Like any other part of your business, sales runs on processes. However a lot of the time the sales department doesn’t realize that.
Many sales departments do things an ad-hoc, every-person-for-themselves basis. There’s no harmonization, standardization or effort to codify best practices.
Believe it or not, but that constitutes a suite of business practices, just not a very good one. To be more successful you need to put back the ad-hoc mess with a structured set of business processes.
Please note this doesn’t mean that everyone does everything alike. Every customer is different and so, to a certain extent, is every sale. But it does mean that you have established a consistent set of processes for dealing with customers and their needs.
The path to processes begins with where you are now. Figure out what you are doing now to deal with customers and write it down. The next step is to generate a flow chart of how your current system works. Don’t be surprised if what you come up with is ugly with lots of dangling pathways and unresolved issues. Without a systematic approach it is very difficult to see if you have covered all the bases.
The flow chart is likely to be complicated so the best plan is to break it down into steps and deal with each step individually. Make sure you’ve listed every sub-step in this part of the process and how information and action flow between the parts.
Once you’ve mapped out where you are now, you can start looking at where you want to be. Generally there will be two areas that need improvement. Those are the process itself and loose ends.
Ideally your chart will cover everything that can happen. Exceptions to the normal flow need to be looked at carefully to make sure that they are allowed for. The chart should be able to answer the question “what would happen if?” for every possible condition.
Loose ends or unresolved conditions represent potential problem areas where things can get dropped, delayed or otherwise cause difficulties. Make sure every condition terminates with an action.
Now look closely at the overall process. Trace the flow of work through the process and look at places where it can be simplified. Is every step necessary? Are there any duplicates? Does everything get done in a timely fashion? Try to simplify the workflow as much as possible.
Now take your revised process and get feedback on it from all the involved parties. This is a critical step because you can’t know as much about the process as the people in the trenches know about it. They will often spot problems with the process flow that you hadn’t been aware of or hadn’t anticipated. Review and revise your new process until it reflects what actually happens.
The final step is implementing your new processes. This includes training your people on the new way of doing things. Make sure everyone understands how the processes work.
It’s best to roll out the changes gradually, one step at a time. Even at this stage you should be alert to the possibility of needed changes.
All this represents a fair amount of work, but if it is done right it will save a lot of time and effort and result in a smoother running operation.