indexLet me first establish that there is a Mount Rushmore-sized mountain of evidence pointing to the substantial impact on performance associated with institutionalizing sales process, but yet, this same research shows, the vast majority of sales organizations fail to do so. When it comes to defining a sales process, what we often see is that companies tend to fall at one extreme of the sales process maturity curve or the other. They either have no process or have over-engineered it. Both positions are dangerous and bear out the same result: no one follows process, either because it doesn?t exist or because it?s overwhelmingly complicated and perhaps inefficient to do so.

No process might be a slight exaggeration if you call using the default pipeline stages in your CRM a sales process, which is more often the rule than the exception. You?d be surprised at the number of brand name companies that have no documented sales process (although they acknowledge they need to).

Since the wild majority of cases fall into the ?no/low process? bucket as evidenced by research from CSO Insights and others, the central point of this post is to examine the barriers that are preventing the formalization of sales process from becoming more commonplace, and what we might be able to do to remove or minimize these.

So, why the hesitancy? A few reasons come to mind.

  • Process? We don?t need no stinkin? process! Firstly, it might be that the VP of Sales just doesn?t believe it is important. Often times a Sales VP has worked their way up to sales management because they were a top performer and exhibited strong leadership skills. If they were not exposed to a sales process or mentored by someone who had a process-orientation, they might place greater value on other interventions like hiring as the vital factor for sales success. Or they take a cavalier attitude about this and believe that winning in sales is more a function of persuasion and persistence than the other dreaded p-word.
  • Spinning too many plates. Another all-too-common barrier is that despite best intentions Sales VPs are simply too busy. They know this is something they should do, but just have too many other items on their to-do lists. They?re on the road constantly. They have board presentations they scramble to prepare for on a monthly basis, which is a huge time-drain for any poor soul that has to endure this. Their span of control is widening – more people to manage means more pipeline reviews, more at-risk deals to analyze and coach, and more personnel issues to contend with.
  • How are the numbers looking? They have a short-term bias. Spending time defining your sales process will not help you make your number this quarter. The amount of pressure VPs of Sales are under to hit their quarterly (and in some cases, monthly) numbers, especially in this economy, is colossal. It rolls down hill and sideways. It avalanches from the board to the CEO and then to the VP of Sales. And then it comes at them from their peers in Marketing, Engineering, and Finance. Even their spouses ask them about how the pipeline is looking. It?s happened (to me). Tough to think about process when you?re under the gun to deliver every quarter. Also, when you consider that the average tenure of a VP of Sales is something like 18 months, why invest in something that won?t provide immediate impact and whose benefit they might not be around to enjoy?
  • It?s hard. Defining a well-thought-out sales process that is scalable, repeatable, and that will be adopted by the sales organization is hard work and requires a degree of expertise that many VPs of Sales may not have because they haven?t previously undertaken or been exposed to a sales process definition initiative. It?s not just about creating a PowerPoint slide with five block-arrows. Layer on top of this the need to define and build the requisite tools and tweak your CRM to put a process into effect and suddenly swimming across the English Channel in the middle of winter looks less daunting and far more pleasant.
  • CRM is not sales process? BFF. Speaking of technology, CRM systems are data-management not process-management centric and have not been optimized to make it easy for someone to build a sales process that goes beyond defining a few pipeline stages. On the other end of the spectrum, because some of these systems are so flexible there is the danger of the overly zealous CRM admin building a monstrous workflow system that requires a PhD in Quantum Physics to understand and follow.

So, what to do about this?

  • Bite the bullet. For the folks with the ?we don?t need no stinkin? process? mentality let me rebut with the adage ?what got you here won?t get you there?. Maybe you?ve been able to hit your numbers so far but you?re not going to be able to hit them two quarters out. Admit the need and do something about it. You need to define and lay a foundation for continued success and the only way to do this is by getting clarity and commitment around your process.
  • Ask for help. Being too busy and short-term bias both talk to the issue of time constraints. Ask for help. Make the case to your CEO to invest in sales process development. Hire a senior sales ops person. Bring in someone from the outside. Get your top performers involved. Get input and participation from peers across other functions. You would be surprised to learn how willing they are to help and, you might not like this, how they have been secretly complaining that you?re not sufficiently process-oriented.
  • Preach and teach. If your board and CEO have a short-term bias, point them to CSO Insight?s research that makes a very compelling case for the need to build sales process prowess. Their research shows that those companies that do the best job of defining, implementing, and reinforcing their sales process outperform those that don?t by a considerable margin across key performance metrics like win rates and quota attainment.
  • It doesn?t have to be hard. Don?t over-think or over-engineer it. Too little or too much process are both ineffectual. It doesn?t have to be Six-Sigma. We advocate an ?agile sales development? process, which is akin to the ?agile software development? process in that both promote a methodology that is lean and flexible. We?ve developed an ?agile selling? framework for our clients that serves as a template we can use to accelerate process ramp up and facilitate adoption. You can too.
  • Pimp your CRM. There are a number of applications that integrate with your CRM from companies like TAS Group (Dealmaker), Qvidian?s sales playbook application, and Playboox (our company, in January, is introducing a sales playbook publishing application for Salesforce.com called Playmaker) that can help you optimize your CRM to make it easier to define and execute a more defined sales process.

So, here?s a clip of a recent call we made on a VP of Sales, where we asked them if they had a documented sales process and if we could see it.

We think the times call for a shift in thinking about the need for formalizing your sales process and, hopefully, we just gave you a few insights to help you consider moving in that direction.