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"Sales Process or Die" Interview with CSO Insight's Barry Trailer

Authored by Amy Kohl on September 19, 2017

Most companies think of Sales Process and simply say “Yeah, we got that” while viewing it as a 3 step linear journey; we go from prospecting, to discovering, and ultimately closing the deal while delivering the numbers necessary for quota.

Until recently, the way to look at Sales Performance was that as the Relationship Level with your Rep as well as your Sales Process Maturity went up, so went performance (and predictability).

Unfortunately, it does not quite work that way anymore. Consumers have gotten smarter, buyers are more demanding, and the impact of AI are just a few examples of the many different forces that can push down on your relationships as well as process maturity. CSO Insights just released their 2017 world class sales study called Running Up the Down Escalator, which is the best metaphor for describing sales today. To keep moving forward and going on up in the sales world, it takes energy, concentration, and dedication. Once you become content with your sales process and fail align yourself with the customer’s journey, that is when you fall behind the competition.

A 2016 study conducted by CSO Insights on AQA (Average Quota Attainment) showed that companies who participate indynamic customer journey alignment drive quota attainment from 55.6% up to 63.4%. Consumers are smarter and more resourceful than ever, so aligning your sales process to the buyer’s journey is key to prospecting, fostering, and closing deals.

Now that we have established the problem, how do we fix this? Easy. We use the same SRP Matrix as before, but break down each side further. First we start with the 4 Levels of Sales Process which are

  1. Random Process - No documented or adopted sales process; managers track activity as needed
  2. Informal Process - Reps are exposed to the process and expected to use it, but the process is not enforced by sales managers
  3. Formal Process - Reps use a dynamic sales, managers look at how their reps use it, and it is SOP for the company
  4. Dynamic Process - Everything from Formal Process, plus the use of analytics and predictive AI. Management looks at, and gets feedback on how they use the process to obtain better results.

The last level of Process (Dynamic) is the most effective because it caters to the consumer’s unique buying journey, acknowledging that the journey towards closing a deal varies by industry and company. On the other side of the SRP Matrix is your Relationship Level, which breaks down into 5 levels

  1. Approved Vendor - Salesperson is focused on product knowledge; basic selling skills
  2. Preferred Supplier - Salesperson has a history of keeping promises and understanding how customers actually use the product
  3. Solutions Consultant - Salesperson understands the buyer’s business, is able to talk more about solutions and less about the product
  4. Strategic Contributor - Salesperson helps customers see how they can be more competitive and differentiated in their industry with the product
  5. Trusted Partner - Sales Person understands buying organizations and has aligned objectives and strategic vision

With the new additions to the SRP Matrix, you are able to break down companies by 3 different levels of their performance depending on their process and relationship. Performance Level 1 is for companies with little to no sales process involved with reps with basic selling skills and little development. Performance Level 3 is for companies that have a detailed, dynamic sales process for reps that are aligned with the company’s vision. 24.8% of Organizations fall in Level 1 while 26.8% of Organizations fall in Level 3, leaving the majority (48.4%) of Organizations in Level 2.

So with all this newfound information, does it matter if you increase levels of sales process? Yes.

If you look at revenue plan attainment between firms, Performance Level 3 firms achieve 4.5% more than their Level 1 and 2 counterparts. Win Rates of Forecast Deals also boosted up from 41.3% to 53.3%, but even as a Level 3 company attaining 53.3% of planned revenue, there is much room for improvement and even more Sales Process!

To finish, move over in the matrix before it is too late. It is much easier than expected with greater process orientation, increased coaching, leveraging technology, increased communication, and more analytics. These keys will maintain your elite sales ability and guarantee that you won’t wind up at the bottom of the escalator!

Now, let’s open up the floor to Megan and Clinton with a few practitioner questions.

Barry: Megan, could you tell us about the lack of process initially at DSI, and your experience with the issues that come because of it?

Megan: When I came to DSI a year ago, they were growing and realized how they were doing things wasn’t scalable. Part of why I came to DSI is that I love putting processes in place; I believe that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and I believe that providing tools and creating accountability allows us to do that. When there was no process in place, we were impacted from a customer satisfaction standpoint, and even today I’m working through a problem regarding how we issue software keys.

Whether temporary or permanent, we have had some breakdowns in process, and when you’re providing a cloud-subscription based service, that’s unacceptable. Some of these little things around managing AR and past-due invoices can cause production issues, so those processes are crucial to keeping our clients happy, as well as driving internal goals based around providing cloud solutions, which is what we hear from our marketplace as what they need.

