I was working with a large multinational company to help them diagnose sales problems and increase results. A salesperson whom this company liked a lot had the right attitude and work ethic but struggled to produce sales results.
The one key performance indicator (KPI) the company expected from its salespeople was to be in 25 sales meetings every month.
This salesperson, whom I will call Jared, had faithfully hit that KPI every month for two years.
He had closed precisely zero deals.
The company loved Jared’s attitude, work ethic, and enthusiasm. However, despite those excellent attributes, he had never closed a deal.
I arranged to spend time with Jared to diagnose the problem and offer a solution. On the appointed day, Jared and I met at 7:00 a.m. We exchanged pleasantries, and then I asked, “What are we going to do today?”
Jared responded with his plan to meet with two large, multinational companies.
“Great! I love it!” I said, “What’s our objective when we meet with the first company?”
He looked at me dumbfounded. He didn’t even understand the question.
I asked the question in a different way: “What are we trying to accomplish?” He answered, “Well, facetime.”
Now I was the one who was a bit dumbfounded. Nevertheless, we set out to keep our scheduled appointments. On our way, we stopped to buy gallons of coffee and dozens of donuts. We showed up at the first company. The receptionist greeted us warmly and immediately ushered us into a small conference room. For the next hour, people filtered in, drank coffee, ate donuts, and chatted. At the end of the hour, the salesperson and I packed up our coffee and donuts and left.
Jared had been in 25 sales meetings just like this one every month for two years (that’s approximately 14,400 donuts).
Is it any surprise that he had not closed any business?
When you consider his behavior, Jared was very successful at fulfilling the expectations of his sales leaders.
They weren’t asking him to follow a sales process.
They weren’t asking him to advance prospects through any sales pipeline.
They asked him to be in 25 meetings every month, and he was excellent at achieving that goal.
The problem wasn’t poor work ethic, bad attitude, or low enthusiasm. Instead, it was the lack of a sales process that resulted in two years of wasted time, immense volumes of coffee, and around 1,170 pounds of donuts.
Like so many others, the sales process for Jared was like walking into a dark alley blindfolded. When sellers lack process, and when sales leaders fail to coach them on the plays and metrics associated with the process, sellers remain ill-equipped, at a disadvantage, and lacking confidence.
I guided Jared in the Griffin Hill Sales Process, which leaders implemented across the entire company.
Once he had a process to guide him, Jared became the best performer in the company. By implementing the process and the plays and metrics the process enabled, the company cut its time in the sales cycle by 75 percent and increased revenue by over 300 percent.
As this case demonstrates, getting the sales process right is the number one priority of sales leaders. Sales Methodology starts with Process.
Sales Leaders Must Develop Personal Sales Mastery
Sales mastery is impossible to achieve in the absence of a sales process. Leader deficiencies related to sales mastery are manifest in the salespeople they lead. In the case study presented earlier, Jared was deficient because sales leaders were deficient. Performance results changed only when leaders cured the deficiencies by implementing process, plays, metrics, and coaching.
Determined sales leaders must first master the sales system of process, plays, metrics, and coaching. The chief cornerstone of the four is process. In true cornerstone fashion, the sales process guides plays, metrics, and coaching.
According to Mark Roberge, former chief revenue officer at HubSpot’s Sales Division, having a straightforward sales process is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a sales leader. Like all sales leaders, Roberge was in pursuit of scalable, predictable revenue growth. However, he claims it was his metrics-driven process that allowed him to grow HubSpot’s revenue from $0 to $100 million.
The importance of the sales process cannot be overstated. The sales process is the foundation upon which leaders rely for messaging and skill development in their team. The process facilitates data-driven decision-making. The sales process is the road map to effective coaching.
First things first: Master the Sales Process
It seems the whole world is becoming more attuned to buyer interests, wants, and motivations. The result is a better understanding of the buyer journey than ever before. The metrics that drive marketing and customer success are sophisticated. However, somewhere between creating buyer awareness and delivering results lies the woefully inadequately understood sales process. Salespeople are often left to their own experience and genius, and that is just inadequate. The lack of a commonly held sales process is sales leader malpractice!
