Industrial Sales Process, Methodology, Model and Pipeline Management

Ed Marsh | May 6, 2022

Tl;dr - Efficient production of quality products relies on rigor, and improvement and application of process. The same is true of industrial sales. Sales process and sales methodology are distinct concepts that must be refined and followed consistently.

Like Fixtures for Sales

Industrial manufacturers have become expert at building efficiency, quality, repeatability, and predictability into their manufacturing operations. This drives quality and efficiency - hallmarks of resurgent and profitable advanced American manufacturing.

Yet they rarely bring analogous rigor to sales.

That's what well designed, clearly defined, and rigorously applied sales process and methodology can do. The output is quality sales pipeline and revenue. When these steps are assumed, casually discussed or skipped, the output is low-quality pipeline characterized by low close rates, requoting, questionable close dates, unreliable forecasts, and impaired revenue.

So let's fix that. No doubt it's a big task - that's why we have the Overall Revenue Effectiveness™ methodology to help (as OEE helped improve manufacturing.) There are many steps and functions to improve; some sequentially, many in parallel. Today we'll focus on the "fixtures" that improve efficiency and consistent quality in the sales function.

What is Sales Process and How is it Different From Methodology?

Industrial sales process is a series of steps that, when followed, move prospects consistently through a journey with predictable results. It's the framework - the "what" if you will, of sales steps. Sales process is often proprietary and specific to a company based on their product and market.

Sales methodology (sometimes called sales model) is the way that the process is executed. It's the "how." Sales methodology is often publicly available IP, with training materials and franchised training options.

These are different, and they shouldn't be conflated. Let's look at a couple examples.

Sales Process

A simple sales process includes:

  • uncover pain (discovery)
  • qualify an opportunity
    • ascertain budget
    • identify decision maker
    • confirm need
    • determine timeline
  • demo
  • confirm product/service fit
  • identify competitors
  • define technical requirements
  • quote
  • negotiate

This is a very crude form of process which is usually baked into stages in the CRM deal or opportunity pipeline. 

A well-designed sales process that's better suited for today's complex capital equipment sales would be adapted for each product or service group, target account type and company. It might include:

  • identify targets based on ICP and KPIs (e.g. new logos)
  • prospect to at least 3 likely buyer roles, at least 20 omnichannel touches each
  • identify likely deal champion and decision-making buying team members
  • identify compelling reasons to buy
  • quantify the direct or opportunity cost of inaction
  • get buyer agreement on quantification
  • understand their buying process and whether they have experience buying your product/service or something similar
  • budgetary pricing to confirm feasibility
  • identify the entire buying team (names, contact details, roles)
  • have the deal champion coordinate meeting(s) with the entire team (>75% of team members)
  • define timeline, decision criteria, and competition for capital approval
  • build a relationship map for team selling
  • define why they will buy from you (in aggregate and each buying team member)
  • confirm capital allocation
  • understand competitive engagement (companies, solutions, pros/cons)
  • confirm risk acceptance (they are comfortable that the project can be successfully implemented and that your firm can do so)
  • agreement on how a decision will be made
  • refine scope
  • confirm the technical solution
  • reconfirm all assumptions - reasons to buy, to buy from you, cost of inaction, etc.
  • confirm pricing
  • closed won/lost

You will have other steps, possibly ordered differently. But this illustrates a more appropriate sales process.

Let's pause though. How would your team confirm risk acceptance, for instance? Is it enough to have your RSM assume so from conversation? Or to ask a "check the box" question like "Are there any risks in implementing this project that we should talk about?"

I hope your answer was an emphatic "NO!" That kind of cavalier "qualification" is precisely why forecasts are so unreliable, sales so unpredictable and revenue uneven.

Diving deeper, how should your sales team help the buying team catalog, articulate, and quantify important risks? How about risks that people would prefer not to discuss (e.g. their risk of losing their job if they recommend a change from the accepted standard....and it fails)? How should that confirmation be documented to help cement it among a buying team and preempt elicit latent dissent? What questions would you ask or coach the sales team to ask? Require sales engineering to probe? What's necessary to be comfortable that you have the answer and understanding?

And, importantly, if you don't have absolute confidence in that confirmation, would you consider an opportunity or deal qualified to move to a more advanced pipeline stage? Or would you recognize that often risk aversion kills projects and that therefore without clear confirmation, a deal can't be comfortably forecast with a near-term close date and confidence of close?

The point is that process needs to be carefully structured, but even then it can be casually or ineffectively followed.

That's where sales methodology comes in.

Sales Methodology

You've certainly heard of many different sales methodologies. SPIN Selling, Sandler Sales, MEDDIC, Miller Heiman's Conceptual and Strategic Selling, SNAP Selling, Challenger Sales, and Baseline Selling are examples.

