Building a Winning Sales System

I recently received this letter from someone who just hired their first sales manager – definitely an exciting time for any business. As I was responding to her I thought perhaps others could benefit from some of my learnings here at Pipeline.

Dear JP,

I’d love your thoughts on building the sales process from scratch and how to leverage Pipeline for the event business.  I just hired our first-ever sales manager who will be starting Monday and it feels like the right time to solidify our sales process.

Let’s first focus on the scaffolding of the whole sales motion which is the sales process. I don’t know your business per se, and yes every business is indeed different, but after helping sales teams for the last 15 years through our crm I have locked onto a few sales process truisms that have stood the test of time.

It is important to distinguish the sales process from the tactics. We can get into the tactics if you want – things like lead generation, lead qualification, selling to value, getting to yes, closing a deal, sales channels – all are important on their own merits and warrant their own distinct approaches. But first things first and let’s talk sales process.

Simple to start

Many of us (CEOs or VP of Sales or Sales Directors) tend to overcomplicate things at the start. Clearly define the minimal set of things you want to track. The main event is to get flow through the pipeline – too much oversight or required fields will grind down momentum to a halt. Keep your deal stages simple and easy to understand . Don’t over customize and add a ton of custom fields or activity types. Let go of any desire to track everything. As you will see below keeping the process light is important as the main event is getting people, including you, to follow the process and build a habit.

Clear lines and clean interfaces

Clear lines and clean interfaces – The lines I am talking about here are lines of accountability. At all points in the process it should be abundantly clear of who is doing what and by when. One person responsible at all times, don’t get lazy and pawn a specific responsibility off on “all of us” or the “team”. That sort of stuff only gets more ambiguous and uglier over time. Clean interfaces means clear points of hand-off when two or more people are involved in the sales process – even if it is just you and your sales manager to start. Whether a sales team of 100 or 1 you will only benefit from squeaky clean interfaces as a deal progresses through your pipeline. It is well known that things break at the interfaces (think of printer hardware and software or in a manual transmission a clutch between a transmission and an engine) – the same holds true in any sales process. You and your team must be clear on what constitutes the criteria of moving a lead from prospect to qualified (what are the things that make one qualified?) or qualified to initial commitment (what constitutes a commitment – verbal or in writing?). Define the interfaces all the way through your pipeline including lost deals (for example we won’t accept a lost deal without a reason).

Know what winning is

Know what winning is – Like simplicity in the underpinnings of the process, having a crystal clear and widely broadcasted measurement of success for your sales process is, afterall, what it is all about. The easier to understand the metric the better. This is usually a number. For our business, it is clear – we focus on New MRR (monthly recurring revenue) won in our business. We know this number everyday. It is the first number we see when we log on in the morning. This number is entirely reliant on some underlying and often more forward looking metrics that can lead you down paths to improvement. Metrics like connection rate, conversion rate, sales cycle time, new leads/day, disqualification rate are some of the more material ones.

Make it a habit

Creating a daily business habit where you begin and end your day in your crm is critical. Software isn’t omnipresent (yet! but we are working on it) and won’t update itself. When I used to visit customer sites I would usually know how the meeting with the CEO or VP of Sales was going to go in a few minutes time as I walked through the office to the meeting room. There was one clear litmus test – was our crm up on the screens of the sales team or not when I met them. Without fail, if the team was in the crm, things went great. If they weren’t using it, then I knew we were going to have some rough conversations. Any crm, any software for that matter, is a reflection of the business process behind it – both the people and the actual process itself. Successful sales teams have a successful sales process that is known by all and followed by all.

Stick to the Process

Don’t go around it, drive accountability and be a bit ruthless about it. Successful tactics include – letting it be known that if a deal is not in the crm it doesn’t exist, that people will not get paid if it is not in the crm, or a deal is not won unless it is won in the crm. Document your sales process and keep it in front of you and your team. A sales process often manifests as a sales playbook. Think of the playbook as a living breathing document. We don’t call it the ‘sales constitution’. Any time you make a change, make sure the change is reflected in the process. You can delegate the making of the change to the playbook but always verify that the sales playbook is current and reflects the current reality. That is your responsibility as the leader.
Finally, it is important to have fun in sales. Winning is fun. Successful companies and successful sales teams have a culture of winning. It is important to design in some time to celebrate success and motivate yourself and the team.
Good luck!

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