The primary purpose of the sales process is to provide a road map for sellers to guide both mindset and action. The sales process road map helps the seller solve the fundamental problem they face every day—“How do I get a sale?” The sales process represents the progression of discovery and persuasion.
Each step of the sales process stimulates discovery for both buyers and sellers. Each discovery adds another arrow to the persuasion quiver. In the same way that following a map assuredly leads travelers to their intended destination, a seller following the sales process road map naturally reaches the culminating event of a mutually beneficial agreement.
As with any complex problem, it is best to solve the problem of getting a sale by breaking the problem into its component parts. A research study of more than 500,000 selling interactions demonstrates that the most efficient way to parse the problem of getting a sale is a simple six-step process. These steps guide seller behavior in interactions with the buyer from “hello” to closing repeat sales with a raving fan. The most effective steps in the sales process include:
FF—Fulfillment and Follow-up
The Case Open initiates contact with suspects and ignites their interest. The purpose of the Needs Audit is to qualify prospects for need, want, decision-making process, and financial ability. The Needs Audit also facilitates discovery in the buyer and stimulates in them an eager want. The Solution Presentation fits solutions to buyer needs and wants. It presents options in the context of benefits that are important to the buyer. Sellers use the Adapted Solution Presentation when buyers and sellers do not reach an agreement at the Solution Presentation stage. Adapted Solution adjusts the original proposal to reflect negotiations between buyer and seller. Closing Interactions keep the discussion moving forward despite barriers. Closing Interactions are an opportunity to move toward an agreement in small incremental steps that culminate in a close. Fulfillment and Follow-up keeps the seller involved as the promised solution is delivered and implemented. It stimulates an epiphany of value in the buyer and allows the seller to collect proofs and testimonials and harvest referrals.
These steps constitute the Griffin Hill Sales Process. Whether the selling situation is a single interaction between buyer and seller or multiple steps and meetings, the sales process represents the mental process a buyer goes through to reach a decision. Whether the buyer is one person who moves through the stages very quickly or a buying team that embarks on a slow, deliberate effort, the Griffin Hill Sales Process is a meaningful guide to the salesperson from beginning to end. It guides the cognitive process of making a buying decision.
In addition to providing direction for sellers, the Sales Process builds momentum toward the close in the buyer. The Sales Process memorializes the cognitive steps buyers experience when making a buying decision. Buyers engage when interest is ignited (Case Open). Buyers, like sick patients, only take the cure if they are confident their symptoms are well understood. The buying process is advanced when buyers share their status quo and vision, likes and frustrations, barriers, and benefits (Needs Audit). Buyers are responsive to solutions that fit their unique circumstances—not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all quick fix. Buyers buy benefits, not products (Solution Presentation). The more complex or costly the solution, the more the buyer feels a need for deliberation and discussion (Adapted Solution Presentation and Closing Interactions). Not to be forgotten, buyers need to realize and recognize the benefit and the impact. A willingness to share success accompanies the customer’s epiphany of value (Fulfillment and Follow-up).
Finally, the sales process provides a structure for plays, metrics, and coaching. The following sections explore the relationship between the sales process and plays, metrics, and coaching. The sales process also enables effective leadership. Embracing the sales process is the first step to consistent and compelling messaging. Sales analytics and metrics are only as legitimate as the sales process. Data-driven decision-making and coaching are valid and reliable only when the sales process is valid and reliable. Process, plays, metrics, and coaching lay the foundation of effective sales leadership.
The Buyer Journey and the Sales Process
Sellers confront the questions of how to get a sale, how to be persuasive, what to say, and when to say it. Unfortunately, the absence of a straightforward process relegates the answers to these questions to the realm of tips and tricks that lack any anchor to guide the sequence. Thus, most sales training lacks a comprehensive strategy. The Griffin Hill Sales Process solves the dilemma and provides a skeletal structure on which sales plays hang.
