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Sales Process Mapping Ideas to Consider

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By Michael J. Webb

Process mapping, in general, is a technique for creating a common vision and shared language among team members within an organization or project with the goal of improving business results.  I have seen management training and development firms realize that people working in their sales department had cross purposes.  The results was that executive-level discussions with customers were not taking place.

This was something that clearly could not continue.  Using sales process mapping,  leaders reorganized their sales operations so job descriptions. sales team incentives, and the team's focus centered on the customer.

This led to some significant results.  Six months later, they turned around a five-year downturn in sales numbers and team members earned some nice sales bonuses. 

Another examples occurred in a large manufacturer's national account team.  Sales process mapping helped them discover how they could more effectively coordinate with sales team.  That led to increases in new prospects something no on eon the team expected.

As a sales process consultant, I have seen leaders in organizations of varying sizes make critical mistakes that work directly against the benefits of what sales process mapping can get them.  This leads to the classic scenario where top sales people figure out ways to outsmart the process and use their own "system."   Sales people ignore the stated processes and find ways that optimize their results.

From the experience my team and I have gathered working with a large client base, we've observed four common mistakes that stand in the way of sales success:

 Sales Process Mapping Mistakes A Better Sales Process Mapping Option
 
 Map all the details, losing track of the big picture. Foreground goals in organizing your process map. 
 
 Focus on the seller, instead of the customer. Determine how to create value for the customer throughout the process. 
 
 Map the process without showing how the results will be measured. Map tools, skills, and performance metrics along with the process. 
 
 Buy somebody else's "ideal" sales process. Engage your people in process mapping to define problems and solutions. 

Review the following list where I describe the shortcomings that come about because of these mistakes and a better option I recommend.  By following these suggestions, you can derive the most positive results for your own organization.

Mistake #1: Map all the trees, but miss the forest

I worked with a senior level sales manager of a technical services company.  He had developed a very extensive sales process map detailing his organization's process.   I've included his map as (Figure 1) and it's a typical first attempt to map a sales process.  Team members with an analytical slant (such as Six Sigma Black Belts or IT Systems Analysts) will create similar maps and understandably so.  They include complicated decision diamonds and details.

Figure 1: Too many steps make this map hard to use.

This sales manager detailed people's activities across his sales organization.  It was accurate.  The problem was this sales process map did not empower him to better train or lead his team. This process map illustrates Mistake #1 in two significant ways:

  • An extremely detailed sales process map presents more information than person can absorb all one time.
  • All activities appear to have the same importance, with each activity equally dependent on the previous one. This isn't an accurate reflection of reality.

Principle #1: Foreground goals in your sales process map

Figure 2 shows how this same sales manager could be changed focusing more on goals. This technique places goals in the foreground, clarifying key issues.  For example, even if team members have different ideas about how they should qualify new prospects, they can agree that prospects must be qualified.  With this goal stated upfront, different team members can vary in their ways but the goal that needs to be achieved is clear. As individuals work toward consensus in the activity steps, they become best practices for achieving the goals.

Figure 2: Grouping activities according to goals creates focus.

Note that the goals are not the same as departmental boundaries. A single person might be involved in any of the top-level phases. This drives communication and collaboration, making process maps a powerful tool for generating a shared framework for accountability.

Another important feature is decision diamonds showing where the prospect (or the salesperson) might opt out. In real life, prospects can decide to buy from someone else, wait until next year, or call out of the blue and need service tomorrow. Identifying and measuring these decision points acknowledges that the process has a yield, as well as providing critical information for process improvement.

Mistake #2: Focus on the seller, instead of the customer

Another manager at a financial services company mapped her company's sales process as part of her advanced degree program's thesis.  She gathered information the executives concerning "the optimal sales process."   Never having been in sales she organized hierarchically.  This satisfied the requirements placed on her by her instructors.   It didn't do so well for her organization.

Figure 3: This process map focuses on seller activities.

In Figure 3, you can see it's hierarchical, identifying a goal for each phase. Notice that the steps in the Winning New Business phase call for working with the CEO at each step. Wouldn't that be nice?  

