The Sometimes Long and Winding Sales Process road.

One of the mlong and winding roadore interesting observations I have had recently is the increasing number of customers who seem to deviate from the buying process a sales process was built around. Almost to the point of resembling a random stroll or walk around.

I think back to first building a sales process, and making sure that the customers buying steps were well defined and outlined. We felt like we knew our customers pretty well, and that their buying process was stable and fairly predictable. With that piece of the buyers process outlined, we built our sales process, and launched it.

Everything went pretty well for a while, and we saw an increase in our win rate, some reduction in cycle times for sales closure, and much improved forecasting. Good things that were expected with a better understanding of and alignment with our customers.

But at 2 ½ years in, sales funnel analysis starting providing some truly strange indicators. Win rates were holding pretty steady, but cycle times were all over the place, and forecasting accuracy had dropped by 15-20%.

There had been an infusion of new reps, and managers, and maybe the initial training for them had not been as good or thorough as it was for the original groups. Or maybe we all needed a refresher course, and some invigoration and excitement to be built back into the process.

But as with most problem assessments, unless you asked enough questions, and dug deeply into understanding the problem, you were more likely to completely miss the mark as you were to hit it.

Fortunately, we dug deeper, and asked a lot of questions.

It turns out that things had changed – subtly and critically.

Our digging found that customers were indeed taking some “circuitous pathways” toward their endpoint, mostly driven by external pressures. There had seen a dramatic change in the ways projects were funded due to some issues with committed capital. The number of people involved in making decisions had increased, and inter-departmental communication had created some “speed bumps”.  Our understanding of the preferential value of our offering ( versus other separate funding needs) was a bit skewed by changing demographics and reimbursement rates.

The moral of the story is that careful and ongoing observation of expected results, and a willingness to dig into the data – with some objective time in the trenches with your reps and customers – can re-assure you that the process is still aligned with your customer. Or help you understand that changes – major or minor – may be necessary to your sales process steps.

The ultimate goal of alignment with your customers and their needs, extends to their processes as well. Their needs may change, and so may their processes. It is not only reasonable to review needs and processes, but imperative to your continued success.

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