Sales Process in 2017: An Interview with George Brontén, Part 1

George Brontén is the founder & CEO of Membrain, sales effectiveness software that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. He is a lifelong entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. I spoke with George recently about the current state of sales process maturity. Here is the first part of our interview.


TS: I thought, given your Membrain background on all things process, methodologies and maturity, powered by technology, we could simply talk about sales process maturity.

What is your experience? What do you see at your clients?

GB: For a start, we’re seeing confusion about what sales process is – there’s no common definition of a sales process and it varies based on industry and go to market strategy. For some, the sales process is a dropdown in the CRM, for others it’s everything that happens after a lead has been generated on the company website. In addition to this, many confuse sales process with sales methodology.

As for our clients, when they come to us, we see a mix of those who have a formal process but haven’t operationalized it yet, and those who do not have a formal process but have concluded that they ought to because of symptoms like low win-rates, missed forecasts and slow ramp-up times of new sales hires. Very few have a high level of formal maturity and those who do are struggling with getting it used by everyone in daily operations.

TS: For the clients who do have a long way to go, what do you advise?

GB: We typically recommend starting off with a simple milestone-based sales process aligned with how customers make buying decisions, combined with a sales methodology to provide a shared approach and sales language. Before we have this foundation in place, it’s difficult to be dynamic. Once in place, we can get creative by adding playbooks based on information that we learn throughout the process, introduce sales enablement content in context, as well as use our insights from structured win loss reviews to adjust qualification criteria to better focus the sales efforts and reduce time wasted on opportunities unlikely to be won.

It’s not uncommon to see bloated pipelines made up of sales projects that should not be there, because salespeople have had “happy ears” and a reluctance to qualify deals out of the pipeline. A more disciplined approach to qualification and regular coaching sessions will minimize such problems.

Also, you don’t have the functionality to support dynamic process in most CRMs. So, some salespeople may be selling dynamically, but it’s not built into the system, and it’s not consistent. Some companies do know that they want to be dynamic, and their top performers are operating dynamically. So they have to capture that information, and operationalize it. But traditional CRMs weren’t designed for a world where how we sell is becoming more important than what we sell.

TS: I can imagine, traditional CRMs were often more designed for creating pipelines and forecasts! One more question regarding sales process maturity. In our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, we found that less than 20% of participants operated at the highest level – the dynamic level, which means having a formal implementation, having developed salespeople who are required to use the process and sales manager who coach accordingly, and changes can be adjusted quickly. In your experience, what level or kind of maturity is necessary to be able to leverage sales effectiveness technology?

GB: Our recommendation is always to start off simple. Start by creating a basic sales process that is milestone-based and focused on the buyer’s decision-making process. It’s getting to sound like a cliché, but the process needs to be aligned with how the buyer will make a decision – what stakeholders are involved, the competitive situation, and the reasons for them to act. If you can place that into a structured process, aligned with your value proposition, and introduce a methodology that can be learned and followed in daily operations, you’ve reached the formal stage, from our perspective. That’s when you can really start leveraging sales effectiveness technology.

From there, you can begin to build in dynamic aspects, and optimize the system based on progress and results. Also, most sales organizations will end up with more than one process, depending on the workflow needed to maximize effectiveness. For instance, prospecting for new business requires a different approach than maximizing business with key accounts. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

TS: Thanks so much, George, for sharing your insights and expertise!

If you have enjoyed this interview so far, stay tuned! The second part will be published on Feb 7, 2017!

Membrain has created some free tools to create a sales process and learn more about methodologies that can be found on their resource page:

About George Brontén

With the life motto “Don’t settle for mainstream,” George is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes. He shares his thoughts on the award-winning blog “Art & Science of Complex Sales”.


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