That’s just one example of something in the trenches today that I was working around what happens when you don’t have a process in place and you don’t create tools, so you’re looking at reporting and other measure to make sure that our accounts owners have that information so that doesn’t happen to them.

Barry: So lack of scalability, poor customer experience, production issues, and can’t manage what you can’t measure, a lot of not-so-good things. Clinton, is there anything you’d like to add about when there is a lack of process that you’ve experienced?

Clinton: Well first off, I emphatically agree with everything Megan said, and your (Barry’s) charts (from the presentation) totally align with the data points. Our business is a mix of two different sales journeys; we have a component of our business that is a low volume of high value deals, and then we have a component of our business that is a high volume of low value deals. There are two separate sales journeys for us to go through with those. What I have really found is that not having a strong sales process in place to guide seller behavior can lead to having sellers focusing most of their time on the 80% of deals that produce 20% of our revenue, instead of properly prioritizing the 20% of deals that produce 80% of our revenue. So process to me is an absolute must so that we can impose some governance on sellers with respect to where they spend their time.

As a manager, there are only four knobs and wheels on the sales control panel that produce results, average deal size, length of the sale cycle, win rates, and how many “at-bats” do we have. If you look at what people actually do, even though those are the things that I can tune to make my numbers, it’s like we do everything but those things if we are not careful. So having a lack of sales process really impacts our ability to come in on time and with the right amount.

Barry: So you mentioned our data and your experience being in line with that, so I’m going to go back here for one second and tell folks something. We have been trackings this numbers for over a decade (created in 2006) and it has been absolutely consistent over that period, the higher the level of process and relationship, the better these numbers get.

But one of the things I wanted to ask each of you about, is that we hear is how people are afraid that if they impose process, or reinforce sales process, that top performers are going to leave or sales reps or going to reject that. Clinton, you just talked about how you can control their behavior to keep their focus on the right things. Why don’t you tell us about your experience with bringing process to the party, did you have a mass exodus or did people find it helpful in terms of keeping their deals straight?

Clinton: When I first started talking about it (process), everybody looked at me and (sarcastically) said “Oh great, here we go. Plan on typing a lot”. But when I rolled out the actual implementation of it, TopOPPS was of great help and I was able to show them how it made their lives so much easier. It gives them an approach that actually increases (pipeline) hygiene while reducing the amount of effort it takes to put in that, and that won them over. It’s a journey in and of itself, you always need to improve your process, but the things that appealed me as a business leader around TopOPPS was the predictability and process oriented tools.

I view TopOPPS as a user interface for me to understand and move the needles on those four “knobs” I was talking about. But that’s for me, I have sales reps who can be walking out of an office and use the check in process and instead of typing up 800 words can make a quick couple of comments to give the deal a thumbs up or thumbs down, getting the right information to me and making their life easier. Likewise, the alerts give them the ability to have their attention drawn to exactly what they need to work on as opposed to spending an hour digging looking for the right deals to work on. The alerts tell them what deals they need to get done, they get them done, and then they can have some quality time and what not. Instead of using the process as the stick, we used it as the carrot and TopOPPS was key to that.

Barry: Get ‘em done, I love the sound of that! Megan, do you have anything you’d add to that? I’m sure you do, what’s been your experience over at DSI?

Megan: When I came to DSI, we had been leveraging the same seven stage methodology for about seven years now, also in the last two years we made the transition from Salesforce to Netsuite. I think some of the rigor we had built in Salesforce, because while Salesforce was not ideal and had its challenges in unclean data and opportunities not being updated, we lost a lot of control with that transition to a new tool. So part of getting it back in shape by following the process that has worked for us for the past seven years was creating a bit of give and take. That was part of our decision to choose TopOPPS was that the methodology has not changed, but now we are being provided with tools to follow it better as well as keep you accountable. The additional visibility to our sales leadership has been a big one for us.

Clinton hit it when he said communication is key, so the easier it is to add information in there the better. We also use the check ins, we provide the Regional VPs as well as our CRO an update of those on a daily basis. So it’s really a foreseen function of creating those conversations that allow us to validate with the sales rep, who had the exchange with the customer, that they are in the stage that they indicated is the one that they’re actually in in our sales cycle methodology. That’s been key for us in terms of creating some rigor, but also having that give and take. Sales Ops have treated the sales reps as my customer, and I will admit sometimes you can sit in a Sales Ops office you can go “Oh yeah they need to fill this in and fill that in” but there are times where we miss, so we continue to try to spend time with our reps on what does our sales methodology mean, and what it means to the customer base they serve, and create guidelines on how they navigate the sales methodology within our tools to ensure that we have proper forecasting.

