Q: How can I improve my sales process?

A: Each and every organization dedicated to making a profit produces something. Whether that "something" being produced is as rigid as a potato chip or as fluid as water, there are clear recipes, procedures and processes that, when followed, will create the desired result for customers and end users.

Countless studies have evaluated how to increase the speed of various manufacturing steps so that a given outcome (that is, a product or service) can be produced with less expense and made available to consumers with greater respect for that ultimate resource-time. The goal here is to discover how to apply a similar level of analysis so you can do the following:

1. Identify the human elements of your organization's sales process.
Your time, your organization's resources and your revenue forecasts must reflect your interactions with various people in very different business relationship categories. In order to fully identify your organization's sales process, you must understand these five groups.

  • Suspects: Generally speaking, suspects are individuals or organizations who fit some pre-qualification filter or list of criteria.
  • Prospects: These are the individuals or companies who you've already contacted by some method and who comply with the criteria necessary to become suspects.
  • Customers: They currently buy from you. The key word here is "currently." Effective CEOs know that a customer is someone who is providing contributions to the top line right now.
  • Business partners: They not only buy from you currently, but also prosper from their relationship with you in a way that clearly surpasses what your product, service or solution does for them. That means, for instance, that you might share critical knowledge, strategic resources, leads, prospects or even customers for mutually beneficial reasons.
  • Distributors: These are individuals or organizations that take your products, services and/or solutions, add some kind of direct or indirect value, and then resell them.

It might be a good idea to stop reading and take a moment to list the who's who of your own selling process. What are your different categories of potential business relationships? Who are the most important members of each category?

2. Measure sales process time.
How long it takes to sell whatever it is you're selling is critical. If you want to understand how to make your sales process deliver larger sales in a shorter amount of time, you'll have to concern yourself with a performance characteristic known as sales process time.

Sales process time is the total elapsed time it takes to move an individual or organization from the category of "suspect" to the category of "customer" (or business partner). Once you've determined this elapsed time, you'll have to sub-divide it into a number of steps so you can determine how the sale was made.

Take a moment to quantify your own sales process time and the individual steps that are needed to move a suspect to customer. Hint: It's better to have too many steps rather than too few. (Your sales process will never suffer from paying too much attention to details.)

3. Analyze the process.
CEOs who sell have a keen sense of what's needed and what's excess baggage. After reviewing hundreds of sales processes, I can tell you that the quickest way to find out if they are effective and efficient is to see what steps salespeople (or you) consistently ignore! If the same three steps are being skipped over and over again, you can rest assured that they're not needed.

Take a moment now and look in-depth at each and every step you're currently being asked to take in the process of moving a suspect to a customer/business partner. Are there any unnecessary elements of the process? Are there any elements that duplicate work someone else does (or should be doing)?

Here are two examples of what you might come up with:

  • Remove: "Get a copy of each suspect's most recent annual report." When you come right down to it, the most important numbers and words in an annual report can be obtained directly while you're building effective business rapport.
  • Reposition: "Understand the needs of each level of buying influence." This somewhat generic request appeared in every single sales process that I obtained during the research for my new book, Think and Sell like a CEO. In reality, that all-encompassing request for information should be distilled down to a few intelligent questions sprinkled throughout the entire sales process.

For the next month, use your modified plan (with the appropriate steps eliminated or repositioned) to see if the new approach improves the following: the elapsed time to obtain the first sale, the ease of obtaining the first sale, the number of steps you had to take to get the first sale, the number of steps the suspect had to take to get the first sale, the size of the first sale, and any emotional "weather" you and the suspect encountered during the process of making the sale.

Tony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches and his newest book, Secrets of VITO, call (800) 777-VITO or visit www.sellingtovito.com.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.