Plays represent scientific principles of persuasion. Persuasion is the outcome of cognitive processes. What we think about and the way we think about it influences our decisions and actions. Human beings are active information processors. We actively drink in information using our five senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. We consider information and deliberate in search of meaning. We reach conclusions. We decide. We act.
Scientific research guides our understanding of what information is most persuasive. Studies demonstrate that words influence conclusions, and question order determines decisions. Plays are all about using the most compelling language in the most efficient order.
The words sellers use trigger thought patterns in buyers. Researchers Loftus and Palmer provide an example of how words influence conclusions. In a series of experiments, the researchers asked subjects to estimate the speed of vehicles involved in an accident. One group was asked to estimate the speed when the cars “bumped” into each other. Other groups estimated the speed when they “hit” or “smashed” into each other. Predictably, estimates of speed differed based on the word used to describe the car, increasing in order from “bump” to “hit” to “smash.” Thus, changing just one word influenced the way subjects considered the accident and their conclusions about speed.
Plays rely on the scientific principles of persuasion to stack the odds in favor of reaching a mutually advantageous agreement. Question order is equally vital in the process of persuasion. Question order influences thoughts, conclusions, and decisions as illustrated by Schuman and Ludwig. Asked whether “the Japanese government should be allowed to set limits on how much American industry can sell in Japan,” most American business owners answered “no.” However, in a separate survey, most respondents answered “yes” to the same question. The difference was that the survey first asked whether “the American government should be allowed to set limits on how much Japanese industry can sell in America.” It turns out that the question order influences the formulation of opinions, decisions, and behaviors. These scientific principles illustrate the power of plays.
Because plays are principle-based, salespeople customize plays to fit their individual style and selling situation, adapted to the personality of specific buyers. Plays provide a flexible framework where salespeople can apply their personal strengths, skills, and personality without compromising the integrity of the process. The combination of process and plays means that each organization and seller can develop a customized playbook. Process and plays help salespeople to have confidence in every situation and know what to do next.
The sales process lays out the general path. Plays mobilize it. Process signifies the milestones of the path. Plays define the small steps that lead from one process milestone to the next. Plays represent principles of human cognition, communication, and persuasion—all put into action.
Skilled sales leaders must be able to teach sales skills to team members. They create and influence messages and language. They guide, practice, and role-play. The combination of process and plays empowers sales leaders to master sales skills and teach them to others. The mission of an effective sales leader is to create teams that are well trained, highly disciplined, and absolutely determined. The combination of process and plays empowers them to make sure team members are well trained. Metrics and coaching enable leaders to establish individual and team discipline and determination.
Process and Metrics
The Griffin Hill Sales Process not only provides a structure upon which plays hang, but it also makes it possible for leaders to measure and evaluate salesperson performance.
The sales process makes it possible to measure both the persuasive skill and the work ethic of sellers. Execution of the plays and their efficacy determines persuasive skill. Measuring the effectiveness of the plays and the skill used to deliver them provides an indication of the Proficiency (Pf) of a seller. These measures indicate seller strengths and identify best practices among the team. They also expose areas of weakness that need to be corrected—and by which correction, the seller’s persuasive power will be improved, stacking the odds of success in their favor.
Like plays in the theater or in sports, sales plays can be tested, tweaked, refined, and improved until they deliver the desired persuasive effect. In this way, plays are disciplined expressions of principles of success and persuasion. This continuous improvement is made possible by metrics provided by the Sales Process and ScoreCard™ analytics.
Proficiency (Pf) is one indicator of seller success. Another is work ethic. It is one thing for sellers to work hard and quite another to engage in work that moves prospects through the sales process. The Sales Process guides sellers to perform the kind of work that produces results. In this way, the sales process helps to measure Productivity (Pd), a second important metric related to sales success.
