Transform – don’t train – your sales force – Part II


Yes Virginia, selling IS a process

In a previous career, I used to analyze metals through the lenses of high-powered electron microscopes, allowing my fellow metallurgists and me to see what was happening at a nearly atomic level. Viewing at such high magnification was an absolute prerequisite if the finished product, say, a turbine blade inside a jet engine, was to do its job.
It seems that almost every process in business today is undergoing a form of microscopic analysis at ever-higher magnification. The level of understanding and control of what is happening at the "atomic" level in manufacturing processes is staggering. From cars to carpets, virtually nothing in the production process is left to chance. The same is true in services; from French fries to finance, no detail is considered too small.
Not so in selling. If other processes were treated like the sales process, workers would be instructed to "buy some steel and make some cars," "heat some oil and add potatoes," or "count the money and tell us how much we made." And the metallurgist would analyze
the alloy, squinting at a sample held at arm’s length.
Oddly, few companies display much interest in what happens in the sales process at the actual point of interaction between their sales reps and their customers. It’s as if management was satisfied by viewing the scene through the wrong end of the microscope. And that’s just the way salespeople like it. Some of the best selling that salespeople do is inside their own companies as they argue that they should be exempt from such scrutiny, claiming their value is relationship-based and can’t be forced into the constraints of process.
Salespeople have always been the alchemists of business, each with his or her secret recipe for creating gold. What’s more, most are careful to avoid sharing their recipes with other alchemists in the kingdom. After all, "As long as I’m creating more gold than my peers, I am the most highly favored alchemist in the king’s eyes." There’s no real malice in such attitudes, it’s just the way things generally work. It’s another one of selling’s dirty little secrets.
But process is a bullet that salespeople won’t be able to dodge much longer. Those who try – the ones who stubbornly or blindly think they can continue relying on their relationships for their value contribution – are in for a wake-up call. Fortunately, many salespeople are finally sobering up and embracing process.
From the words used to position a Knowledge Call to the rationale used in a decision to pursue an executive meeting, magnification of the process – such as it is – is desperately needed at all points throughout the selling interaction. And when one considers that the transformation from Vendor/Problem-Solver to Business Resource is so radical that it’s like re-coding one’s DNA, the need for magnification of the process becomes even more critical.
So when it comes to measurements you use to see how the salesforce
is doing, you may have to transform your own thinking from "numbers" alone to "successful execution of a sound process." My organization has seen more would-be successful transformation projects fail because management loses its patience with process
and falls back to its comfort zone – the numbers.
You have to belieeeve!!!
As an absolute prerequisite, you must have total confidence in the sales process you’re embracing to effect the transformation BEFORE you implement it inside your organization. Never "test" whether a chosen sales process works in your environment; e.g., "Let’s try the process on a few accounts. If we close business, then it must be a good process." That’s too close to the logic of, "I had Cheerios for breakfast and had my biggest day of selling ever. I’m going to start eating Cheerios everyday."
If you show unwavering commitment to the sales process and the people implementing it, you will achieve the result you’re looking for. But more on that next month.

Jerry Stapleton is president of Mequon-based Stapleton Resources, LLC and author of, From Vendor to Business Resource: Transforming the Sales Force for the New Era of Selling. For more than 10 years, he has been showing companies of all sizes, from start-ups to Fortune 500, how to sell to large accounts. E-mail:; Web site:

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July 5, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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