I had the good fortune to have started my sales management career at Xerox. Xerox was at the forefront of the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement, which was a precursor to Six Sigma. The company introduced the TQM-based management framework “Leadership through Quality” to be used as the basic guideline for all managerial decisions and operations. Improvement processes, tools and techniques were deployed across the corporation and centered on improving business processes to create higher levels of customer satisfaction, quality and productivity, and, ultimately, to gain competitive advantage against nimbler, well-funded Japanese competitors with technologically-superior and lower-cost products.? Quality was our core value and an obsession with process was how we brought it to life. From a sales management perspective, we learned early on that the key to sustainable sales success was the ability to define and execute a repeatable sales process. If tattoos were in vogue at the time, I imagine some of us might have had a large “TQM” emblazoned on our backs. Quality at Xerox was born out of adversity. The stakes were high and the choices were stark: develop a process-orientation or perish.

Our opinion is that, given today’s uncertain times, process matters more than ever, especially buyer-engagement-processes because these have the most immediate and lasting impact on your ability to compete. Sadly, sales organizations are, by and large, ill-equipped to the task or not properly investing in sales process enablement.? We submit that our current economic environment demands that sales organizations make improving the quality of and then institutionalizing their lead management, opportunity management, and account management sales processes the central focus of how they improve sales productivity, effectiveness and performance. There is a confluence of market forces brought on by a down economy that have conspired to make growing your business a daunting challenge, and that demand that you make installing and instilling sales process a priority if you aim to thrive let alone survive. These include:

  • Fewer MAJOR sales opportunities at play. If you’re a B2B company, you must close a few big deals per quarter in order to hit or beat your number. “Big” is a relative term, but miss that one key deal and you blow your quarter. From our work with clients across a range of industries, we are hearing that due to the challenging economy, there are simply fewer large deals available in the marketplace.
  • More competitors in the lobby and a stubborn one in the back room. This is particularly true if you’re selling into large accounts. Even if you’re using marketing automation technology to hand your salespeople more “sales-ready” leads and your rep is the first one at the prospect’s door, chances are that by necessity or policy the buyer will be inviting your competitors to pay them a visit. And if you’re trying to unseed an entrenched competitor, good luck because you know they are going to put up the fight of their lives.
  • Buyers are smarter than ever. Buyers are more informed than ever. Thanks to the Internet, social media, and subscription to market research services, today’s buyer has unprecedented access to information about your company, products, and competition. They’re just one Twitter feed away from getting the skinny on you before your rep walks in.? When it comes to information, the balance of power has definitely shifted.
  • Purchase decisions are more complex, longer and infrequent than ever. Buyers are tougher because: a) they have more choices and b) every purchase is more closely scrutinized. Since they have more options, they have more leverage; and because their CFO is in their business more than ever, their pressure becomes your pressure. Moreover, haven’t you noticed that the number of decision-makers involved in the buying process seems to be growing year-over-year? Lump all these factors together and you get longer sales cycles or, worse yet, no decisions.

The odds are stacked against you. To increase your probability of success, grow your business, and win more often, you need to clearly define and document for and with your salespeople what best-practice-activities, milestones, roles and tools they should employ to more consistently and successfully engage with buyers. Whether you’re building your sales processes for the first time or know that they need to be re-engineered, this is the place and now is the time to raise your game. There is just too much at stake.