Sales and Sales Management Blog

August 26, 2010

Guest Article: “So you Say You Have a Sales Process?”, by Rick Page

Filed under: Sales Process — Paul McCord @ 8:26 am
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So You Say You Have a Sales Process?
By Rick Page

The Second-Best Process Finishes Second – and Sometimes Doesn’t Finish at All.

We talk to many sales executives about sales effectiveness and of course we do discovery with prospects to see where their needs are. Many of them say that they already have a sales process for opportunities and it is true that many companies invested in the funny sales processes of the last dozen years or so.

But when we drill down and examine what they call a sales process refund that many of them are lacking the components that it takes to win. Just having a process is no longer enough you have to have the best sales process — a complete process.

Some of what sales managers call a sales methodology is actually a forecasting process. I sat with one sales executive to review what they were doing and he showed me a spreadsheet with the faces of his sales cycle as the columns in the names of his reps in the rows. He was focused on moving or his numbers from one column to the next. I asked him, “But about the individual deals that make up those numbers?” He didn’t know because he was more focused on counting the business than winning business. This is called flogging the forecast for how much and when. Just defining the phases in your sales cycle is not really a sales process because it doesn’t show you how to win.

Another client, a consulting firm and a very elaborate flowchart with many steps and who was responsible for each one. This is certainly a necessary element but it’s not a strategy either.

Since the birth of consultative selling in the early 70’s many companies have invested in training that teaches their people how to:

1.  Discover and listen for customer needs

2.  Link solutions to requirements and needs

3.    Present back to the customer their vision of a solution

These fundamental skills and process are certainly necessary to any sales process – they define your solution strategy and your value proposition – but they are no longer enough to win a complex sale. Unfortunately this where many sales processes stop.

In last year’s survey by CSO Insights, (we recommend you subscribe) respondents said that of forecasted deals only 49.3% actually closed. Respondents said that 27.2% were lost to competition and the remaining 23.5% stalled out and bought nothing from anyone. This is directly related, in my opinion, to our finding that many sales methodologies fail to address competition and politics, and closing on a source of urgency that is emotional and political rather than just financial.

The closer you are to winning, the closer you are also to losing. That is because of the upheaval of the buying process at the decision-making point of the buying committee — the place we call the crucible. This is where the committee realizes that they are not going to reach consensus, they disagree on their priorities, the issues change, and often a power struggle breaks out. This is where multimillion dollar deals turnaround in a day.

Without a sales strategy process that addresses the political reality that not all buyers are equal or have unequal pains, your sales rep will lose control of the deal at this point. You have to identify all the potential stakeholders, their needs, their preference for you, their power and then identify a strategy for each individual to really get their vote or live without it.

You can win without a strategy, it’s called luck. You also need another dimension to your sales process if you are to win against competition. You must anticipate how they plan to win, predict their tactics, and defeat their strategy. The earlier you do this, the better.

Great salespeople that we know win they’re deals during the discovery phase long before any presentation. Their competitive strategies include developing inside informants who prefer you, planting questions that expose their weaknesses, suggesting changes to the buying process that favor you, and of course getting to the executives with your messaging first.

One of the reasons that so many forecasted deals are lost to competition is that salespeople fail to anticipate any competitive counterattack in the crucible. Once a competitor figures out that they are not winning, you should anticipate and predict that they will slash price and try to go over the project team’s head. The first thing great salespeople do after they get the good news is to immediately prepare these defenses.

Finally, good sales process should address getting the deal closed — especially since 23.5% of forecasted deals stall out. And in this economy, RO I alone will not close a deal because most CFOs have several proposals in front of them, all with good ROI’s, but only so much cash to invest. Without connecting your solution to a source of urgency that is emotional and political two powerful sponsors, your deal will sit on the forecast for a long time. The customer will not change until the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of changing. And a lost opportunity to save money may not be politically painful.

In addition, this is when procurement and legal become involved in your deal and a process called commoditization begins. After months of demonstrating differentiating value they suddenly can’t seem to remember any of it. That’s because these people are trained to ignore it. Some procurement people would buy a pacemaker from the lowest bidder. They just know your price is too high. No matter what it is, it’s too high.

While procurement may try to isolate you at this point from the end-users, you should have negotiated earlier for their assistance at this point. Only they understand the true value of your solution and the relative risk of the legal issues. If they are powerful enough they can help push it through procurement or legal. In this economy, it often takes as long to close a deal as it does to win it.

In complex sales, you either win or you don’t. They either close or they don’t. A partial sales process and strategy won’t produce a partial sale. Outcomes are binary. The worst outcome is to finish second, late.

Without a complete opportunity sales process including:

1.  Solution and value strategy

2.  Competitive strategy

3.  Political strategy

4.    Closing strategy

you are basically going to a gunfight with a knife.

A recognized authority in the complex sale arena, Rick Page, Founder and CEO of The Complex Sale, Inc., has trained salespeople from more than 50 countries during his long and distinguished career. One of the foremost experts on sales management and selling, Rick continues to develop innovative sales programs and is the author of Hope Is Not A Strategy – The 6 Keys to Winning The Complex Sale and Make Winning A Habit – 20 Best Practices of the World’s Greatest Sales Forces.  Visit his website



  1. Rick:

    Spot on – Great article!

    I did sales process consulting for several years with some very large companies. They were always good at looking at spreadsheets and telling their sales teams “what” they had to sell. They were not good at articulating very clearly “who” to sell to or “how” to sell it. I developed that content so that there was a clear step by step methodology (WITH CONTENT – questions, objection handling, etc.) so that even a new sales person could come on board quickly. They could be trained on the steps required to build trust, uncover needs, establish value, and fight off the competition because the content existed for them to use in each step. Your article is relevant to every one of those engagements.

    As to quickly figuring out the health of an opportunity early in the sales cycle, (influencers, important players, criteria for buying, the competition, etc.) you may want to hook up with a former colleague of mine who has a superb tool for deal coaching. It forces some of the very conversations that need to take place to answer the questions behind the numbers on those spreadsheets. His web site: – I can get you direct contact information if desired.

    Great observations.


    Comment by Steve Early — August 26, 2010 @ 9:32 am | Reply

  2. A+ would read again

    Comment by mode20100 — August 26, 2010 @ 10:49 am | Reply

  3. Twitter Trackbacks…

    Trackback by Anonymous — August 26, 2010 @ 9:40 pm | Reply

  4. Great article on the sales process! From experience, for lead generation we began using LeadLifter’s B2B sales conversion system works wonders for increasing ROI for complex sales. The self service quote software can increase ROI by 200% based on my experience and from their other client examples given. Which are proven to be true for me and my company. Primarily built for complex sales within the tech industry for storage solutions and products for mid-sized companies. Added benefit for our sales process.

    Comment by Mike B. — October 11, 2011 @ 6:32 pm | Reply

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