Sales Process Flexibility: Keeping Up With Changing Buyer Preferences

Flexibility in sales process is something we need to think about to keep pace with today’s constantly changing selling landscape. With the abundance of information readily available, more buyers are engaging with sales professionals on their own terms—when they want to and how they want to. In today’s blog, we focus on the when and discuss why it’s important for sales leaders and sales operations teams to maintain a level of flexibility when it comes to their sales teams’ adherence to sales process.

Buyers engage salespeople at different stages of THEIR purchase journey. (Click to tweet)

According to our 2018 Buyer Preferences Study, nearly three-quarters (70.2%) of buyers make initial decisions in their buying process before engaging sellers (Click to tweet) and prefer to wait until they already have a clear understanding of their needs. This means that when sellers do engage, they are more challenged to create value for the buyer.

One way sales professionals can create value is to better understand where in their purchase journey buyers are. In other words, when engaging with buyers, don’t presume they are in the Identify and Clarify Needs stage just because you are following your sales process step by step. Be flexible and adaptable to adjusting the conversation depending on which phase of their purchase journey buyers are in. To do this effectively, sales professionals need to have a level of flexibility in moving from one sales process step to another.

Sales process flexibility is key to keeping up with changing buyer preferences. (Click to tweet)

Most organizations have a sales process that is linear and sequential—a set of predefined sales activities ideally aligned to a customer’s path that sales teams reference when progressing an opportunity through a sales cycle. Note the emphasis here on linear and sequential. Sellers and buyers are expected to complete a set of activities for a specific outcome and progress from one activity to the next, usually in sequential order.  But if today’s buyers are engaging sellers later in the sales process, usually after they already have made initial decisions and at times even already have a short list of vendors to consider, expecting them and our sellers to follow the sales process steps in sequence just doesn’t make sense.

So what can we do about it? As sales and sales operations leaders, we need to give our sales teams the flexibility to move from one sales process step to the next in a non-sequential manner, if needed (Click to tweet), and literally engage the buyer along their purchase journey.

Here are three steps to achieving sales process flexibility:

  1. Build, monitor and refine. (Click to tweet) I mentioned in a previous blog that sales operations’ equivalent of a trilogy might be build, monitor and refine. When it comes to flexibility in sales process, this trilogy applies as well. Build flexibility into your sales process by allowing flow from one step to the other that may not be sequential. Monitor the sales process by proactively soliciting feedback from sales teams on what their buyer engagement experiences actually consist of. It might not be as linear and sequential as we think. Refine and adjust the sales process as needed and in small increments to maintain the flexibility to meet changing buyer engagement preferences. Only through continual adjustments to the process itself and sales and sales operations leadership’s willingness to make those adjustments can we achieve sales process flexibility.
  2. Leverage technology. (Click to tweet) Take advantage of the proactive analysis many sales technologies provide today to help build flexibility into your sales process. Many call-planning technologies today include the ability to record calls and compile analysis around keyword usage and linkage to sales stage movement and win rates. You also can use this type of analysis to help determine the types of discussions taking place at different sales stages and compile an interactive playbook that allows sales professionals to move seamlessly from one conversation type to another, regardless of sales process stage. This would empower our sales teams to adjust their conversation with buyers in real time, providing the buyer with a relevant and valuable engagement that is more aligned to their expectations.
  3. Partner with sales enablement. (Click to tweet) Building a change management plan is important, especially if your sales teams are used to the more linear, sequential sales process. When you introduce flexibility where they do not expect it and are not used to it, they may struggle at first. Just like with our bodies, achieving flexibility takes time and effort—it’s the commitment to daily flexibility exercises that helps us achieve better flexibility. The same is true for sales process flexibility. Partner with sales enablement to build a change management plan that takes into account continual reinforcement and coaching support from sales managers even after the initial training session on how to effectively apply sales process flexibility to their engagement with buyers.

 

Questions for you:

  • How flexible is your sales process?
  • How open are you to making your sales process more flexible for your sales teams?
  • When was the last time you gathered sales input on sales process updates?
  • Do you take sellers’ experience with buyers as an input to sales process adjustments?

 

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