Sales methodology, sometimes called sales model, is the "how" to the sales process' "what." The methodology provides the philosophy, strategy, and tactics - the soft skills - for achieving the process.

Many companies will incorporate elements of more than one common methodology into their solution. And methodologies are often updated as companies adapt them. MEDDIC has evolved from MEDDICC to MEDDPICC for instance.

Sales methodology has to be trained, coached, and role-played even with experienced sales teams. After all skilled surgeons, attorneys and athletes all train continuously - sales must as well.

What's the Role of CRM?

Let's assume that you have a sales team of inside and outside sales reps, sales managers, and sales VPs who embrace your methodology because they recognize it will help them close more and earn more. (If not, then we need to revisit topics around sales force evaluations and hiring best practices)

That mindset is critical to the next steps. They may not enjoy the discipline, but they know that it's in everyone's best interest.

A good CRM allows you to customize the deal pipeline and build in appropriate automation and checkpoints. (Of course, great coaching and sales management does to - so the question of how to balance management interaction vs. system imposed discipline is a philosophical question for each company. BUT that rigor has to be enforced one way or the other!)

Here's how that might work with some examples drawn from the sample process above.

  1. Deal creation - in order to even create a deal, your team will need to be able to answer specific qualification questions which you establish as baseline requirements to include a deal in the forecast pipeline
  2. Advancing stages - simple examples of how basic automation could be used to create disciplined structure and increase efficiency include:
    • automatically import contacts from an outside database to identify certain job roles who are likely members of the buying team
    • enroll certain job titles from a company in LinkedIn paid ads to complement the sales approach
    • automatically create a cost quantification/justification worksheet attached to the deal
    • trigger tasks for inside sales to begin sales outreach to additional buying team members
  3. Confirming criteria to move a deal to the next stage - "defining while they will buy from you" is an example for which you have some options. You could:
    • require nothing
    • have a rep check a box saying they've done so in order to advance a deal
    • provide a picklist of inane answers (price, features, lead-time)
    • ask them to provide a brief narrative to confirm they've actually had a discussion and to be used in coaching
    • provide a playbook for them to complete explaining why each key function (operations, finance, maintenance, safety, controls, etc.) will specifically buy from you
    • attach recordings (even AI transcribed and analyzed) to the opportunity

The best approach depends on a number of factors. Significant among them are the complexity of your sales environment and the importance of forecast accuracy.

If you're selling $5,000 machines or contracts, the buying teams and approval process will be simpler. That means there are many fewer places where deals can be disrupted, and therefore less rigor required to identify and forestall disruptions. On the other hand, if you're selling $10MM systems with sell cycles of 1-2 years, you likely face vastly more complex situations even while the volume of deals is lower, allowing reps adequate time to carefully manage each.

The precision with which you manage the process will be directly reflected in your forecast accuracy. If you're considering an expansion of manufacturing capacity or holding manufacturing spots to lock in deals against long-lead times, that means you're turning down other deals. I hope you're really, really certain that you know which deals are going to close and only turn down those in which you have realistically less confidence. On the other hand, if you have excess capacity, low cost for idle component inventory, and very casual (e.g. family/lifestyle) ownership, it may not matter much to you.

The Importance of Common Language and Definitions

Standardized sales process and methodology require discipline. Sales activities must be disciplined and consistent, and common language must be as well.

When you think about sales process and sales methodology in the context of complex buying journeys and ORE, it's also important to help ensure that marketing is driving the right sort of activity for sales, and that every dollar of revenue can be associated with the investments that contributed to it. 

That means that definitions are important. What's a lead? What's a contact? What's the ICP (ideal customer profile)? What's a qualified lead? What's a qualified opportunity? All of those must be clearly defined and used consistently across the revenue growth team.

And, circling back to where this article started, that also includes a clear understanding the difference between sales process and methodology to avoid conflating the terms at all levels of the organization.

Net Efficiency Considers Quality Output

Imagine what your factory would look like if you had work cells of one craftsman each. Loyal, capable, knowledgeable people would endeavor to build high-quality products for you. And each would do it differently. Some differences might seem minor, others would be clearly significant. And there's no telling which would contribute to variations in quality. 

That's why proper manufacturing is built on repeatable process that designs the quality into the product. You bring minds together to improve process, then formalize it with fixtures and documentation. It makes sense - in fact it's second nature for manufacturing.

It's time to bring the same rigor to capital equipment sales.

Sales process, sales methodology, sales management and CRM are critical tools for doing so.

Want a quick analysis of your sales process? Check out our free sales process grader here.