Four Reasons Why A Sales Process Will Never Work

Let me begin by saying that I believe in having a great sales process. At the same time, I do not believe that a sales process is going to provide any value. I have seen way too many sales teams try to anchor their entire strategy on the implementation of a sales process. And it’s just stupid foolish such a colossal waste of effort. (Man, I can tell already that this is going to be a rant – sorry).

Here’s why I think that way. 


Seriously, how many times have you seen a sales process get rolled out – and there is zero accountability for actually using it. And by accountability, I do not mean getting yelled at, harassed, or shamed for not following the process. I mean quite the opposite – being empowered to use the process and being evaluated on your effectiveness with it. THEN working to master both the process AND your role. With role being primary to process (and THAT is a whole other rant – you can see my thinking on this topic here). 

Which brings me to the point of this particular rant.

I see four reasons why a sales process never gets used/adopted. Call them root causes. Whatever. But these four culprits are some of the main reasons why stuff like forecasting is a nuclear dead zone miserable experience for so many. And if any of these problems exist in your organization, don’t be surprised if your sales process (and sales team) is suffering.

Tension with a ropeNumber one – The sales process doesn’t integrate with other parts of your business (Marketing, CRM, forecasting, etc.). What I mean by this is that far too often we complain about the separation between Sales and Marketing (or Sales and IT, or Sales and leadership, etc.). There’s this constant tension as the Sales team never fully implements whatever Marketing, IT, leadership, etc. intended. This is usually because what was designed by non-sales folks was focused on just one aspect of the sales experience – not the entire sales experience.

This creates a bunch of demands on the sales person that actually disrupt the process. Or worse, shuts it down.

Picture this: Jonathan the Sales Rep is busy trying to schedule his week. He’s got targets to hit and customers to serve. And while he is throwing everything he has into getting his pipeline running at full strength, Marketing shoves a new product/brochure/lead into his queue that has nothing to do with the current customers that he is trying to serve. Then there’s the CRM system that just got upgraded to “make his job easier.” It makes no sense to him and he cannot see how it makes the sales process more effective. It just gives someone in “management” more data to obsess about. Jonathan’s sales manager starts sending him email “reminders” to use the new Marketing stuff and CRM update.  Jonathan gives up on the sales process and starts doing his own thing to manage his time AND make Marketing/IT/Leadership happy. Process killed.

Number two – The sales process is not customer-focused. At all. Every term is couched in an internal context. Prospect. Approach. Present. Negotiate. Close. This is completely irrelevant to customers. Which means that they will not contribute to the process. They won’t respond to it. They won’t engage in it – or finish it. This makes it really hard for sales reps to stay committed to the process. Who wants to follow a process that rarely ever gets completed?

Picture this: Katrina the Sales Rep is trying to talk to more senior buyers. She has gone through the training, been coached by her manager (kinda), and now has to log every attempt she makes to connect with executive customers. But her sales process has nothing to do with those people. The C-suite could care less about being prospected, approached, etc.

Female sales rep on phoneAnd they do NOT want to buy. Their budgets are strained and their timelines are shrinking. What they do want to do is solve real problems and drive measurable outcomes. But Katrina’s sales process doesn’t actually account for that. So instead of tracking how relevant she is, she simply tracks all of her activities. Which delivers absolutely ZERO insights for the people who are trying to support her and make her more effective. Process worthless.

Number three – The sales process is too linear. Look, if you are trying to sell in more complex situations (especially at the enterprise level), no one makes a decision to buy based on a series of progressive steps. Why? Because human beings are involved!

Think about that. We don’t work in straight lines. We don’t think in straight lines. And we certainly don’t make decisions in straight lines. We start down a certain path, involve other folks, take detours, go back and rethink what we thought, and so forth. This is especially true in the context of a knowledge economy. It’s no wonder why the myth of “buyers are 2/3 of the way through the buying process before engaging sellers” is cited so often (It’s wrong, but sure seems real). Because we’re telling sales people that they have to follow a linear process in order to get sales.

Stop it! Make the process about gates that the customer goes through in solving a problem – not the stages of a linear decision-making experience. Think like the buyer. And engineer a sales process that allows the sales rep to move with the buyer through their problem-solving journey.

But instead of doing this, we tell the Jonathans and Katrinas of the world to use a linear process. And to forecast against it. Then God forbid that the customer actually goes backward in the straight line of a process. Process meaningless.

And finally – number four – The sales process is never just one process. Sales is about all kinds of processes. There’s the opportunity management process (which is what we usually mean when we say “sales process”), and the customer relationship process (which should lead to more opportunities), and the customer administration process, and on and on…

Tangled messWhen we look at this as multiple sales processes, not just a singular sales process, we get a different perspective on what we are asking our reps to do. They have a LOT of work to do if they are to manage opportunities/manage relationships/provide administration/etc. These processes are all connected to each other, making it a gigantic tangled mess if not respected. And I don’t think enough leaders and non-sales people have enough empathy for what is required to do all of these things in an aligned, integrated way.

Picture Jonathan and Katrina again. While trying to manage their “sales” process, they have a solid list of follow-up activities to do. This includes tasks related to protecting their accounts, not just trying to land new deals. But they get caught up in their follow-ups and forget about prepping for their next call. They struggle to squeeze something in, but preparation has become hit-and-miss. Which translates into how they execute their opportunity management process. It becomes equally hit-and-miss. Like all of their other processes.

But if they’re still hitting their numbers, nobody really cares. Process overwhelmed.

Now, for those of us who actually want to use a health sales process, we simply have to reverse engineer from these four ideas:

  1. Integrate the sales process with the business. Or if you REALLY want to be smart, integrate the business with the sales process. Because nothing happens unless something gets sold.
  2. Make the sales process customer-centric. Or rather, don’t define a selling/buying process. Define a problem-solving process.
  3. Make your sales process more of a non-linear pattern than a sequential process. Allow for buyer (and seller) behavior to be harnessed, not battled.
  4. Recognize that multiple sales processes exist. Never work on just one process without thinking of its impact on the other sales processes.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

P.S. Special kudos to my co-author and partner in crime, Brian Lambert, who inspired this post over one of our many random conversations.

Published by timohai

Father, widower, leader, sales enablement pro

2 thoughts on “Four Reasons Why A Sales Process Will Never Work

  1. Excellent Tim. I miss your rants… ummm, insights.

    Maybe there’s a #5, and that is the process is not human-centric.

    Historically (hysterically?) sales has always been about sales representatives and customers … and so we’ve developed this unreal perception/ perspective about both roles, and how us and them should act.

    It’s kinda like a theatrical show… as open the door to a prospect’s office I’m transformed from the human Dr Jekyll into the sales rep Mr Hyde (too dramatic?). Likewise, the potential customer takes a look at me and instantly (ala Malcolm Gladwell) takes on a different (defensive?) role…. a customer version of Mr Hyde. As soon as the sales call is over, and we part ways, we go back to being human.

    When you think about it, customers have been humans far longer than they’ve been customers.

    1. Hey, Mark! Thanks for the comment. If you look back at point #3 (linear vs non-linear), you’ll see that this is the perfect pace to integrate the point you are making. I fully agree with your assertion that roles are less about “buying” and “selling.” I think it’s more about problem-solving – hopefully together. At the same time, if you’re collecting a paycheck for being a sales person, you do have a role that is different from the other side of the table. Would you agree/support that?

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