Selling is the business discipline most resistant to process and technology. Companies implement stringent procedures for order entry, billing, accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger, etc.
As relates to top-line revenue generation, few have established sales process.
As a result sales calls are like snowflakes. No two are the same. Sellers are given wide latitude in how to sell, how to position offerings, what opportunities they pursue and the progress they report. In these organizations a high percentage of sales calls are ad-libs.
CRM software was created to track seller activities and improve pipeline visibility. Without question there is value in centralizing and collecting contact information and sales activities.
The problem is that subjective seller opinions about progress on opportunities are the input to CRM systems.
The old IT adage of “garbage in-garbage out” applies because inaccurate opinions compromise the reports generated. How often have you seen sellers inflate otherwise “thin” pipelines?
Years ago I worked with an early CRM provider. Their VP of Sales told me by using their software he was +/- 5% in his revenue forecasts, accuracy most companies can only dream of achieving. They had defined 8 pipeline milestones. From the first day they joined the company new sellers entered data. Over time the system captured and applied each seller’s historical close rates on opportunities in each of the 8 milestones.
I asked him if his salespeople told customers their forecasts would be that accurate once the software was implemented. He said they did. I then discussed with him that his forecasts were based upon heuristic calculations. The software captured how accurate (inaccurate) sellers had been in the past and applied historical close rate to each milestone to create each month’s forecast.
New clients would need to gather sufficient data for sellers before their forecast accuracy would improve. If sellers left the company that data was gone forever. When new hires joined, there was a lag before their forecasts could be calculated. If new offerings were announced there was no historical data for a period of time.
A colleague told me years ago:
Technology without process speeds up the mess.
Forecasts can be generated with a few keystrokes but the reports are likely to be just as inaccurate as spreadsheets that were used years ago when sales managers did their “seat of the pants” forecasts which was mostly paring down over optimistic seller projections.
Applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) to sales has begun in earnest. There are benefits to be gained, but companies having an overall framework can enjoy the competitive advantage of reaping benefits of applying AI sooner.
? The four (4) components needed for sales process are:
- Sets of defined milestones for the various types of sales that must be executed.
- Sales ready messaging® so that sellers position offerings to specific titles consistently.
- A common skill set so sellers have the requisite skills to execute messaging.
- Auditability to allow sales managers to grade opportunities based upon buyer actions rather than seller opinions.
Most AI applications require analyses of terabytes of historical data to identify actions that are likely to improve results. It’s the equivalent of finding needles in huge haystacks.
The structure defined above can allow best practices to be identified shortly after AI has been implemented.
By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®