Which is more important in selling: Process or selling skills?
This is one of the classic debates about sales and selling. It is very similar to the ‘nature vs. nurture’ debates that young adults without kids, and too much time on their hands, indulge in. (Anyone with kids quickly learns the answer to this…) The answer is that both process and skill are required to succeed in sales. However, process provides the platform for skills to flourish.
What Would Michael Do?
Take the case of an elite athlete like Michael Phelps, the world champion swimmer. Michael Phelps trained like a demon, spending hours face down in a pool every day, to showcase his skills on the world’s biggest stage, the Olympics. He won an unprecedented 8 gold medals in swimming at the Beijing Games in 2008. There is no doubting his obvious skills. Having conquered the world once, the question was would he return to the London games in 2012 and try again?
In preparation for the Beijing Olympics, Michael followed the training regimen put together by his coach, Bob Bowman. It was a process that focused on the quality of the daily work Michael did in preparation for competition. Every workout he swam and the details of how he performed in that workout, every weightlifting session, every cross-training session were meticulously recorded, tracked and analyzed. Bowman and Phelps knew that the most accurate predictor of how Michael would perform in the big competitions was the data collected about his daily training process over the previous months and years.
The Day-to-Day Process
This is similar to selling. How you execute your sales process on a day-to-day basis is the most accurate predictor of whether you will win orders and meet your objectives. An effective and disciplined sales process can do for you what it did for Michael Phelps. If you work hard, it will put you in a position to compete for and win orders. It is how well you execute the basic sales activities that comprise the steps of your selling process, and how often, that will ultimately lead to the order.
As he began his preparations for the London Olympics Phelps strayed from the process that had led him to the podium eight times in Beijing. And, with all the skills in the world, his results in competition suffered. He was losing to swimmers that previously couldn’t compete with him. What did he do? He redoubled his commitment to the process laid out by his coach. He might have rebelled against the process but he returned to it because he knew that if he invested his hard work into it results would follow.
If you listened to Michael Phelps being interviewed after a competition before the London Olympics he defaulted to talking about his process. The race result might have been a first place finish but Phelps wanted to talk instead about how well his training was going. His focus was on how was he performing each day in each step of his training process. He knew that if he consistently executed his process in a disciplined manner he’d put himself in the position to achieve the results he expected.
In the same way examining sales processes will provide a much clearer snapshot of potential sales than simply looking at your pipeline of prospects. Well-defined sales processes provide a method to continually assess and measure the underlying sales activities that will lead to orders. Using metrics to continually measure and fine-tune sales processes, just as Bob Bowman did with Phelps’ training regimen, leads to improved outcomes for salespeople of all skill levels.
Your Process Enhances Your Skills
I had a client where one of the more senior salespeople, a grizzled sales professional, Ollie, was determined to resist management’s efforts to implement some fundamental and essential sales processes to respond to a changing sales environment. Ollie had always managed his sales territory his own way and while he possessed intuitive sales skills and extensive sales experience he was floundering. He found himself at odds with evolving prospect and customer expectations for salespeople in terms of responsiveness, follow-up, content delivery and service.
The processes that Ollie’s management implemented saved his sales career by requiring Ollie to become more responsive, more proactive and timely in follow-up, more knowledgeable of the products he sold, more conscious of eliminating time-wasting sales calls and making every customer interaction achieve the maximum impact in the least time possible in order to compress buying cycles.
This does not mean that a salesperson should ignore the skill components of selling. We should always be working to improve our sales skills no matter how much experience we have. But sales skills need to be utilized in support of defined sales processes to create the most value for the customer. And the salesperson.