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Sales Transformation: Process Before Technology

March 22, 2016 | By Steve Silver

  • Sales, sales operations and channel leaders often look to technology to increase revenue and improve rep productivity
  • Understanding and mapping sales execution processes are a critical first step in improving and informing technology decisions
  • Purchasing new technology without a disciplined process for diagnosing performance issues and prioritizing solutions is expensive and disruptive

In 1981, Ford Motor Company was on track to lose $3 billion over the course of the next three years. In response, Ford hired quality management guru W. Edwards Deming, a man whose ideas are credited with sparking Japan’s post-war economic growth. Within five years of applying Deming’s theories about process mapping, process improvement, standardization, measurement and management, the company had turned things around to become America’s most profitable automobile manufacturer.

While most sales transformation projects are not as complex as Deming’s recommendations for Ford, they vary in scope – from the introduction of a new technology to a complete overhaul of the sales infrastructure and sales execution processes. Many sales organizations have long resisted the application of standardized processes by claiming that sales is more art than science. However, SiriusDecisions has found that sales performance improves when sales operations follows a disciplined approach to process mapping, measurement and standardization – while leaving room for flexibility and creativity based on buyer’s needs and the seller’s skills.  

Process mapping provides a clear picture of the activities that an organization or an individual performs within the context of job roles and goals, allows for gap and root cause analysis, and informs technology decisions. Organizations can use a standard template with the following components can clarify who is performing the action, the technology and tools needed, what rules govern the process and how each step is measured:

  • Inputs and outputs. An input is anything that’s required for the process to be performed (e.g. database record, completed task) is an input. A stage may have multiple inputs. Anything that’s produced as a result of an input is an output. As an example, a sales generated lead (SGL) is an output of the prospecting process – and an input of the lead qualification process.
  • Action taken. This is a description of the process step. Use a verb at the beginning of the description (e.g. “qualify lead”) to ensure that the process is captured as an activity.
  • Owner. The owner is the primary doer or actor in the process – the person, function or system that actually takes the specified action.
  • Technology. This component defines the set of systems and tools required to manage the process step (e.g. sales force automation [SFA] platform; configure, price, quote [CPQ] tool). Related considerations include data, security, integration and user experience.
  • Rules. Rules are parameters that govern how the action is taken. They may consist of formal service-level agreements (SLAs), required fields in SFA records or other forms of guidance. For example, the rules may specify an SLA that gives sales 48 hours to respond to a marketing qualified lead. The SLA may also indicate that a certain number of outreaches must be made in that timeframe and that the lead must be either moved forward or returned to marketing for placement in a nurture program or other treatment.
  • Measurement. Reporting and measurement considerations include the metrics, targets, frequency of reporting, reporting body and reporting audience for the process. Documenting this information ensures that the organization knows what a successful process looks like and has established a set of measures to reflect that.

Use a process template for each stage of the sales execution process to create a map that illustrates the entire sales execution process, as well as the details of each sub-process. This map not only shows the owners and required actions, but also captures the outputs and inputs between sub-processes and the rules, measurements and technologies used to facilitate, manage and measure each sub-process. While the the right sales technologies can have a positive impact on sales and partner productivity and performance, even the most sophisticated organizations can be influenced by market hype, prior executive experience or unverified vendor promises when they make their technology decisions. Organizations that use a consistent approach to a process before turning to technology, are much more likely to achieve ROI and expected benefits from technology investments.

Steve Silver

Steve Silver is a Senior Research Director of Sales Operations Strategies at SiriusDecisions. Steve brings with him more than 20 years of executive-level experience spanning sales operations, sales and product marketing. Follow Steve on Twitter @jstevensilver.