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How to Choose the Best Sales Process for Your Business

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A one-size-fits-all mentality has become the norm in SaaS sales right now. In fact, it has become an epidemic, and companies that subscribe to the notion that a silver bullet process will work for their business are in major danger.

A quick visit to LinkedIn or YouTube will reveal a torrent of prescriptive articles from experts who claim to have the secret sauce. Some of them make a pretty good pitch, but when everyone is saying their way is the right way—the only right way—then how does a company know who to believe?

There’s only one answer: Trust your knowledge plus your data.

What Is the “One-Size-Fits-All” Mentality?

Everyone wants to be an influencer. Influencers get invited to speak at prestigious conferences; business opportunities land unsolicited in their inboxes, and they become taller and more attractive. The test of whether a thought leader is worth listening to is whether they can back up their ideas with lessons learned in real life. If they don’t have real experience, they’re not leaders—they’re promoters.

A practitioner, on the hand, is a teacher. A practitioner can speak about which processes work in specific situations. They can talk about why a process that works for strategic sales doesn’t work for transactional sales, or why some types of sales need to involve a sales development rep (SDR) and others don’t. Practitioners don’t have to convince you their way is the best way—they have nothing to gain if their audience adopts their ideas.

A promoter promises their solution will work for you. A practitioner asks whether a solution will work for you.

The Risks of a Bad Fit

Succumbing to the myth of one size fits all is a dangerous mistake for any company, but midsize start-ups have the most to lose. They need quick wins, but their sales organizations don’t have enough experience to know the best way to sell their particular product to their particular market. This uncertainty makes them vulnerable to the Latest ProcessTM that’s making the rounds on social media. Everybody says Latest ProcessTM will deliver big results, Latest ProcessTM is the smartest method, and anyone not using Latest ProcessTM  is doomed to failure. The temptation to squeeze your own organization into the template is strong.

Today, the buzz is about account-based experiences. I myself have been writing and speaking about ABX a lot, but I want to be clear: ABX is not for everybody. ABX is expensive to operate. It requires a lot of people, a lot of hours, a lot of tracking and analyzing. ABX is great for high-dollar strategic and enterprise sales, but not all companies need such an intensive approach.

Customers Cost Money

There are two simple questions you need to ask before deciding on a sales process: how much does it cost to acquire a customer, and what’s the dollar amount of the average value of a customer over its lifetime?

That’s oversimplified, but you can think it through. Are you B2B or B2C? Are you practicing strategic or high-velocity sales? What are your segments and how do their budget cycles and procurement practices map to your sales cycle? There are a lot of variables, and knowing what they are will give you the direction you need to start building a process that makes sense for your business.

For instance, if your average sale is $5,000 and your average sales cycle is 10 days, do you need a sophisticated sales process that will raise your customer acquisition cost to $6,000? You know the answer to that.

Some types of companies don’t think about customer acquisition costs. Early- and mid-stage start-ups prioritize top-line growth—they just want to show they’re signing up a lot of people. Profitability in early stages doesn’t always indicate success, so if they spend more to win a customer than they make on the new business, they view it as a temporary pain. The problem is that temporary pains can become long-term habits when a costly sales process becomes engrained in the company’s DNA.

Dirty Data Is a Culture Problem

Collect your own data and keep it clean. A lot of companies don’t have enough data because they don’t have a CRM system, but even those that do use software to track accounts don’t always keep their data clean.

Human error is to blame for some bad data. Entries are mis-keyed, duplicate records are created, and notes end up associated with different records for the same customer. Mistakes are always going to happen, but organizations should have processes and tools to correct them.

A more insidious problem is cultural. At the end of each quarter, sales executives want to show impressive pipelines. They pressure reps to close deals before the month is over, and that pressure drives reps to make aggressive predictions about deals that aren’t really going to close before the quarter ends. When the deal doesn’t close, the rep appears to have failed—but the truth was that the deal was never that far along in the first place.

Some reps have figured out a way to avoid this trap. They push timelines back, beyond the window their data team will view. This protects the rep but creates bad data. As a result of that bad data, the right KPIs aren’t tracked. When the right KPIs aren’t tracked, leading indicators can’t be properly identified or repeated. Maybe a rep hits quota, but there’s no data to help repeat or scale successes. Maybe a rep misses quota, but there’s no data to help make a midcourse correction.

We need clean data if we’re going to trust what the data is telling us.

Specialists Can Force You Into the Wrong Mold

Every start-up wants to see brand names on their About Us page. Brand names transfer credibility to an unproven product; they tell the world, “We may be new, but look who believes in us.”

But hiring people because of their pedigrees can be a mistake for a start-up. When you hire a rep from a global enterprise to sell your self-service SaaS product that’s priced at $25 a month, you can get someone who brings expectations that don’t fit with the stage your company is in. This is dangerous, and here’s why:

Today’s modern account executives are specialized. If they worked for a company that had an SDR, they’ve forgotten how to flex their prospect-building muscles. They haven’t gotten their hands dirty in a long time, if ever, and while they may love the idea and be excited about the work, they don’t know how to build their own pipelines.

When you put someone like this in charge of building your sales department, that leader is going to bring their old processes with them. Scaling back is difficult, because if you only know one way to do things, you don’t know how to simplify. Simplifying is scary, because how do you decentralize all these responsibilities when you’ve always had a deep org chart full of specialists?

Or what if you have an enterprise model and you hire an SMB sales VP who’s only done transactional sales and doesn’t know how to work with large teams and hand-offs? They’re going to get confused and wonder why they’re losing customers so fast.

You need people who can learn your process and won’t get married to any one idea early on. They need the ability to set up processes to evaluate all sales activities, so they can help the organization make strategic decisions.

The strategy is what’s important. Hire smart people who understand what to focus on at the current moment in the company’s maturity. The last thing you want to see is an account executive running discovery calls.

Always Be Assessing

You know you’re getting things right when you can spend your time coaching and making sure you have a well-oiled machine. And once you get there, don’t stop assessing. Just because you got it right today doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be adjusting your machine tomorrow. Your buyers change, your markets change, your products change—even if you found the perfect one-size-fits-all solution for your business today, don’t count on it to work for you tomorrow.

Jake Reni is head of Adobe Sales Academy and Sales Transformation. With 15 years of experience in high-tech enterprise sales, he helps develop the future sales leaders in SaaS and is also an adviser for hyper-growth sales technology SaaS start-ups.

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