Barry: You know one of the things that you haven’t mentioned but it’s one that we’ve seen become much more protracted over the last 10 years, but even more so in the last 5 years is sales rep ramp up time. It’s not because the new reps aren’t putting in the effort, but if you think back to that one graphic I showed of all the forces working against reps, higher expectations, more informed buyers, and so on. The kinds of questions new reps are being confronted in when they walk into calls today, “What do you know about me?” “What do you know about my business?” “How can you help?” Are questions that you used to be asked 2 to 3 years into your career because everybody had to come to you to find out about products, but that’s just not the case today. So we’ve seen it become much more challenging for new reps and rep ramp up times to full productivity much longer that it was a few years ago.

Has having a process and a tool that reinforces the process like TopOPPS helped either of you in getting new reps up to speed?

Megan: I can jump in on that because I’ve seen a big change. I’ve only been here a little over a year but I remember coming reviewing sales performance and we would have reps within the first that would have quota attainment under 20%. I was doing projections this morning on quota attainment for 2017 and we have reps who started two months ago who have 50% of their quota for this year  in their funnel, and I attribute their ability to be successful this soon has been around our sales methodology as well as equipment them with the right tools to track our customers, reinforce the different stages of “What is the compelling event?” And to add on top of that, a big part of onboarding, and reps being able to get their sooner and have those wins and feel success, is by reinforcing some of the methodology through manager coaching. So providing a script or checklist in terms of “this is how our customers buy our solutions and how we articulate the value of them” have made them that much more successful much sooner. We’ve had some new people start this spring who are already 25% percent at their quota with a third of the year left, so I’ve noticed a big change in the 1 year I’ve been here.

Barry: Clinton, anything you’d like to add before we wrap up?

Clinton: Well first, totally agree with Megan. I go back to learnings I’ve received from various mentors throughout my life. Sales is a mix of art and science, and what I think we’re seeing with the evolution and impact of educated buyers was that you used to be able to have someone skilled on the sales side, lacked in process, but was still successful. Sales will always require skilled artisans, but the science is becoming a lot more important because the buyer's journey is evolving.

What I find extremely important about this is whether you’re talking about new people ramping up or existing people with the sand shifting underneath them, helping with the science is one of the most important things to have evolved in the past 5 years in our craft. Those 4 knobs are the only things you can do to tune your sales, but when you look at the headwinds in front of us you have to know where to focus your times and efforts. A sales process is a way for us to provide people with a roadmap for the sales journey, and spend our time managing them on the roadmap, as opposed to finding where they are.

Audience Question: Great talk so far, what are your thoughts about managing multiple sales processes? We have 5 different sales processes driven by either multiple sales verticals or varying customer models and buying processes.

Jim: That’s a great question, I know here internally we have renewals and different markets we go after and so there are different sales process we use when we want to apply this kind of science.

Clinton: I’ll take a stab at that because that is exactly where I live. We don’t have the ability to put unique sales teams on each of our different forms of business, so I have a lot of cases where the rep is expected to work on a long sales cycle that requires heavy effort for a multi-million dollar deal while at the same time helping a customer with something that may be significantly smaller and within a shorter sales cycle.

What we’ve done is build into our process distinct sales journeys, and we’ve attempted to optimize the process in such a way that the sellers are able to spend most of their time on the high value equation, without sacrificing customer satisfaction. Our company prioritizes quality, cost and delivery, so we want to make sure we deal with things efficiency without sacrificing any of the previous 3 things I mentioned. So we engineered and tweaked our sales process to where there’s a guidebook for our sales people so they know how to spend their time and when to hand off, many situational response things.

Barry: You talked about managing behaviors, and it sounds like the questioner has 5 processes, but you have at least 2. Do these different sales processes appear in TopOPPS in the same place so they can bounce back and forth between the two and guide them as to what to do next as well as guiding them on how how to do it?

Clinton: There’s some logic we’ve taken advantage of that gives us the ability to manage different things even though they’re tied to the same underlying quote systems in Salesforce, so that is absolutely one of the benefits to TopOPPS.