Now, consider the Contracting phase. Who gets value from these steps? From an internal administrator's perspective, these procedures are important. But what value do they create for the customer? In fact, the benefit to the external customer was not considered at any stage of this process. Is it any wonder customers resisted it? Successful salespeople in this administrator's company routinely operated outside the process, as any successful salesperson would have to do.

Principle #2: Determine how to create value for the customer.

Sales processes that work create value for the customer. Delegating the process mapping task to an administrator without sales experience or executive insight allowed this company to go through the motions without making a difference. Figure 4 shows what this company's process might look like, recast with a customer focus. Figure 5 defines value to the customer.

Figure 4: Revised sales process focuses on customer interaction.
Figure 5: Value to the customer is identified.

These diagrams illustrate a lengthier, more complex sales processes often found in business-to-business services. Such an approach is important where substantial talent or time such as engineering, IT, legal, or other consulting is necessary to develop a solution proposal. These complex sales environments are notorious for their unpredictability and cost. Before committing costly resources to the sales effort, the selling organization must do everything possible to ensure success and avoid wasting those resources. This can be accomplished by reaching decision makers early, so as to verify their needs and priorities. But this usually requires tremendous effort and courage. Often it is never accomplished.

Ultimately, reaching the decision maker in your customer's organization benefits both you and your customer. Without first-hand insight into the decision maker's needs and priorities, you risk wasting everyone's time. But if you can validate your own understanding of the business value you offer the decision maker, even helping the decision maker generate a consensus if necessary, you create value for everyone. Getting credit for these things is often the key to winning the business

Through sales process mapping, your team can keep a constant focus on your most mission-critical question: How can you create real value to the customer? If your business requires a contracting/administrative phase (like the financial services company in Figure 3), figure out how that phase can create value for the customer. If you can't, place that phase in service of another goal that does.

Everything you do to find, gain, and keep customers should create clear value for them. If you do, customers and the best salespeople are sure to follow. You have no more powerful lever for ensuring an ever-growing stream of profitable business. Customer value is the number one defense against changing markets, competition, and technologies.

Mistake #3: Forget to "show them the money"

An organization's training department at a major corporation spent several million dollars to develop a customized sales training program.  The program was closely based company's values.  It was well received from an organizational development perspective.  It showed and demonstrated the company's conceptual goals clearly.  Along with existing training materials, it provided salespeople with many powerful skills (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: This process does not specify measurable results.

Unfortunately, it was filled with phrases like "Use the relationship network," "Facilitate decision making," or "Confirm joint commitments."  Those reflected the company values, but wasn't very use useful to salespersons trying to make their numbers.  What is the concrete output of each step? How will it be measured? When are orders generated? Where is the process connected to the money?

Lacking measurable steps grounded in real-world sales operations, the training program defined a process in name only. Salespeople learned how the company's world really worked on the job rather than from the course. Although many people agreed the course contained valuable skills, its value could not be proven. The sales organization in this company ultimately created its own measurement system outside the framework of the training program, crippling its effectiveness.

Principle #3: Integrate tools, skills, and results measurements with the process

Figure 7 illustrates how a sales process map (the same map appears in Figure 2) can include metrics. The sales organization's performance is measured by the high-level goals of the process, rather than the detail steps. There are many advantages in this approach to selecting metrics.

Figure 7: Broad metrics assess each goal-driven phase of the sales process.

First, as products and services move through their economic life cycles, sellers must change their marketing and qualifying strategies accordingly. Over time, these metrics can provide powerful leading indicators of market shifts, affording sellers precious lead time to respond.

Second, these metrics allow the organization to identify its bottlenecks or weak links, allowing resources to be allocated most effectively. For example, if marketing is not generating enough good suspects, adding salespeople or engaging expensive training services will not help. Instead, the marketing process should be improved so as to create enough suspects.

