Your Father's Sales Process…with a Twist

There’s a rekindled debate going on about a tired topic: sales process. With new emphasis on the buying process and alignment and technologies driving process and sales enablement, the whole subject matter has become somewhat academic and fairly complex. It’s enough to cause minds to close and eyes to glaze over.

After all, as one results-minded VP of Sales put it, “All we really want to do is sell more stuff!” And that is the point.

But top producing sales individuals, teams and successful organizations get there today by doing what the best have always done but with special attention to a new level of detail. A twist, if you will – a cognitive variation on a focused theme that today makes all the difference between success and mediocrity.

It involves the actions in and around P3, which is highlighted in my recent article “The 4 P’s of Enterprise Selling.” It’s about the quality of sales engagement, for the rep and the prospect. I call it Opportunity Engagement – engaging qualification, probing and presentation of ideas. In fact, this is your father’s sales process, only now you’ve got to do it better than he was ever required.

The Next Sales Generation Old New Way
I literally do talk about this stuff with my children. I have 2 top-producing sons actively working for top tier sales organizations. They have been the recipients of sought-after sales advice and unsolicited Dad-lectures on sales process clarity, messaging nuance, probing discovery, qualification scorecards, activity metrics, forecast accuracy, motivational mindset, partner relationships and sundry other keys to sales effectiveness. Between weekly conference calls, breakfasts or lunches, I teach and preach sales best-practices and see great results with them and MXL clients.

But a pattern has emerged in this modern era. If not a process makeover, I’m seeing the need for a refocus in this area of Opportunity Engagement; that is, those early sales cycle calls or meetings where ideas, agendas, needs and information collide.

A Non-Trivial Return to Fundamentals
Sales Opportunity Qualification has always run parallel with opportunity Probing Discovery. That is, early in all sales situations – particularly in more complex deals – a salesperson needs to qualify while also asking probing questions to understand the prospect’s situation/environment/problem/pain/need/etc./etc. Whether one is a BANT bigot or pick-your-favorite qualification method. I personally push the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How approach – see Rule #33: Qualify, Qualify, Qualify from my book 42 Rules to Increase Sales Effectiveness. The key is to uncover the real deal through effective, inquisitive probing combined with clear and deliberate qualifying.

No, it’s not enough to merely qualify the opportunity. And it’s not enough to merely probe the opportunity. You’ve got to do both, with skill, finesse and thoroughness, because the real deal (truth) is in the details. The best salespeople figure this out and don’t bring in the big guns (SE’s or Specialists) or move on to Demos, Trials, Proof of Concepts, Presentations, Proposals, etc, until they are good and ready and know the score. In some cases literally with Opportunity Scorecards and other tools we use to help teams get it right.

And the probing is a developed art. No need for science – keep it simple. Who needs a 9-box solution value schema that takes days to teach and understand when you can get at it with a 4 step NEWS framework? See Rule #32: Become a Probe Master. Understand the Now (ask pointed “lay of the land questions”), then Explore for issues and challenges (posit known market/business trends and pressures). Follow-up with questions to uncover the Why behind the issues, and then Summarize what you’ve heard and cycle back to step 2 for more. It’s simple and it works, but you need to be consciously aware of moving down these parallel paths of qualifying and probing.

The Real Twist
But the real miss today, and thus the need for the twist, is in Presenting the Message. This of course often gets blended into the same call/meeting where Qualifying and Probing have been happening. Can you see the collision coming? If not deftly handled, the communication of the sales message/pitch/deck/overview/etc./etc. is convoluted, overwhelmed, or stands in stark isolation, lonely and ineffective.

This is why sales can be too intense for small children or those easily nauseated. It takes intestinal fortitude and learned skill and nuance to engage strong prospects in a compelling dialogue that extracts qualifying information, clarifies investigated mysteries, while communicating content domain expertise that intrigues, educates, and leaves them wanting more (a follow-up meeting).

But that’s still not all of it.

Here it is: in early sales Discovery Calls/Meetings, the effective modern salesperson has to also teach the prospect how to sell their stuff internally when they hang up the phone or walk out of the prospect’s office. If they can’t do that, the deal is at risk. Many sales have been lost because a prospect walked into his boss’ office and tried to explain the product/solution about which you just met and discussed – and he can’t sell it. He’s vague, confused, focused on features instead of the fix on their business issues and problems. All it takes is for the skeptical boss to merely say “We don’t need that” and your deal is cooked. Happens all the time unfortunately. That’s why executive whiteboards and title-specific sales talk tracks are invaluable today.

Nothing New Under the Sun
So we’re back to preaching and teaching what we’ve always done. As I always say, “Strategy is great, but execution is everything.” In fact, great sales process execution including great qualifying, purposeful, probing discovery, and great sales messaging skills and strategies will never go out of style.

Truth be told – they’re needed now more than ever.