I grew up at Xerox and learned early on that the key to sustainable sales success was the ability to define and execute a repeatable sales process. This lesson was reinforced during stints at Gartner and Symantec. Turns out there is empirical evidence that shows that sales organizations that excel at sales process enablement outperform those that don’t by a considerable margin across key performance indicators like win rates and quota attainment.

But here’s the thing, sales process as we know it is fundamentally changing or, at least, needs to.?There are a number of technological, economic, societal, and organizational forces that are radically changing seller and buyer behavior that require us to reconsider the basic tenets of sales process.

Let’s start with the buyer.?Thanks to the digital age, today’s buyer can research, select, and purchase with little or no need for salesperson intervention. They engage in ‘social buying’ placing substantially more value on peer reviews than pitches. And a tighter economic environment means that all purchase decisions are more closely scrutinized and require absolute consensus across an ever larger number of stakeholders. And, sadly, seller behavior has dampened buyer perception of the average salesperson – decision-makers told Forrester that 9 out of 10 conversations with salespeople are a waste of time.

Now the seller.?The arrival of the?Millennials?into the workforce requires a new approach.?Every generation has its own attitudes, values, and even quirks. Research from the Pew Research Center shows that Gen Yers are?technology-savvy and highly ambitious. They want to feel empowered, have involvement in decision-making, and have opportunities for rapid professional growth. They also place a greater value on work-life balance. In the workplace, employees have new expectations. Daniel Pink’s excellent book “Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” nicely summarizes what the modern workforce requires for optimal engagement: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Today’s knowledge worker demands authenticity, transparency, and collaboration from their peers and managers.

Taken together, these trends have impacted the way we need to lead our sales organizations and by default how we think about and implement sales process.?In this age of the empowered buyer, a more social workforce, and a requisite more collaborative/collegial?management style, the very nature of sales process needs to evolve. Let’s compare and contrast the attitudes and behaviors associated with old school versus new age sales process.

Sales Process 1.0 Sales Process 2.0
Focus: closing the deal Focus: initiating & facilitating buying process
A set of rules salespeople have to follow A set of best practices salespeople want to follow
Activity goals dictated by management Best practices surfaced through collaboration
Emphasis on compliance Emphasis on enablement
Manager as enforcer of rules Manager as coach of best practices
Means to enable management authority Means to enable salesperson autonomy
Micro-management Self-management
Fixed and linear Flexible and bi-directional
Measure progress based on seller behavior Measure progress based on buyer behavior
Emphasis on seller activities Emphasis on buyer-interaction outcomes
Focus on quantity of activities Focus on quality of?conversations
Focus on driving more pitches Focus on enabling better conversations
Activities?focus: persuade the buyer Activities focus: help the buyer
Focus on pipeline size Focus on pipeline quality
Initial focus: building rapport Initial focus: creating buyer angst with status quo
Ask questions to identify buyer needs Provide insights to surface buyer risk
Motivation through sales team competition Motivation through sales team collaboration
Pipeline review for manager’s benefit Pipeline review for team’s benefit
Pipeline review: monitor activities Pipeline review: share ideas to win deals

So, where does this leave us? Does this all mean that the need for sales process is no longer as important or useful as it once was?

My answer is that it’s more necessary and, if done right, valuable than ever. The caveat is that we as sales leaders must take the attitude that sales process is about uncovering, sharing, and enabling best practices. Consistent execution of best practices at each stage of the sales process is what we’re after. We need to leverage process to help our salespeople be both more self-sufficient and collaborative with their peers (not a contradiction) in order to bring out the best in?themselves?and the team. This does not mean that we need to be less involved. Quite the contrary, we actually need to be more engaged than ever, just in a different way. More coach than enforcer. More?facilitator?than policeman. More teacher than principal.

It’s an exciting time to lead. Let’s step up to the challenge and equip our salespeople with the sales process, guidance, and tools they need to enable their success and ours.

What’s your point of view? Agree or disagree with any of the comparisons? Any new ones you think we should add?