Third, a mapping approach allows people to participate in setting their own goals by drilling into more detailed analyses and metrics to improve performance. Figure 8 illustrates how a process map can serve as a tool for integrating some support functions within an organization.

Figure 8: Link performance support, skills, and competencies to the sales process.

Individuals can use this kind of detail to identify skills they need to work on. An organization can use process detail to integrate software support as well as training. This kind of mapping, a current trend in the training and development community, can yield powerful results.1

Mistake #4: Buy somebody else's "ideal" sales process

Sales process maps can be purchased or come as part of a sales training or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. These sales process maps can be very useful, only if they are used properly.   Otherwise, they can do some serious harm.

For example, sales executives purchase sales training in an attempt to create improved sales results. Good sales training does in fact help salespeople become more effective at reaching their goals. But, like everyone else, salespeople are creatures of their environment. If the environment is not changed, behaviors tend to return to their pretraining state. Although this problem is well known, sales executives often do not recognize the impact of mismatches between their own organization's sales environment and the assumptions of a sales training program. Many millions of dollars are wasted each year in training programs that are far less effective than they could be for this reason.

In the case of CRM software, a company is often faced with fitting its business to the software, instead of the other way around. Anxious to collect license fees, software firms generally recommend, "Let's just get the software running vanilla for now; then down the road we can think about modifying it." Down the road, most companies discover many dubious assumptions:

 Assumption Reality 
 CRM systems provide management with information for better "control" of field activities. Why would salespeople provide information to a system that can and will be used against them? 
 CRM suppliers know how to make a sales process work. Most CRM systems only track activities; they are poor at helping people sell. 
 The supplier's sales process model is fine for our business. The supplier's sales process model may be inappropriate for our business. 
 We can always make system changes later to fit our business better. After the system has lost credibility and support in the organization, who cares? 

Many organizations have found CRM implementations to be extremely frustrating experiences. Why do so many organizations find themselves in this situation? One reason is that executives assume that everyone else already understands how their business works so someone else (such as the software vendor or an administrator) can map out the details.

However, if people within the organization haven't created a reasonable map of the sales process for themselves, how can they expect an outside supplier's assumptions to be on the mark? In this regard, Dick Lee, author of The Customer Relationship Management Survival Guide, offers a valuable perspective:

Customer Relationship Management means implementing customer-centric business strategies, which drives redesigning of functional activities, which demands re-engineering of work processes, which is supported, not driven, by CRM technologies.2

CRM software is very powerful. It requires answers to questions such as, "How do we create value for customers?" and "How do we measure the value we create?" If leaders in the organization don't fully account for the answers, the initiative will fail not because the CRM product is inadequate but because the organization didn't create an environment in which it could work.3

Principle #4: Engage your people in process mapping to define problems and solutions

Software and training suppliers can provide valuable tools to support your sales process. But the sales process itself can't be purchased from an outside supplier. It requires the hearts and minds of your people. It is the hearts and minds of your people. It is your customer relationship strategy. The leaders of a sales organization need to generate a common vision and implement it collaboratively. Process mapping is an ideal tool to engage people in creating and achieving this common vision.

Conclusion

The best salespeople in an organization often operate outside the parameters of whatever sales process or CRM system is in place. They get away with it because they provide the organization's supply of oxygen customers with orders. Thank goodness!

It is time to challenge one of the traditional approaches of leaders who function as cheerleaders for their sales teams, while turning a blind eye toward internal roadblocks and constraints. Process mapping, accomplished through team collaboration, with clear focus on customer value at every stage, is a power tool for blowing away those roadblocks and constraints.

In sum, sales process mapping provides these mission-critical benefits to any customer-facing organization:

  • It enables the team to tap into the customer's oxygen pipeline and trace a path to your business.
  • It ensures that the team can pull together to create real value, so salespeople don't have to go outside the system to deliver desperately needed oxygen.
  • It helps individuals understand and accept organizational changes across functions.
  • It provides the framework for measuring performance goals, which people can set for themselves.

These are the reasons why process mapping brings such potential for creating breakthroughs in organizational sales performance.

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