The Power of Sales Process Thinking
Seeing sales as the outcome of a process is the key to customer satisfaction.
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A revolution is taking place in sales, marketing and customer service, driven by the power of sales process thinking. In the long run, the most effective way to increase customer satisfaction and profit is to view sales as the outcome of a process-a process that can be improved systematically and that should be carefully considered before automating. This is a larger view of what sales is all about, as opposed to the old "sale-as-discrete-transaction" approach. Many companies can attest that the revolution is succeeding because it works better than its predecessor.

The old point of view puts the sales rep at the center of the universe and usually seeks to improve sales volume by narrowly focusing on how sales reps can close deals. The old way is not wrong, per se, just too limiting. Consider how the old view treats four key dimensions.

Old Way Focuses On: How much money can I make off this deal?
Recommends: "See each customer as a bag of groceries."
Ignores: Economic principle that the lifetime value of a customer is often 10 to 20 times larger than any single transaction. By contrast, sales process thinking shows up in the work of Dan Sewell, who has calculated that his lifetime customers could spend some $332,000 at his Dallas auto dealerships. Sewell created systems that increase the likelihood that his customers will continue to come back and do just that, remarking, "Systems, not smiles," are the most important part of customer service. At the time he made that observation, his reps were selling 15 cars per month, nearly twice the national average.

Old Way Focuses On: Techniques to create quick close.
Recommends: Verbal tricks, such as "Get the prospect to say yes seven times, and they'll say yes to your offer."
Ignores: Behavioral principle that customer satisfaction after the sale is a major factor in governing repeat purchases. By contrast, sales process thinking shows up in the action of retailer Nordstrom, whose people are trained to treat their customers as honored friends and family. This policy rewards Nordstrom with PR worth a fortune, giving their name legendary status.

Old Way Focuses On: Sales personnel best practices.
Recommends: "Watch the best reps and teach what they do to the rest."
Ignores: Process principle that total output is limited by the tightest constraint, which may not have anything to do with the sales reps. By contrast, sales process thinking opens opportunities to sell that do not involve sales reps at all. This type of creative thinking led Vaughan's Seed Company (a division of Swiss giant Novartis) to outfit its biggest customers with computers, modems and the ability to directly place their own orders through Vaughan's online catalog. Millions of dollars of orders now flow in through this new channel. Of course, Dell uses essentially the same approach online in its hugely successful Internet-based PC catalog.

Old Way Focuses On: How much time reps spend with customers.
Recommends: "Increase customer face time and watch your sales soar."
Ignores: Engineering principle that the best alternative is one that most efficiently satisfies customer requirements. By contrast, sales process thinking understands that the best approach may mix techniques and cut across traditional functional departments. In 1993, Victor Hunter bought a floundering company called Team TBA, a distributor that sold Shell-branded products to Shell service stations. Hunter immediately asked his customers how they would like to receive information about new products and receive service: by e-mail, fax, phone or in person? Many dealers chose to receive information by e-mail, fax or phone, only asking to see a sales rep as a last resort. Hunter cut his field force from 83 people to 18 and hired six outbound telesales reps and seven inbound customer service reps. The result? Dealer satisfaction increased, total sales expense dropped 65 percent, revenue increased and Team TBA made its first profit in years. Amazingly, even though the number of face-to-face contacts went down by 70 percent, dealers perceived that face-to-face contacts increased by 17 percent.

Sales process thinking connects its practitioners to a huge body of knowledge in proven fields like quality engineering and process improvement. Instead of hopping from fad to fad, sales process thinkers chart a tangible course toward long-term improvement. Learn to think "sales process," and you'll leave your competition far behind-and build more successful systems when it comes time to automate.

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