that makes them useful.

So how can a sales process be useful as a conceptual framework?

If we take a macro level perspective on the things that have to happen for any sale to occur…

  • Figure out who to try to sell something to (lead generation)
  • Get them into a dialogue about it (prospecting)
  • Figure out if they really need what we have, are capable of buying it and trust us enough to buy it from us (mutual qualification)
  • Learn about the situation (and buying process) of the prospect and what they might be willing to pay for as a solution to a real problem or to satisfy some desire (needs analysis)
  • Offer a suggestion to meet their need from among the things we sell (proposal or offer)
  • Answer any questions they may have about our suggestion (objections)
  • And work to reach agreement to conclude the transaction or deal (closing)

…we can see that there is a universality to sales at a general level. From that point of agreement, salespeople and sales management can then go through the process of optimizing the entire sales organization by:

  • Personalizing a generalized process like this to reflect their unique circumstances
  • Exploring how to do each step well or better
  • Learning how to tie them together better
  • Seeking to front-load the process
  • Adapting sales automation tools to capture these elements effectively
  • Supporting salespeople in the execution of this process
  • and holding them accountable for the failure to do so

And when we have done all of this – based on this conceptual framework called the sales process – we can more easily and effectively establish a solid, growth oriented, efficient and effective selling system in our sales organizations.

So does the sales process exist? Of course not – it is an idea. But when we use any tool like a conceptual framework with care and expertise we can more effectively analyze and optimize our efforts.

Now as fun as it is to philosophize, when it comes to my clients, optimizing sales efforts and results is something that does matter – a lot!


Authors note (AKA shameless plugs)

So, this 7-step sales process and associated topics…. Yup, I write about that a lot. I’ve been working with it since I developed it about 25 years ago – in my own diverse work experiences, with my teams when I had them, and with clients ever since.

If you would like to develop you own personalized and customized, highly effective and efficient B2B selling system, here are some further steps you can take:

The Salesman’s Guide to Dating is a free or very cheap (depending on Amazon) Kindle book that walks you through the sales process using the familiar analogy of dating. It’s a good, fun and quick way to get your mind around the whole process and how the pieces fit together.

Building Your Sales Process (BYSP) is a free and very thorough exploration of the same 7-step process that will walk you through the development of your own customized, personal B2B selling system. When you are done, you will know exactly what to do to get new business.

The Momentum Selling System® is an inexpensive but very robust online sales training course that is similar to BYSP, but goes deeper into the concepts behind each of the steps, and also helps you develop a plan not only for the 7-step process but also addresses mindset, repeat business and client base management.

If none of that sounds right, I do personal coaching and offer a free 30-minute intake session so that we can both learn if it makes sense to work together 1-on-1. If this sounds interesting, click over to the coaching page on this site and sign up for the free session.

Here’s to your success!