These two factors, Productivity (Pd) and Proficiency (Pf), determine a salesperson’s success. The interaction of Proficiency (Pf) and Productivity (Pd) determines the Performance Outcome (Po) for each seller. Paying attention to the 30+ metrics made possible by the Griffin Hill ScoreCard™ and Sales Process gives sales leaders a competitive advantage.
Pf × Pd = Po is a useful formula to help sales leaders think about sales results. Remember that any number multiplied by 0 equals 0. Assume that a salesperson has high sales proficiency (Pf). They score 100 out of 100. However, their work ethic (Pd) is very low. They score 0 out of 100. Where Pf = 100 and Pd = 0, the sales results (Po) will be very low. The formula looks like this: 100 × 0 = 0. In other words, the leader can expect 0 results from this salesperson. Reversing the factors provides the same result. Where sales proficiency (Pf) is very low, 0 out of 100, and productivity is very high, 100 out of 100, the formula looks like this: 0 (Pf) × 100 (Pd) = 0 (Po). Even though their work ethic is high, the sales leader cannot expect results from this salesperson.
Having a clearly defined sales process protects the leader against the Fundamental Leader Error (FLE) of assuming that all performance deficiencies are personnel problems. The sales process and the metrics it provides help leaders identify where the process is breaking down and what skill improvement will change performance results. When confronted with a performance deficiency, leaders must ask the question, “Do I have a people problem, or do I have a process problem?” In the absence of a straightforward sales process, performance deficiencies masquerade as people problems. Changing the people will not solve a process problem. Getting the process right first will protect the leader from making the Fundamental Leader Error.
Metrics and sales analytics are part of sales mastery. Data-driven decision-making by leaders and sellers is fundamental to continuous improvement. Thoughtful leaders pay attention to metrics and help those they lead to do the same. Data discipline leads to improved performance.
Process and Coaching
Mark Roberge stated, “In my opinion, effective sales coaching is the biggest driver of sales productivity. All sales managers should maximize the time they invest in coaching.”
Coaching is a fundamental responsibility of sales leaders, and having a clear process is essential to coaching. A clear process empowers leaders to teach plays, measure salesperson productivity, evaluate skill, and provide encouragement, guidance, and instruction. Ultimately, the process helps a leader create a high-performing team that generates sales revenue sufficient to meet and exceed company expectations.
An effective leader/coach establishes high expectations for individual and team performance. They are also involved with team members individually and as a group. Group coaching includes regular (usually weekly) team meetings and daily stand-ups.
Weekly team meetings are most effective when they follow a rotation that helps the team learn and grow by focusing on a specific aspect of their role as sellers. An effective coaching rotation for each week of the month is Week 1: Numbers, Week 2: Case Study, Week 3: Theory, and Week 4: Skill Development. The Griffin Hill Sales Process makes this kind of coaching possible. The process empowers leaders to have meaningful group coaching sessions each week that result in continuous improvement.
Individual coaching activities include side-by-side selling interactions, one-to-one coaching meetings, daily status updates from sellers, and feedback from leaders. The sales process is an essential standard for evaluating performance and giving feedback to sellers. Instruction and motivation that lead to continuous improvement are the essence of individual coaching.
Process enables Plays, Metrics, Coaching
Process is the keystone that empowers sales leadership. Without a clear and simple process, leading salespeople is like walking into a dark alley blindfolded. Process shines a light on the path. Process is the structure on which skill development relies. Data-driven decision-making from “hello” to “no thank you” or close is made possible by the existence of a clear sales process. Process, plays, and metrics empower a leader to coach and lead!
The Griffin Hill sales philosophy rests on several key aspects of performance including; leadership, systems, the art of sales, and the science of selling
The art of sales
The science of persuasion
The quality of leadership has a significant impact on the success of any sales team. Sales training, development, and coaching, including arming the sales force with methodology and technology is one of the highest responsibilities of every executive.