Barry: I would add to that, one of the benefits of mapping the sales process and using it, is that when folks do have different process, the content can be completely different for those. If it’s served up in the same way, people can move from one to the other, streamlining their activities. I think that covers it, but if there’s anything you’d like to add Megan feel free.

Megan: The only other thing I’d add is that part of what I enjoy about TopOPPS is that here at DSI we had a segmented market. This year, we have reps sell to multiple markets so we use TopOPPS and other reporting aspects to learn how it’s working, so as we plan for 2018  we compare how reps do and if would make more sense in the future to specialize people. Certain markets have much longer or shorter sales cycles, and you need to be able to keep updated.

I’m not sure if every BI is built to enforce and create all those things you might ask, but having tools that help you learn about your business forces those conversations on structure, selling to different types of buyers of different sizes, etc. Many internal strategic decisions are made around us validating our sales process this year as we have changed things. Having the documentation and the reinforcement in tools helps the Reps from having to overthink things and lets them focus more on selling.

Audience Question: Please comment on reducing the length in the sales cycle, the cycle is so dependent on the customer, is that beyond our control?

Jim: If you’re focused on your ideal customers, you’re going to sell quicker. Prescriptions keep everyone consistent and doing the right activity, and having different sales cycles for different markets helps as well. Did I miss anything here?

Clinton: Sometimes the challenge isn't solving the problem, it’s knowing that the problem exists or knowing where it is. So what I like about TopOPPS is that it is great at giving me insights to where problems are. Most of our sales involve a rigorous discovery and sales engineering phase, and it’s really interesting to get insights to how long deals set at a certain stage. Having a clear understanding of that gives you an idea of where you need to improve that will provide you with value, which is what you get from TopOPPS.

Barry: I mentioned earlier that one line (20+%) of no decisions on forecast deals, a thing that we stress is that we don’t just qualify at the beginning of the cycle, but you continue to qualify and ask hard hitting and commitment questions throughout the sales cycle to identify all the buying influences and events. The more you can reduce the no decisions, the better.

Audience Question: For most VPs, it’s not a part of their job to be process optimization experts and the majority are not aware of best in class metrics. How do you deal with this situation?

Jim: As a customer of TopOPPS, we offer a best practices center to make those recommendations and the application helps leaders and reps execute to hit those best in class metrics Barry has covered. Anyone else?

Barry: We just released our 2017 study, “World Class Sales Practices” and after having 1700+ firms worldwide participate we found the top 12 behaviors that world class performers. That would be a place to start, and you can find the summary from TopOPPS.

Clinton: I’ve talked about these 4 knobs, and they are the only things that are under the control of sales leaders that can move the business. Present day, the process is the only way to move these needles because the buyers are educated and have the ability to see all of your competitors at once. You have to be on the ball to get the deal and I would tell another Sales VP that you should put much focus on their process.

Barry: I sidetracked myself with the best practices, but for the VPs of Sales. What they usually think is “Sales Process is interesting, but the results are what’s of interest.” The problem is, you don’t manage results, you monitor them. Therefore you should find the results interesting, and make sure that the sales process is what’s of interest. Having this insight is how the modern sales leaders are starting to pull away.

Jim: I think comparing the trends of these metrics across the company to see if it’s a systemic problem, or if it’s by rep so that we can coach them is the way to go.

Barry:Well we’re at the top of the hour. Helping with that science, and helping get us all here today is TopOPPS. Jim, I think you have a couple of words about how you support everything Clinton and Megan have been talking about today.

Jim: Thank you very much Barry. This is really a great conversation because what we can do is provide additional information on how we support folks like Megan and Clinton. What TopOPPS is, it gives data versus giving an opinion about something. We apply our AI to give more of a “command center” to people like Megan and Clinton, because you want them to be aware of what’s going on, to identify where deals are falling out, so they can help the reps, managers, and executives with exactly what they need. Because if you’re just applying a BI to this, you’re just analyzing what could be junk, or what could require a lot of effort to get the data right.

To get more information on this and how we help out companies like DSI and GenBand, you can go to TopOPPS.com and there’s two places you can go. You can click on Resources and we have some great Guidebooks there. If you want to see an actual demo you can click on the Request Demo box and get an actual Demo. Now let’s get into the questions!

We’ll take care of the rest of the questions by email. Thank you to Barry Trailer of CSO Insights for setting up the excellent Webinar, as well as our experts Megan and Clinton. I really appreciate everything and please get on TopOPPS.com for additional information. Thank you all for coming!

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