We are all the product of the systems we employ
Systems govern our outcomes. Many human systems are simply unplanned habits. People simply fall into patterns of behavior without giving them much thought. Sales is no different. On the other hand, salespeople who have deliberately adopted or created a sales system enjoy continuous improvement.
For Griffin Hill there are four elements to successful sales systems. These four elements are Process, Plays, Metrics, and Coaching.
Griffin Hill research demonstrates the primacy of process. It is fundamental. Everything about a sales system stems from the foundation of process. It provides the structure for the rest of the system. Process influences Plays, which are the principles and activities that stack the odds of success in favor of the performer. Process influences Metrics. It determines what is most important to measure and why. Process also influences training, teaching, and Coaching—leader behaviors intended to elevate sales results. Process is like the footings and foundation of a building. Getting process right is foundational. If the foundation is sound, it positively influences every other aspect of building integrity.
The Art of Sales
Master sellers are artists. Each interaction with suspects and prospects is a masterpiece. The colorful use of personality, ability to connect on a human level, communication skill, and persuasive power are a wonder to behold. Griffin Hill research demonstrates that a vast majority of the top 1% of salespeople unconsciously, yet competently follow the science that supports their art.
William James who is the father of American psychology, provides some insight on the blend between science and art that is essential for salespeople.
“A science only lays down lines within which the rules of the art must fall, laws which the follower of the art must not transgress; but what particular thing he shall positively do within those lines is left exclusively to his own genius.”
The Science of Persuasion
Only a very few salespeople understand the science behind their successful behavior. When salespeople become consciously competent around systems and methods based on the science, they are more nimble. When salespeople understand the science of persuasion, they are free to utilize the right tool at the right time to ensure the right outcome. Practiced flexibility with the principles of persuasion helps consciously competent salespeople to stand out in every industry and every selling situation.
Griffin Hill relies on a combination of field research and the scientific literature to create the most effective systems for selling and leading salespeople. Griffin Hill field research includes thousands of salespeople, sales cases numbering in the hundreds of thousands, and nearly a million sales interactions.
In addition to field research, the scientific literature plays a significant role in the construction of sales the Process and Plays. Some of the studies and their application to salespeople help to develop a conscious understanding of sales principles and practices.
From George A. Miller we learned simplicity. To be effective and powerful both process and plays have to be simple
From John Ridley Stroop we learned the power of mental priming. To be persuasive, Plays must guide the thinking of both the buyer and the seller.
From Bonnie Erickson and her team, we learned that confidence is persuasive. We also learned that confidence is not false bravado in a can. Confidence is the result of rigorous study, diligent practice, high character. To be persuasive confidence in salespeople comes from expertise, trustworthiness, and credibility.
Anderson, Lepper, and Ross showed us the power of shaping and nurturing opinions along the pathway to persuasion.
Collins and Quillian lifted the curtain on the workings of the mind as it drinks in ideas, processes them, reaches conclusions, and moves to action.
From Loftus and Palmer, we learned that the words we use influence the thoughts that come to the minds of our potential buyers.
Schuman and Ludwig taught us that question order matters. Changing the order can lead to the exact opposite conclusion in the mind of our buyer.
From Socrates, we learned that the questions we ask are more important to persuasion than the presentations we give.
From hundreds more, we learned the scientific secrets of persuasion, human performance and productivity. And then we carefully baked those secret ingredients into our system of Process, Plays, Metrics, and Coaching. These are the lines within which the rules of the art must fall. The artist transgresses the science at their own peril!
Roberge, Mark. The Sales Acceleration Formula. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015.
Baird, Scott O. Be Brilliant! How to Master the Sales Skill of Persuasive Questioning. Provo, UT: Griffin Hill, LLC, 2018.
Loftus, Elizabeth F., and John C. Palmer. “Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction: An Example of the Interaction between Language and Memory.” Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 13 (1974): 585–589.
Schuman, Howard, and Jacob Ludwig. “The Norm of Even-Handedness in Surveys as in Life.” American Sociological Review 48, no. 1 (1983): 112–120.